Aetna CMO: Digital Transformation in Healthcare with David Edelman

At the disruptive intersection of government, healthcare, and technology is the health insurance industry. David Edelman, CMO of Aetna, is helping design personalized experiences for customers based on their lifetime health journeys. He explains innovation in a stodgy industry facing a volatile market, and describe how technology and marketing, together, will transform healthcare.


May 12, 2017

At the disruptive intersection of government, healthcare, and technology is the health insurance industry. David Edelman, CMO of Aetna, is helping design personalized experiences for customers based on their lifetime health journeys. He explains innovation in a stodgy industry facing a volatile market, and describe how technology and marketing, together, will transform healthcare.

As Chief Marketing Officer for Aetna, David Edelman leads the research, design, strategy, and implementation of enterprise-wide marketing initiatives. His focus is on designing personalized experiences for customers and partners based on their lifetime health journey. David believes that healthcare is in the early days of a revolution, particularly in the area of digital engagement and brand loyalty.

Prior to this role, he held numerous leadership positions at premier management consulting firms and digital agencies. For the past eight years, he worked at McKinsey & Company where he co-led the Global Digital Marketing and Sales Practice and served as Chief Marketing Officer for McKinsey's Marketing and Sales Practice. Prior to McKinsey, he was Executive Vice President for strategy and analysis at Digitas, and earlier was a partner with the Boston Consulting Group. David speaks frequently at industry conferences and events, and blog on topics ranging from digital marketing to the Customer Decision Journey.


Michael Krigsman: Welcome to Episode #232 of CxOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman, an industry analyst, and your host. CxOTalk brings literally the most innovate, disruptive people and organizations in the world for in-depth conversation. And, before we begin with today’s amazing show, I want to say “Thank you” to Livestream, which supplies our video streaming delivery platform. And, if you go to, they’ll give you a discount.

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So, today’s show. We are speaking about healthcare, and we’re speaking about the complexities of healthcare with the Chief Marketing Officer of one of the largest insurers in the world, Aetna. David Edelman. You’re the Chief Marketing Officer of Aetna. How are you?

David Edelman: I’m doing quite well! Thank you, Michael!

Michael Krigsman: So, David, please tell us about Aetna. I think it’s a name that we’ve all heard, and tell us about your role!

David Edelman: Sure. Aetna is actually a company that’s over a hundred and fifty years old. It has gone through many different phases and interests in various parts of the insurance industry, starting out in property and casualty, in life, and then eventually in health which is now where we are focused. So, we are squarely in the healthcare space, as a payer. We are doing a lot, as I’ll be talking about, I’m sure, through this talk, to expand the perception of what that role really is.

As Chief Marketing Officer, I have several hats that I wear. First, and probably the most traditional, is to support the business in driving growth. So, we will have a new brand campaign, that’s actually launching next week, that will be in select markets around the country. That’s an important part of the transformation that we’re going through, but we also support our sales force, who calls on employers, through whom we do sell insurance. WE also have a direct-to-consumer business, especially in Medicare, where there’s a whole engine of activity that we drive. There’s also support to policymakers and other influencers, where we support the development of thought leadership.

But, I also have two other roles. A very important role that’s been growing importance is the marketing to our members to help them get engaged with great capabilities that we offer them to help them manage their health and their costs. We have digital tools, we have various kinds of support programs that our members should take advantage of. And often, the complexities and when people sign up the general overwhelming list of stuff they get doesn’t really make it clear and obvious how to do that.

And so, from a marketing perspective, one of my critical tasks is to help our members take advantage of what we have to offer and get them engaged. And then, related to that, and also related to the brand, is the third part, which is, we have within my team, overall coordination responsibility for the member experience. So, end-to-end, how members go through learning about plans, signing up for them, onboarding, their ongoing use of those plans to get care; to manage wellness, to manage their transactions, and to renew at the end of the year. So, that whole end-to-end, which varies a lot by different parts of our business, that’s all under our wing, and all has significant investment behind it.

