Why Aetna’s MarTech Strategy Is Customer-Obsessed, Not Technology-Obsessed

Shiva Mirhosseini’s whole career has been about marketing technology. But the focus was always internal, on what the technology could do for marketing. Until she realized that enabling marketers doesn’t actually help a brand reach its goals — enabling the customer does.

Aetna moved their KPIs away from transactional, funnel-focused measurments toward goals that reflect customer success.

Shiva Mirhosseini’s whole career has been about marketing technology: setting martech strategy, building tech stacks and creating cutting-edge marketing capabilities. But the focus was always internal, on what the technology could do for marketing. Until she realized that enabling marketers doesn’t actually help a brand reach its goals — enabling the customer does.

Would Your MarTech Stack Help Your Father Use Your Services?

Mirhosseini is Aetna’s VP of marketing technology and digital experience, and I got to hear her speak at MarTech in Boston earlier this month. (That was after I went to Content Marketing World, but before &THEN … which is why this blog’s been on hiatus for a couple weeks.)

Technology can enable marketers to do a lot of things. But when it comes down to it, our martech strategy is very transactional: Give people content to get their information. Make them offers based on that information to get them to buy. Follow up on that purchase with more useful info and offers to get repeat buyers.

But when Mirhosseini’s father had a health scare, it changed her perspective on the true measure of marketing technology success.

“He doesn’t care about all that transactional data exchange,” she said. “What he really wants is a human exchange.” He doesn’t care about he marketing emails and everything like that. He wants the right information before his doctor visit so he can have an informed conversation with his doctor.

That realization was a game-changer for Mirhosseini, and it should be a game-changer for all marketers who’ve been thinking of martech strategy through the lens of what it can do for the brand. The real power of all marketing technology is not in what it allows you to do, it’s in what it allows you to let the customer do.

“I finally realized that I was no longer a technology sort of marketer,” says Mirhosseini. “My role had changed to be a customer evangelist whose sole responsibility is to create frictionless experiences, simplify the customer experiences, and be at the services of our customers. Only then may we earn the customer trust enough to pivot towards growth.”

You can see that part of her presentation in this video. Tell me: How much does what she’s saying make sense for your company? But then, how much are you acting on that?

Changing the Marketing Culture

“You should really think about that end consumer and how your work is changing their experience,” said  Mirhosseini.

This isn’t just a healthcare issue. She points out that the revenue benefits of marketing technology have largely accrued at one kind of company:

  • S&P 500 has grown revenue 2.5%
  • NASDAQ companies have grown 20%
  • Salesforce has grown 30%

“Worldwide investment in digital transformation is on pace to reach $2 trillion by 2020.” So, she asked, “Why hasn’t more of it translated to revenue lift?”

Mirhosseini sees the issue as part of the overall martech strategy: How the technology is employed and how the department is built to use it.

“The companies that have invested in these technologies, We have not adapted our model,” she said. In fact, she thinks brands have spent too much money buying technology in silos, and not transforming the martech strategy and the way they focus on enabling the customer.

“Very few companies can leverage technology and unite behind the premise of serving their human customers, like my grandfather,” she said. “It’s not about having marketing and sales talk more with eachother or have more meetings. … It’s about building a customer-obsessed organization, and it starts by having a customer-obsessed vision.”

Now, Mirhosseini sees it as her role was to simplify customer experiences and enable the outcomes and experiences those customer want. To do that, Aetna’s marketing team has moved from being masters of the pipeline to becoming customer evangelists. What Mirhosseini calls, “truly customer enablement teams.”

Marketing Stopped Following the Funnel

A big part in Aetna’s transformation was aligning the company toward customer success, and away from the sales funnel. They essentially decided that happy customers would lead to more revenue than unhappy customers being shoved down the sales funnel.

On the customer-facing side, this means dramatically simplifying the Aetna online brand. “We obsessed about our customer experience. We launched enterprise-wide digital governance,” said Mirhosseini, to make sure every online project matched their customer-obsessed digital guidelines. This has lead to reducing Aetna’s confusing digital footprint by 80%, and they’re seeing that “customer satisfaction and customer engagement is continuing to go up” as they shrink that footprint.

Internally, Aetna also redirected its KPIs, away from transactional KPIs like leads and conversions to goals that measure the customer experience. Those include:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Retention
  • Lifetime value
  • Net Promoter score

“If our goal, process and operational model are centered around customer success, so should our metrics,” said Mirhosseini. “When the customer gets what they want when they want it, their overall lifetime engagement goes up, and everyone wins.”

So far the results of this transformation have been good, and those metrics are rising as Aetna continues to focus its technology efforts on making the customer’s life easier. But the journey isn’t over for Mirhosseini and her team. The next step is to move beyond customer obsession to customer success, which she says is still a struggle for all brands, including Aetna.

In the meantime, Mirhosseini said, “All I know is building a customer-obsessed culture is a very worthy mission, and we should all be aspiring to do that.”

So take a look at your own company and ask yourself: Is your martech strategy focused on your success, or your customers’? Can you really have the former without the latter?

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

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