BtoB Top Marketer: Michael Showalter, Cigna

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Perhaps it took a self-described “serial malcontent” to pull off a campaign as radical as the one Cigna launched in June. The ads admit there's something wrong with the health care industry and state that Cigna is working to improve it. “I like to see change happen, and I like to drive that change,” said Cigna CMO Michael Showalter, who oversaw the multimillion-dollar marketing campaign and corporate rebranding effort that's been three years in the making. Created by Doremus, New York, the campaign is themed “It's time to feel better” and directs consumers to, a multimedia site offering everything from consumer health tips and health care education to advice on how to lobby politicians to help stop spiraling health care costs. “We can't fix the health care system overnight, but we can start,” promises the voice-over in the upbeat commercials showing consumers who say they're fed up with confusing paperwork and health plans. The commercials broke regionally in Colorado and Georgia markets on cable and broadcast, while print ads sought to reach key decision-makers through spreads in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and other publications; a Web ad campaign ran on ESPN, Yahoo and other mainstream media and trade sites. The campaign will be expanded nationally in 2009. Emerging media and sponsorships are also part of the mix. Cigna teamed with Scholastic in Georgia to sponsor health posters and teachers' lessons plans. It also partnered with HopeLab, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping young people with chronic illness, to create a videogame for cancer victims. Showalter said Second Life and Facebook marketing presences are in Cigna's plans. Overall, the ads are a sharp departure from Cigna's previous campaign, tagged “A business of caring.” Showalter said the company is de-emphasizing that message so it can highlight customer empowerment. “Individuals are a big part of getting this system working again,” Showalter said. The campaign message is “not only unexpected,” he said, “but it's also taking responsibility, and it comes at a critical time” when the world is struggling with economic, sustainability and chronic-health issues. But above all, the message wouldn't resonate if Cigna weren't making concrete improvements, said Showalter, who joined the company in 2005 from Definity Health, where he pioneered one of the nation's first consumer-driven health plans. For instance, Cigna's customer service was overhauled to make it easier and faster for customers to access information. For the third time in a row, Cigna this year won a J.D. Power and Associates award for Outstanding Customer Service Experience. And while the b-to-b customer is still paramount for Cigna, Showalter said, at the end of the day, it's individuals within those businesses who feel the brunt of a flawed health care system. “We needed to get the message to them,” he said. —P. R.
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