Michael Krigsman: You mention the word “transformation,” and recently, Harvard Business School, or Harvard Business Review put out something they call the “2017 Transformation 10.” And, Aetna came up as the tenth most innovative company in terms of transformation, behind companies like Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Priceline, and Aetna is number five for what they term value-based healthcare. And so, I know this issue of transformation is crucially important for Aetna. Maybe, can you give us some insight as to why? Why is transformation so important to Aetna?

David Edelman: So, as anybody who touches healthcare knows, and I think everybody touches healthcare in some way, shape, or form; the costs are going up on a continuous basis. There are questions about access – there are all kinds of challenges in the basic momentum of the healthcare system. And from the perspective of a company that’s traditionally been a payer, a company who just creates products for people to buy and then manages the transactions, mostly the payment of transactions involved in people’s getting healthcare, that’s a very limited role. That’s not one where there’s much opportunity to shape where healthcare can go. But, yet, as in the role that we play, we have a tremendous opportunity from all the data that we collect and all the parties we connect. So, we have an opportunity to help people better understand who are the doctors who are high-quality, and who are in-network?

We can help stitch together people’s journeys when they have a hip replacement, all the way through getting help in terms of all of their therapy coming out of the hospital, going to first a place to actually get the therapy, bringing it home, even managing their transportation, helping them get meals, reminding them about taking their meds; all of that are a series of interactions that in today’s healthcare system, are the discrete. They’re all separate transactions. They’re all things that people are on their own.

We believe that if we can help our members string that together, and work together with our providers to manage the cost involved in that, we can both give members better care, which first and foremost is the most important thing, and secondly, helps them manage their costs and our costs along the way. So, there's a transformation pretty necessary in order to do all of that, because that is way more than just being an after-the-fact transaction manager; it’s about being proactive and essentially being a partner in care with our members and as we say, to help them manage to achieve their health aspirations.

Given what they want to do, we can now help them through many steps along the way, filling gaps in the providers if the providers can’t provide any information that may not be available. And that requires a whole bunch of capabilities that we are starting to put in place ranging from technology capabilities, data capabilities, but it also means empowering our people in the call centers when people call in. It means different kinds of relationships with the providers who we set up networks with. And all of that is happening at, frankly, breakneck speed. It’s just remarkable how fast that is going. And, our brand that’s coming out next week is a rallying cry around that to change people’s perceptions, and also within Aetna, make sure everybody completely understands and is aligned with the direction we’re heading.

Michael Krigsman: So, we are starting to get questions from Twitter, but before we do that, the burning question for me is the healthcare environment is so complex and so fraught with almost mutually-exclusive goals. If we look at the various stakeholders, insurance companies, patients, doctors, providers, the government; there are all of these different viewpoints and you’re right in the middle of it. And so, as you were thinking about this sense of customer delight and the customer journey, responsiveness, and experience that you were just describing, how do you factor in all of this incredibly complex and conflicting environment in which you live?

David Edelman: There is a lot of complexity from many different angles, many of which have to do with the way the healthcare system has been cobbled together over the years; different regulations and different ways employers manage what they pay … But the bottom lines is it still comes down to helping people realize their health ambitions, coming back to the member and what is the best care for the member; and making sure our members can get the best care at an appropriate price, because increasingly, given the way cost sharing is working where employers are passing on more of the cost to their employees, everyone’s aligned if we can help people find the right care at a reasonable cost.

So we start from the premise that it's not about helping people just when they're signing, it's about helping people manage to be healthy and to stay healthy; and that our members' health is utmost. And then empowering our members to be able to stay healthy and to do so in a way that's cost-effective for them. That’s where everything starts.

So, the way we try to manage that is to provide way more, in terms of education to our members. We’re building up the content that we have and the ways that we connect with members to communicate with them, sometimes, often it’s not just at the beginning when they pick plans and they’re inundated, but through the course of the year as we see certain kinds of things happening in their lives, jumping in and making sure they understand certain aspects of plans they’re on and the opportunities that they have to manage things better. If something comes up, a change in their health status, a prudence to it; they get diagnosed with a chronic disease like diabetes; we’re making care managers available to them. We have 5,000 nurses all over the country who can jump in and they take on cases to provide people with navigation and counseling through the system, often within the traditional care environment and increasingly beyond that to cover things like transportation, meals, etc. So, we’re trying to take the member’s point of view, first acknowledging that they’ve got their health goals, and we need to do so in a manner that’s going to be cost-effective.

