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5 Questions with Oscar SVP Marketing Sara Rowghani

When Oscar first began offering individual health plans in New York in the fall of 2013, the brand’s entrance indicated a seismic change in both industry and attitude. It reflected not only the changing political climate, but also a new consumer mindset (Fortune called it “the hipster health insurance company”), ready to be empowered and make decisions in a previously-shrouded sector. These changes are still in flux, and the future of national healthcare is far from solidified; however, Oscar’s growth trajectory seems firmer than ever.

Built with a design and tech-centric approach, Oscar wanted to be a better health care company, crafted for consumers. Oscar presented an antithetical option to traditional insurance- approachable, accessible and human, starting with its URL of hioscar.com and its charming character-driven launch campaign. By focusing on serving and engaging its members, Oscar builds trust and a brand experience that simplifies and de-stresses the coverage-for-care experience.

In 2016, the company opened its first brick-and-mortar center through a partnership with Mount Sinai. Its health system partnership strategy has been linked with Oscar’s financial growth and projected expansion into new markets. In light of this exciting news, we sat down to chat with Sara Rowghani, SVP of Marketing and Sales for Oscar.

Sara trained as a mechanical engineer at Stanford before working at Google for nine years, became VP of Marketing at Kickstarter, and joined Oscar 2 years ago. She was a leading force behind the 2018 “Get Covered” campaign, which featured real Oscar members and increased enrollments almost threefold.

Sara, your career has taken you from Google to Kickstarter to Oscar. What made you want to get into healthcare?

I was a Mechanical Engineering, Product Design major in school and have always been drawn to finding creative solutions that solve difficult problems, be they marketing related or otherwise. At Google, that meant executing a company-wide product redesign. At Kickstarter, that meant creating custom strategies for a diverse creative community. At Oscar, that means working to make health insurance easier.

I was drawn to Oscar because health care in the U.S. is incredibly difficult and complicated, but it’s an industry that impacts all of us. Oscar is uniquely positioned to improve the health care experience for consumers through service, design, and technology. My time at Google and Kickstarter taught me how to build tech brands and experiences, and bringing the lessons of tech to the insurance industry has been one of the most interesting projects I could imagine.

Why did you implement a strategic plan to partner with health systems? How does this catalyze your business model and vision?

Oscar selectively partners with leading health systems in each of our markets, which is a core part of our strategy. Partnering with hospitals and providers that share our belief in delivering the best consumer health experience allows us to better provide our members with quality care. We take the guesswork out of it and work with brands that people already trust. Our work with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio is a prime example; our members have complete, in-network access to the amazing services that Cleveland Clinic has to offer, and we work side by side with each other and integrate our services to provide an easy, efficient experience for our members.

When Oscar launched, it felt very different from a brand perspective, particularly within the healthcare space. Now there are many health startups with similar approaches to brand experience. How do you continue to differentiate the brand and also keep the experience consistent as you expand into new markets?

We were definitely differentiated from the start, and have gone on a bit of a journey with the brand, from approachable to cheeky to serious to what we now think is a great blend of the three. We always want to be original; we are an innovative and unique product, and our advertising and brand should be, too. That said, we’ve done extensive research into what’s most important for consumers in health care decision-making—feeling like they’re signing up for a product and company they can trust.

Being different isn’t as important as being trusted. So rather than focusing only on being a differentiated brand, our work has evolved from punchy copy lines with fun illustrations to telling deeper stories featuring actual members and their experiences that have benefited from choosing Oscar.

Keeping the brand consistent is also key because, as you mention, we’re expanding into new markets each year. All of our members, no matter where they live, receive the same welcome kit along with their insurance card, which includes branded Band-Aids from our “Get Covered” campaign and helpful information on getting the most of their plan and Oscar experience. Our brand is core to the entire customer journey, from our campaign to the website to the welcome kit to our Concierge service. Each of these pieces are key to ensuring our customers have a great brand experience.

Does Oscar consider the current state of (or future changes in) the health insurance marketplace when planning for marketing? Does the political climate impact the brand’s strategy or communications?

We are always monitoring industry and consumer trends to ensure we’re developing the best marketing strategies to reach and resonate with our consumers. There is definitely a lot of outside noise, but internally, we’re really focused on building the best experience for our members that we can. Oscar, like all businesses, is built to succeed no matter the regulatory framework or political climate, and our brand and marketing efforts reflect that and aim to reassure our members of that fact. In times of uncertainty, consumers look to brands like Oscar that they can trust.

When you think about growth for the Oscar brand, what do you see as the biggest hurdle?

For most people, they only deal with their insurance company when they have a billing issue, and, generally, that interaction isn’t particularly pleasant. We’re trying to build our brand as one that focuses entirely on the consumer experience, which is not often associated with the insurance industry.

So as we expand into new markets, we constantly need to establish trust with potential members and offer proof points about our member engagement. That’s why we focus so much on our consumer-facing branding, from the welcome kits to our app, which offers everything a member might need in one place, from claims information to telemedicine. And yes, even our bills.

This interview originally appeared on brandchannel.

Contributors

Director of Marketing, InterbrandHealth