Behind every brand delivering a great experience is a leader who recognizes the value of keeping things simple.  In Simplifiers, Margaret Molloy, our Global CMO, interviews business leaders who put simplicity to work. 

In this Simplifiers interview, Margaret speaks with David Edelman, CMO, Aetna.

MM: What does Aetna stand for and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

DE: Aetna stands for helping people realize the joy of achieving their health ambitions. People have health goals—they don’t simply want to be healthy, maybe they want to make it to a wedding, run a race or be present for their family. So we dedicate every ounce of our energy to helping people reach their health goals, big and small, at every stage of life.

MM: What role does simplicity play in helping them achieve that promise?

DE: Simplicity is critical to communicating with each Aetna member in a way that’s relevant to that member’s goals. There’s a temptation in a large company like ours to have each division contact each member separately, resulting in the member being bombarded. We anticipate and mitigate this by limiting communications members receive to those explicitly relevant to their goals.

In simplifying our portfolio, products, and communications, we make it easier for our members to achieve their health goals.

MM: How does Aetna strive to create simple experiences?

DE: One of the ways we’re creating simple experiences is by considering the different stages of the consumer’s healthcare journey. A great example of this is onboarding. For our Medicare experience, members previously received five different welcome packets from different parts of our business, and another five from compliance. We’ve taken all these disparate communications and rationalized them down to one piece of content—a magazine that welcomes each member, providing them information specifically relevant to them, including a guide showing them how to access the resources they need.

MM: What are the benefits you’ve received from simplifying?

DE: The first and most obvious benefit we’ve received from simplifying is cost-reduction. Complexity is costly. We had over 300 different websites in the Aetna eco-system. Since simplifying, we’ve been ruthless about consolidating, templatizing and rationalizing the portfolio, which, in turn, has led to lower operating costs. For example, this simplicity has already reduced calls to the call center, as members know exactly where to go.

MM: How do you keep things simple for your marketing team?

DE: One of the most important things I’ve done is to clarify marketing’s distinct and unequivocal priorities. Marketing gets a lot of work. The last thing we want to be is a delicatessen where anyone can order what they want, regardless of our priorities. Marketing has strategies for each line of business. To this end, I encourage our Marketing organization to be tenacious about pushing these priorities forward, which sometimes requires making tough tradeoffs. If anyone is doing anything that doesn’t squarely drive our five priorities, they should dismiss it.

Secondly, we’re keeping things simple for the marketing team by using analytics that shows which initiatives move the needle most. We’ve further simplified this process by minimizing our technology structure—now everything is on either Adobe or Salesforce. We let the numbers guide what we do. I manage our marketing portfolio by checking the analytics, which helps me determine which initiatives have proven to advance our priorities, which we should continue and which we should stop.

MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?

DE: I lead by keeping our priorities at the forefront. I ensure that the leaders I manage are moving these priorities forward, that they’re not spread too thin and that everyone has the resources they need to crush it. A crucial part of this process is having the spine and knowing how and when to say ‘no.’

MM: What’s a recent customer experience you thought was a good manifestation of simplicity?

DE: I recently got solar panels for my house from a company called Sungevity that had an amazing marketing experience. They reached out to us with a mailer saying that our house was a good candidate for solar panels. In the mailer was a personalized URL that took us to a Google Earth image of our house, pictured from above, with solar panels superimposed on the house. Also included was a calculation—based on the angle of our house, considering tree coverage and taking into account the number of panels we could fit on our house—of how much money we could save. The “click to call” feature took us to a representative who, right away, could discuss customized leasing plans. The whole pre-sales process was incredibly simple because they did all the hard work of helping me understand their value upfront.

MM: How have you helped Aetna conquer complexity?

DE: We created an Office of the Consumer, which looks at the end-to-end customer journey and has the charter to make the customer experience more streamlined. This has moved the needle on many unexpected aspects affecting our members. .

For example, we streamlined the onboarding experience. If you’re an Aetna member getting vision and dental insurance, you would previously have been contacted separately—your healthcare experience wouldn’t be coordinated. Now we’re bringing all of that together into one integrated experience that you can manage on mobile and many other communications channels.

MM: What do you think is the biggest mistake brands make in regards to simplifying?

DE: They don’t look at the consumer experience from an end-to-end perspective.

Consumers are often the victims of well-intended process improvements. For example, we saw that people wanted to have their member ID cards on their phone. We also realized that it would cut costs to eliminate the physical cards. So we eliminated the physical card and exclusively gave people access to digital versions. Of course, they could print them out, but most people didn’t, which created a problem when they’d go to doctor’s offices and the office would request to make a copy of their card. In the end, this initiative created a greater hassle for the member.

MM: What indicators show that simplicity is helping your efforts?

DE: Higher response rates to the communications we send, less calls to the call centers from confused consumers and cost savings on print and postage.

MM: Have you or your brand had to make a hard decision for the sake of simplicity?  

DE: We’re eliminating products and websites all the time—products and websites that people previously thought were essential. We do this by making the point that there’s a cost of complexity and simplifying sometimes requires making hard tradeoffs.

MM: How would you define simplicity?

DE: There are two sides to simplicity: One, when I want to self-serve I can go online and get my task done autonomously. Two, if I call in, a representative will handle what I need to be done without me having to do additional work.

MM: What’s the top piece of advice you would give to other brands trying to simplify?

DE: Everyone needs an office of the consumer—a group that’s looking and advocating for the end-to-end customer experience.

MM: Thank you, David.

This is an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with CMO at Birchbox, Amanda Tolleson; CMO at Lenovo, David Roman; CMO at SAP, Alicia Tillman; EVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Henry Gomez; CMO at Twitter, Leslie Berland; CMO at Blue Apron, Jared Cluff; SVP, Global Brand Management at American Express, Clayton Ruebensaal; EVP and Group President at Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Cofra Holding Ltd, former CEO of C&A China, Lawrence Brenninkmeyer; CMO at The Recording AcademyEvan Greene; CMO at Mary Kay, Sheryl Adkins-GreenHead of Marketing at Home Centre, Rohit Singh BhatiaSVP, CMO of Aflac, Gail GaluppoSVP and CMO at Cambia Health Solutions, Carol KruseManaging Director of The Nature Conservancy, Geof Rochester, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Motorola Solutions, Eduardo Conrado, EVP; SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott, Elaine Leavenworth, GE CMO, Linda Boff; McLaren Automotive Head of Brand Marketing, Stephen Lambert; Ascension Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Nick Ragone; Hertz CMO, Matt Jauchius; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl; President, Liza Landsman and VP Marketing, Sumaiya Balbale; Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally Financial CMO, Andrea Riley; Gannett CMO, Andy Yost; CVS Health CMO, Norman De Greve; Dunkin’ Brands CMO, John Costello; Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh; Southwest Airlines CMO, Kevin Krone; and Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill.

Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview: [email protected]

Margaret Molloy is Global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy and Instagram: @MargaretMMolloy