Michael Krigsman: So clearly, the center of your activities is the member; thinking about their broad healthcare, and let’s say, wellness.

We have a number of questions from Twitter, and let’s begin with an interesting one from Sal Rasa, who asks, “How does Aetna see its transformation within the healthcare integrated supply chain?”

David Edelman: So, we actually believe that the supply chain is going to be changing; that right now, there hasn’t been necessarily a role that takes on, more that member, that navigation and support responsibility; that actually, there was part of the supply chain that was thrown on people for them to do for themselves. And providers, the hospitals, the doctors, they did some of that. No question! Absolutely! But not all of it. And that often, people are stuck in many different situations, you know, especially when you think of behavioral health. You know, you have a mental health issue, certainly, something changes in your life, where do you go for health, how do you get back into the swing of things? There’s just all these traditions in many different situations where they don’t have the support to get from Point A to Point B. And we believe that that part of the healthcare value chain that frankly, has been a gap for a desk just slightly handled is an incredible opportunity to help people and in the course of doing so, guide them to better and more cost-effective care.

We’ve also done some other things too, though, which is work with the provider networks themselves. We have four joint-venture arrangements with different provider systems around the country, where we set up complete joint ventures, fifty-fifty, where we share in the management, the coordination of the management of those patients and the risk against their premiums. And for those members who are in those joint ventures, they especially, because all incentives are completely aligned to coordinate their care through all different kinds of situational journeys that they might have.

So, yes. It is a change in terms of the supply chain, not necessarily sure it’s trying to take something away from another player, but it’s about filling a gap. And in doing so, it may adjust some of the balance along the way, but it’s certainly in the best interest of our networks.

Michael Krigsman: So, you see your mandate as supporting your members and as you were making these decisions about where to partner, what to do, it all comes back to what are you doing to support your members’ healthcare and wellness?

David Edelman: Absolutely! Because it’s a win-win all the way. If you look at most people’s healthcare, it’s right now, actually paid for as a part of their employer plans. And from an employer’s perspective, one of the key things is to keep people healthy and productive. So, from the employer’s standpoint, yes. There’s certainly cost pressure issues that they’re trying to manage, but the reason they’re offering it to go way back is to keep their members healthy and productive. So, if we can help the member do that, it’s in everyone’s best interest. And also, if we can get them engaged in it, they can also make smarter decisions that not only help them from a health perspective, but also from a financial one as well.

Michael Krigsman: You know, I have to say, hearing you talk about this in such a straightforward way; this reference point being the health and wellness of your members, it really cuts through a lot of the complexity that circles around everything to do with healthcare.

But, we have another question from Twitter that’s another really good one, and this is from Scott Weitzman. And, he’s asking, “How does technology help drive cost reductions even further than the process changes that you were talking [about]?” So, what’s the role of technology in driving healthcare reductions while maintaining the quality?

David Edelman: I mean, that’s a very broad question. So there are lots of different dimensions that technology can help. Let’s start with […]. So first off, just simply as a marketer, technology provides us with new ways to work with members to be able to send messages to them, to be able to help them get information… Online, we can provide a whole range of tools to help them find doctors, understand ratings, connect with peers who may have similar conditions and create communities around that to help them learn from each other. So, there’s a ton there.

Then you start getting into wearables, where if from a technology perspective, not only do you get people engaged in having healthy behaviors, but the right kinds of wearables like in Apple Watch, and we have a partnership with Apple about the watch… The watch itself is a way to send little triggers and nudges, and things that can help somebody stay on track, remember to take their meds, remember that there’s an appointment coming up … Ask if they need transportation; there’s a whole lot of having the technology so approximate to somebody can help us in terms of getting them engaged more directly.

Then there’s a whole class of things around trying to reduce the dependency on the broader cost of the medical-industrial complex, so to speak. So, offering services like video consoles. The people don't have to necessarily go right away to an emergency room. They can get a first judgment for a lot of things. Whether it even makes sense, whether it you can wait for the morning, what should happen there? And so, video services, quite a few of them now are available … are one way also to start giving people a first-cut sense of feedback, and then figuring out where to go next.

