'It all comes back to storytelling': How Kaiser's marketing chief brings the brand to life

With all the new digital competitors in healthcare, Kristy LoRusso, national chief marketing officer of Kaiser Permanente, told Becker's she is focusing more than ever on highlighting the Oakland, Calif.-based health system's human touch.

"Consumers turn to other consumers to get their information," she said. "And so the more people who are saying positive things about Kaiser Permanente and their experience with us, that helps us. And that's a really important part of what we're all facing."

Ms. LoRusso joined Kaiser Permanente in 2007, at a time when there wasn't as much technological disruption, which now includes a plethora of telehealth, virtual mental healthcare and home monitoring options. And she continues to look to the future.

"I'm really curious about the metaverse relative to artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality," she said. "How can we use the metaverse and all the technology that's available to us to bring people together, to build community, to deliver care in innovative and more cost-effective ways that reach more people than we can today, not only for Kaiser Permanente but more broadly speaking?"

Back to the present day, Ms. LoRusso is excited about Kaiser's refreshed "brand promise," its first new campaign in about 20 years, that expands on its "total health for all" mission to also emphasize personalized experiences and care excellence.

"A brand promise is broader than a marketing campaign and broader than an advertising campaign," she said. "It's a way to activate our internal teams, our employees and our physicians. It's a way to really emphasize our commitment to experiences. Because how you experience our care and coverage is really what our brand is about."

In this consumer-focused age, she also aims to build brand loyalty with people who aren't even Kaiser members yet.

"Being able to engage with people digitally and actually demonstrate value with your brand before they even get care is a real opportunity that I see in marketing across hospitals and health systems today," she said.

Ms. LoRusso, who became national marketing chief in 2020, said "it all comes back to storytelling" and doing so in a unified way across an eight-state, 39-hospital system. With its health plan, Kaiser Permanente had $95.4 billion in operating revenues in 2022.

"We work in a very coordinated way with our local teams to make sure our brand resonates locally in their care context," she said. "We also have to tell and describe what it means to get care and coverage from the same place and our unique value proposition and our unique commitment to value-based care.

"And that goes back to why word of mouth is so important. It's really what others say about you about your brand that builds brand strength and brand equity. Our job is to make it easy to understand: to of course create an emotional connection, but also to really be able to functionally describe what it is we do that's different from our competition."

Interestingly, she said she often gets questions from chief marketing officers at consumer-packaged goods companies about how to reach diverse populations in substantive ways.

Ms. LoRusso previously worked in marketing for such companies as Yahoo, the Walt Disney Co. and Time. When she joined Kaiser Permanente 15 years ago, the health system was shifting its focus to selling insurance directly to members amid the economic downturn.

She used her experience in direct-to-consumer, database and digital marketing in an industry that didn't have a lot of those capabilities at the time.

"It was a wonderful opportunity to take my background and apply it in this very purpose-driven, meaningful industry," she said. "And then I had some personal experience with my parents not having healthcare coverage. So to be able to develop marketing campaigns to help individuals keep their coverage when they lost their job or were having to pay more out of their pocket was a calling for me.

"What we deliver at Kaiser Permanente — our unique method of care, our unique model of care, our system, if you will — is a really wonderful thing to be able to bring to market and bring to life as a chief marketing officer."

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