Thoughts from Ken Kaufman

Metallic Blue Cars

3 minute
Metallic Blue Cars

What would happen if legacy healthcare providers were immersed in the totality of consumers’ lives and used those insights to redefine the healthcare experience?

Since the mid-1960s, Cosmopolitan magazine has been well known for its iconic covers: stunning models or celebrities in front of solid-colored backgrounds surrounded by provocative cover lines. Prior to that time, Cosmo was a staid, moderately successful literary magazine. In 1965, Helen Gurley Brown took over the magazine, identifying a new kind of modern reader and discovering “there were millions of her.” The most visible manifestation of this new approach was the bold covers. 

Today, Cosmopolitan has a new Editor-in-Chief—32-year-old Jessica Pels, who was the subject of a recent New York Times profile. Pels has a degree in film and video production and was in charge of Cosmo’s digital strategy for less than a year before becoming editor of the entire enterprise. 

Pels doesn’t observe the Cosmo reader; she is the Cosmo reader. She lives the life of her readers—at work, at home, in her social life, and perhaps most importantly, online. This complete identification with Cosmo’s customers has led to Pels making a breakthrough observation about running a business today:

In order to understand consumers’ commercial behavior, you must understand their personal behavior. 

In the past, the commercial fact base was the commercial behavior of the consumer population: Which products did consumers buy? How many products did they buy? Were consumers happy with the products? Would they recommend the products to others? Pels’ realization is that now the fact base isn’t the commercial behavior, it’s the totality of consumers’ behaviors. 

Nowhere are those behaviors better demonstrated than on the platform where they play out: social media. 

For Cosmo—Instagram is one of the best places to witness consumer behavior. Instagram has 1 billion active users and a relatively affluent user base. According to Pels, Cosmo’s average reader opens Instagram 42 times per day. 

Instagram gives Cosmo an amazingly precise view of what is popular among its readers. Cosmo acts on that information directly and immediately. Vintage metallic blue cars began showing up everywhere on Instagram. The cover of Cosmo’s April issue featured four actors in a vintage metallic blue car. Heart-shaped pizza was popular on Instagram. Heart-shaped pizza was featured in a March photo spread. 

Having recognized the commercial importance of consumers’ online personal lives, Cosmo has rapidly embraced the implications. A key implication is that Cosmo’s magazine is no longer the core of its business. Cosmo’s emphasis now is on new platforms and their revenue sources: Digital subscriptions have doubled in the past two years. Ecommerce revenue from affiliate vendors through the Cosmo site has doubled in the past year. Cosmo has 2.7 million followers and more than 7,000 posts on Instagram; it has 785,000 subscribers and more than 2,000 videos on its YouTube channel. 

Cosmo’s new point of view begs an important question for legacy healthcare organizations:

What is the metallic blue car for healthcare? 

What would happen if legacy healthcare providers were immersed in the totality of consumers’ lives and used those insights to redefine the healthcare experience?

Now granted, many healthcare organizations are making moves in the direction of the metallic blue car. However, in Kaufman Hall’s extensive consumer research, we continue to hear comments like these: 

I have a health problem, but I don’t know which kind of doctor to call.

I know my provider has some sort of call-a-nurse service and some kind of online scheduling, but I don’t know how to get to them. 

My provider’s website is confusing.

I hate making appointments over the phone.

I wait a long time at the doctor’s office, and it’s the same experience I had 20 years ago, including the same magazines.

I know I have a MyChart account, but I can’t remember the web address or my password.

I have to give the same long list of information to every doctor I see.

My healthcare providers don’t value my time. 

In a recent follow-up survey, we asked 2,000 consumers what type of company they would trust to develop the best online tool to help them find the right healthcare services. The top preference was a big tech company like Google, Amazon, and Apple. The second preference was an insurance company. The last preference was a hospital or health system. 

Those responses should be both a warning and a rallying cry for all legacy healthcare organizations. No one knows what the metallic blue car is in healthcare. But it is up to America’s hospitals and health systems to find it before consumers find it somewhere else. 

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