And then from all the data that this all has generated along the way, from an analytic perspective and increasingly using artificial intelligence tools, we can start to understand better, through predictive modeling, things that we can do proactively. So, we can find out, from Google, for example, all that … Flu: people looking up searches on the flu are going up in certain geographies while we can push out messages to people in those geographies really rapidly, strongly urging them to get flu shots as soon as possible, and giving them the logic why. And so, that’s a scenario we can be tremendously helpful to our members, and it’s just a win-win all around.

So, yes. Absolutely, technology is there from a number of different angles in terms of the video console in the active care, but I think it’s also about connecting with people and having new ways to access and help them engage; and then also, being able to generate and use all kinds of data to be more proactive.

Michael Krigsman: I want to remind everybody that we are speaking with David Edelman, who is the Chief Marketing Officer of the huge insurance company, Aetna. And now would be a very good time for you to subscribe to us on YouTube. Press the “Subscribe” button, and all kinds of good things will happen.

So, we have more questions coming in from Twitter, and I’m going to try to get to all of them. When you were talking about wearables and the Apple Watch, I have to say I am the poster-child for this, because, at the end of last year, I started to get – I wear an Apple Watch – at the end of last year I started to get these odd notifications about my heart rate. And I ignored them. I thought, "This is notification spam," you know, I don't know what's going on, and it started to become more regular. And so I had it actually checked out and it turned out I had an underlying condition that was causing an elevated heart rate. I’m fine, not a big deal. But the point is the Apple Watch was the early warning sign for something that otherwise I had no symptoms [for]. And it worked! It was just extraordinary to me. And I wrote a post about this on ZDNet that was read by 60,000 people.

So continuing on this theme of data, which you just mentioned, we have a question from Arsalan Khan, who’s talking about, “There are big data harmonizations,” as he says, “across industries: health, industries, government; we need to make this happen.” So, has Aetna thought about or maybe implemented any type of data exchanges in order to facilitate the aggregation of data that can then be used in making diagnoses or helping patients understand their own health and trends and wellness; things like that?

David Edelman: To be honest, on the clinical side of our business, we could, but I ‘m not aware. There could be a Chief Medical Officer, but I’m not involved in that. I do know that between us and our joint venture partners and sharing data with our own providers, that there’s tremendous data exchange where there are a lot of interesting issues; for example, helping informing providers of who are doctors who are prescribing more than their share of opioids, for example; and informing those doctors directly of saying, “Look, given your speciality in your geography, here’s where you are compared to your peers.” We can provide information back to the providers about issues like that and other things. So, we are exchanging data. As far as holistic, harmonized, I am not aware of that, per-say.

Michael Krigsman: We have yet another question from Twitter, which … This is from Sudeer Kulkarny, and by the way the previous question was Arsalan Khan. So Sudeer Kulkarny, I hope you’re pronouncing your name correctly; he is asking about data connectivity, which I think relates to something similar; again, the kind of broader use of data, whether it’s clinically or marketing, because Scott Weitzman is also asking about technology on patient engagement. So, I think that data can be used in a variety of different ways. And so, maybe you can just elaborate further on just this role of data in any aspect of Aetna’s business and relation to customers.

David Edelman: Yeah. Before getting into the role of data, I think that first, it's important to recognize the daunting nature of combining the data in companies like ours. My role didn't really exist until I came in about eight months ago, and most of the way the company was organized was discrete lines of business which have their own data and basically sold and operated barely independently. And now, we’re pivoting towards integrating all of that on behalf of the member. And so, getting our own data together is something we’ve actually made huge strides on, but there’s a lot of work there. And there’s a lot of different dimensions to data to combine all of the different claims in clinical data, all of the service interactions, all of the basic demographics, all of the marketing data, and getting that all together is something we are working on. And as we’re doing that, we’re starting to see certain very interesting patterns around people’s behaviors who are engaged in certain kinds of programs, and we can finally get the end-to-end picture that can allow us to do new kinds of tests that we couldn’t have done before; where we tried, for example, to do a program to make people aware that they don’t need to g to an emergency room if they’ve got a cold.

