David Edelman is the first CMO for all of Aetna because of the second wave of digital transformation. He was recruited “as an agent of change,” he told me, to help lead the company’s transformation into “an integrated experience” that acts as one brand. Previously, Edelman pointed out, each business line at Aetna had its own marketing head. (Edelman will speak about “Digital Transformation: In & Out,” at our upcoming MarTech Conference in Boston.) The first wave of digital transformation, he agreed with me, was the addition of such things as email, web sites and customer relationship management systems. We are now in the second wave when, he said, “it’s not just about going digital, but about going digital first.” In other words, brands need to track their customers’ journeys as digital journeys. There may well be real-world components, but most customers these days go online to find out about things they buy. Even a brand that is, say, a chain of brick-and-mortar shoe stores needs to keep in mind that many customers will check prices for similar sneakers on their phone — sometimes while in that chain’s physical store. For brick-and-mortar brands, it’s now at least about “blended experiences,” Edelman said. Digital can no longer be the separate track — with a separate marketing team and separate P&L — that it was in the first wave.
For a company like Aetna that is almost exclusively information-based, the entire process of product development, offering and management is focused toward the rising tide of customer expectations driven by digital media. Edelman noted that, ten years or so ago, digital was about back-office processes that let a customer look up a claim from a few days ago. But now the frontline has dramatically moved forward. Customers increasingly expect brands to offer integrated data across all their touchpoints, the ability to make decisions online, simple and personalized interactions, real-time access to new info, and mobile-specific access. Brands like Aetna are trying to catch up with this second wave, in which customers want to see current prices for medical procedures at their doctors, not just lists of doctors. “In the old days [of healthcare], all operations were focused on managing for cost,” he said. Now, it’s all focused around managing for the customers’ expectations of service. This means that, in this second wave of digital transformation, brands are once again reinventing what they do. For instance, he said, Aetna’s planning for new insurance products includes the future possibility of users configuring their own packages online. The sales channel has become a sales function across every channel. The tech stack has to support integrated data, content and analytics, with Aetna member preferences and permissions immediately available across the entire enterprise, instead of divided by product line.
‘A care partner’
Of course, this is still a moving target. For instance, Edelman noted electronic health records are not yet fully integrated into everything, despite years of development and adoption. If someone gets an A1C blood test for diabetes, he said, “we don’t see it until it becomes a claim,” although Aetna might be able to help that patient deal with a pre-diabetes A1C score before it becomes a claim. Which points to Edelman’s description of Aetna’s new vision of itself: “a care partner, not just paying your claims.” Perhaps that’s the third wave of digital transformation. In the first, companies got email and sites. In the second, they addressed digitally-focused customer journeys and unified customer data and experience. And, in the third, their role ideally grows to becoming a partner in fulfilling customers’ needs. “My mother just had a hip replacement,” Edelman said. The ideal scenario, he added, is that she gets an Apple Watch and her mobility is monitored, perhaps through an Aetna application that helps keep her healthy. In this third wave, in other words, it’s not just about selling the product and tracking the customer, but about keeping the customer happy. If you’re headed to the MarTech Conference in Boston, be sure to attend the keynote with David happening on Tuesday, October 3.
Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.