How Aetna’s Brand Transformation Teaches a Lesson in Storytelling Marketing

Guest: David Edelman Chief Marketing Officer, Aetna

A company’s brand transformation process should never be taken lightly, especially for a health insurance company that serves the lives of thousands of people across the country. When David Edelman joined Aetna’s team as the CMO two years ago, he knew that a change was needed to reimagine the public perception of health insurance companies. On this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite, you’ll learn how he and his team successfully transformed the Aetna brand into one that puts the joy and wellness of its clients first and foremost.

David shares why a rebranding transformation is not just a marketing thing — it must be an organization-wide effort that translates to tangible changes for customers. Drew and David also dive into how the Aetna marketing team achieved internal company buy-in, and how acting courageously in their market led to a completely reinvented brand rooted in sincere storytelling.

Get inspired to let storytelling drive your next marketing move.

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What You’ll Learn

David’s first challenge was figuring out the space in which Aetna could relate with clients

When asked about the healthcare industry, most people will associate the market with negative words and emotions. Overcoming this negative association was David’s first challenge as Aetna’s new CMO. He realized that Aetna had to become so much more than a health insurance company. He tells Drew that they needed to become “a partner in our clients’ lives,” while telling each client, “We’re joining you! You lead, we’ll follow.” By opening up this line of honest communication with their clients, Aetna has been able to enter into new spaces of health, wellness, and preventative medicine.

Achieving internal buy-in was critical to the success of Aetna’s brand transformation

Before Aetna could help their clients reach their wellness goals, David and his team first had to achieve internal buy-in. Previously, each of Aetna’s departments had their own “feel” and culture. They combated this lack of unity by sharing the new brand promise, explaining priority initiatives, and continually asking for employee feedback and insights. They also used a variety of evaluation and measurement tools that allowed them to make the necessary course corrections throughout the brand transformation process. To hear the full story behind how all of this – and more – was achieved in just 6 months, be sure to listen.

Reorienting the B2B and B2C sales teams to sell with storytelling in mind

Drew and David talk at length in this episode about how Aetna successfully sells in both the B2B and B2C space. Not only does Aetna sell to individuals and families, but they also offer healthcare packages to small businesses and major corporations. David outlines a few major tools his marketing team was able to share with the sales team to make selling the new Aetna brand easier:

  • Arm the sales team with great content
  • Share the new customer experience
  • Use storytelling techniques – don’t just share lists and data
  • Focus on the idea of “One Aetna”

The reorienting process hasn’t been simple, but David and his team have handled it beautifully so far. For the full story, don’t miss this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite.


  • [0:28] David approached his marketing challenge at Aetna with courage
  • [3:54] The first steps in rebranding the entire company
  • [9:06] Taking action on the research David and his team collected
  • [11:28] Overcoming pushback throughout the rebranding process
  • [13:48] Engaging employees was critical in making the rebranding successful
  • [21:00] The internal structure of the brand transformation at Aetna
  • [26:05] Reorienting the B2B and B2C sales teams to sell with storytelling in mind
  • [36:41] David’s final thoughts on brand transformation and lessons learned during his 2 years at Aetna

Connect With David:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Meet the Guest

After three decades leading digital transformation and revolutionizing consumer experiences, Dave Edelman joined Aetna as Chief Marketing Officer in September 2016. In this role, he heads the recently formed 500-person Marketing organization, overseeing all the research, design, and development activities that drive enterprise growth and help Aetna’s 22 million members realize the joy of achieving their health ambitions.

Named by Forbes as one of “The World’s Most Influential CMOs” in both 2017 and 2018, Dave is a recognized thought leader and LinkedIn Influencer, and has been published in the Harvard Business Review. He speaks and writes regularly about digital transformation, agile marketing, consumer experience, and localization of healthcare. Prior to joining Aetna, he held numerous leadership roles at McKinsey, Digitas, and the Boston Consulting Group.

Dave received his bachelor’s degree in Economics from Harvard College and his MBA from Harvard Business School. He is an avid music fan, long-time saxophone musician, and is married with three children.

Quotes from David Edelman

  • I'm a huge believer that one of the most important things marketing has to do is tell the story.
  • A sense of mission internally is a powerful magnet for people who want to engage in helping to change healthcare.
  • It is important to arm the sales team with great content that explains the change, from a customer's perspective, of what their experience will be.
  • The biggest lesson is to make rebranding not just a marketing thing. It's got to involve the whole company and the whole leadership team.

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