You know, there’s a whole bunch of things for which you don’t need to go to an emergency room, but we can actually now see who are people who are overusing emergency rooms, educate them, and now follow through and see all the way through. You know, it’s not just a question of sending out marketing messages and getting the response, which a lot of the marketing teams are based on. We’re talking about a behavior that happens way downstream through a whole other set of systems. We can now link that together and actually see the impact of the programs we’re running. So, we’re starting, frankly, with ourselves. There’s a lot we can do and a lot of data we can unlock, and our data sciences organization is critically important. And, our leader of that is one of the top folks here. And that’s, I think, where we’ve got to first begin and start unlocking that potential.

Michael Krigsman: Now, one thing that we have not really spoken too much about is transformation inside Aetna, itself. You’re an extremely large organization and the healthcare world has been changing dramatically, and Aetna has been transforming and innovating. So, would you talk about that aspect of it? How does a large organization like Aetna transform? And obviously, given the Harvard Business Review commendation that I mentioned, the recognition that I mentioned earlier, you’re doing a really good job at it. So, how do you transform such a big company?

David Edelman: Well, a lot of it starts with vision from the top, and Mark Bertolini, our CEO, has been out in front for quite a while with a pretty strong set of messages about the importance of helping the world become a healthier place, essentially; and that our goal is not just to manage the transactions but to actually affect health itself on a broad basis. He’s been out in front from a number of different angles. Also, being a firm believer that health isn't just from the healthcare system, that there have also been quite a few studies about the social determinants of health, having actually much higher values, and people’s behaviors have even more value. So, right from the start, right at the top, there has been a strong belief that if we’re going to get our arms around the whole problem of quality and cost and care, we have to take a different perspective on it.

So, Mark’s been out there and from the top, driving that change and building a leadership team that is data-driven, to see what the studies are, and understanding those, where to set our priorities, and all of us together working through the right kinds of sequences for investments to make.

I think one of the biggest things that galvanize us is a rallying cry around helping people achieve their health ambitions; that really being a core rallying cry, a core part of what our brand is all about, and they’re saying, “Well what does that mean?” What is that role we have to play? What are the changes we need to make?” And then, pushing in the executive team to constantly reevaluate the investments we’re making, operating changes that we need to make, in order to free up capital to invest in that. So, any kind of transformation is going to have a wing-walking aspect to it that’s really tricky, especially from a funding perspective because you have all of these new things that you want to build, that you want to put capital against, that you're pretty convinced that you're going to pay off, but you've got to get over the hump of freeing the cash in order to do it.

But then, you have a whole core of the business and the way it operates. So, the key is to take the core and try to find the most absolutely efficient ways of doing that core, and really drive the programs where you’re looking at how to simplify things, how do digitize things, and get the cost structure out of the basics so that you can fund the more advanced stuff. And then when you do fund the more advanced stuff, making sure you’ve got the discipline to put measurement systems against it so that you have control cells, so you can understand […] and you set things up so that you’ve got very clear baselines and targets for what would define success.

And so, we've been very disciplined in doing that. Along the way, there have also been quite a few new hires, like myself, who bring in different trends of skills into the business, while also having the folks who really understand the business, but who are now taking on a different perspective of what it’s role needs to be. I think there are certain galvanizing … So underneath the brand promise of helping people realize their health ambitions, the brand program itself is something that is washing through the employee base, it will, over time, in order to remind people more tightly against this… It’s also about the senior management constantly, in all of our meetings, in all of our strategy reviews, to know of our operating reviews, getting ahead of asking the questions, “Well, how is this driving us towards our strategy goal? How is this going to drive better health? Better satisfaction of our members? Better member retention? Better member engagement? How is it going to do that?” And so, being relentless and consistent on that, from the top, is absolutely critical. And it’s been refreshing to see that. I mean, when I was recruited into the firm, it was certainly something that came through all the senior interviews that I had, and now being here, I’m seeing it in action.

Michael Krigsman: How do you link that relentless focus on the member experience, and their healthcare, to the organizational objectives of changing the organization, improving information flows, across departments? Incentivizing people across the company and to support those member goals. In practice, what are the steps that you take in order to ensure that your strategic business and customer-facing goals are reflected in the internal organization and in that change that you’ve just been talking about?

David Edelman: Well, I think one of the biggest drivers of the change, frankly, was and I don't mean this selfishly, was to build the marketing capability for the company. Marketing had been separated out from each business unit, not that elevated across the company. And by building a separate marketing capability, one of the key things that we bring is a frontline, deep sense of the customer. So, whether it's a member, whether it's the planned sponsor, bringing that into the business units on a constant basis, being their strategic partners, to make sure that the investments and actions we're making are reflecting that customer's point of view, as opposed to maybe the more traditional accounting, underwriting, point of view that has historically dominated most insurance companies.

So, one thing for my people, everyone on the marketing team has got to get out to call centers; they’ve got to get out to focus groups; they’ve got to get out and meet with planned sponsor customers. So, it’s absolutely critical to be on the front line and bring that knowledge, that empathy, back into the organization and all of us now sit on the leadership team of the business units that we support and connect a lot with our functional colleagues. And so, we're constantly bringing that point of view in, and we're raising that. And we have the license to do so with a strong push from the top to say that these measures around satisfaction, engagement, are so important. But people want to know how to get there, and marketing's becoming a key place they turn.

We’ve also pivoted what used to be called market research, where they did research projects; something more akin to enterprise intelligence, where we’re constantly feeding voice of the customer-type research into different parts of the organization depending on what they need. So, that’s a dramatically beefed-up function that along with all of the data that comes out from our analytics team, is being used all the time.

 Michael Krigsman: I’ve spoken here on CxOTalk with a number of senior executives from companies in the insurance industry, and in general; I’m not talking about Aetna; but in general, insurance, historically, has not been a hotbed of customer focus, you know? How can we make the customer’s life easier? And so, I’m assuming that in this transition and transformation, there’s a major cultural dimension of getting people inside Aetna to be thinking about this customer perspective deep inside their DNA. And so, how do you change that culture to where you want to go, as you were describing?

David Edelman: To be honest, we're just beginning. There are fifty thousand people who work at Aetna. It's a huge company. We are dispersed all over the country. There are people in almost every single state. So, it's a pretty broad stretch of people to connect with and reach. But, there are some things that we're starting to do. As I mentioned before, the […] while we are also going external with our brand program, there is also going to be an internal brand program. So, going through all the different parts of our company, hardcore discussions of what does it mean to deliver on the brand that we're talking about here? What are the tenets of that and how does it affect the kinds of priorities and decisions that you make on an everyday basis? We're going to be having that explicit discussion. That’s certainly something that washes through.

I also think to change the mattress; because that means from an operating perspective, people who run different parts of the business have to now explicitly look at satisfaction, retention, engagement measures. Those become parts of the drivers of performance, and frankly, of reward. And so, they’ve got to bring that down into the way they manage their behaviors and the culture they drive. I also think, coming back to what I was saying before with the voice of the customer, we have to provide more, and that’s something we are ramping up. But, we’re also trying to make it easier for people to get out to the frontlines, and having more people pass through our call centers, and jack-in with reps, and see what’s actually happening on the front lines, and what our members are asking about; what our providers are asking about. So, it’s a lot of different things. And, it’s got to scale. But, we understand the importance of it.

Michael Krigsman: We have just a short time left. But, can you briefly elaborate on the customer satisfaction or customer-oriented focus and metrics that you think about? How do you use metrics to bring customer delight? And we could talk for an hour on this, but I'll ask you to keep your comments pretty short.

David Edelman: Yeah, I think it starts, in general, with three kinds of measures. There are behavioral measures; so, for example, how many times do people have to call into the call center per year? And, usually, most of the time, they’re calling into the call center, it’s not a good thing. So, whether or not it’s about satisfaction, if we can find ways to make sure people are proactively educated or have the tools that they need, we can save them time and not have to help them […]. So, there’s a bunch of behavioral things that give us early warning signs; satisfaction … That also will affect our cost structure as well.

There’s a second set of measures that are around satisfaction, per say. And, that’s going to be measured in terms of both satisfaction and a transactional level; so you just had a call that was handled well? Did you get the information you needed? But frankly, there’s a bigger question, did you have to have called in the first place? So, we need to also look at satisfaction more broadly for people who have had certain kinds of incidences and say, “You’ve just had a hip replacement from what we understand. You’re back up on your feet and things are well. So, tell us about the journey. Tell us about the experience.” And we use the term “journey” a lot here. It’s important to understand that it’s not about the individual transaction. Because, as I talked about before, a big part of where we want to go is to be that glue that helps people in their home across the whole way. So, while we might survey for satisfaction at a transaction level, we have to look at it at a journey level as well.

And then, there's the end operating metric. So, did operating costs per member go down because they're calling in less. Did medical costs per member go down, because they're engaging better and they're making better decisions and they're proactively managing their health? So, there are different kinds of metrics that we look at along the way that is all aligned towards this goal.

Michael Krigsman: And finally, we just have about four minutes left. You’re in the midst of this major transformation and you’ve been recognized for your success so far. And, therefore, what advice have you got for other business leaders who, maybe in other industries, who are facing changes in the environment and they have to respond, and their business model and their internal organization has all got to evolve; what’s your advice for those folks?

David Edelman: Well first of all, in terms of recognition so far, I actually think we have a long way to go, and we're just starting. But I think it's important that we have gotten off the ground and we're rolling. I think, especially from a marketer's perspective, I think you win through customer insight. And, as I've talked with other chief marketing officers, and I do quite a bit because there is a lot you can learn from your peers, especially those who have been in traditional more B2B companies, more sales-driven, who haven't had this kind of perspective before. You win through insights, by bringing the information about what really is the member experience? Let’s see how people understand that when every different division in this company is sending people emails every week, they become so overloaded that none of them really register.

And so, bring constantly the insights to bear. Make it real. Make it visceral. Make it theater! Bring those insights to bear so that people can understand what’s really happening on the front line. That’s what it takes to get people engaged. I was fortunate enough to come into a company where a lot of the senior leadership knew the general direction they wanted to go and are building up the talent base to get them there. But even along the way, as we have to make marginal decisions about certain kinds of investments versus others, bringing the real experience from the front line to bear, getting myself out to call centers at the beginning of my time here; that’s all been a critical ingredient in helping people understand what needs to get done.

Michael Krigsman: So, there’s no substitute for actual customer information, accurately understanding your customers’ experience, what they want, and what they’re going through today?

David Edelman: Absolutely. And especially from a marketer’s perspective, that’s one of the most important things in your arsenal.

Michael Krigsman: And my last, last question for you, in one minute: You came to Aetna from McKinsey, where you led the digital marketing practice, and in fact, you were a guest on CxOTalk. And so, how’s it different working as a McKinsey consultant to being the CMO of a large organization?

David Edelman: Well, I have to say, when you’re a consultant, it’s often like being a surrogate parent. You give birth, you give it away. We have a lot of ideas, a lot of great ways that you help clients, but ultimately as it should be, it’s theirs. And you’re helping others. In this role, it’s about really seeing it through and making it happen; making sure the execution goes all the way to the right, and you have to make sure that you're really thinking through all the aspects of the execution. And I'm finding that incredibly rewarding! Especially with a team that's dedicated to making that happen, and feeling the joy of the team as we have our successes; that's just been tremendously rewarding.

Michael Krigsman: Alright. Well, I wish we had another hour. We have been speaking with David Edelman, who is the Chief Marketing Officer of Aetna. David Edelman, thank you so much for spending your time and for talking with us today!

David Edelman: My pleasure! Have a good weekend off!

Michael Krigsman: Next week, we have two CxOTalk shows. You can check it out at And, don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube. Thanks so much, everybody for watching, and thank you particularly to David Edelman for teaching us a lot about the insurance business and describing his efforts at transformation at Aetna. Bye-bye everybody! Have a great week!

Published Date: May 12, 2017

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 432