In October, we received a letter of termination from Aetna saying that Firehawk no long qualifies for a group health insurance plan. It makes sense. We have no W-2 employees. I don't know the complex rules about who qualifies for what. The only thing I knew is that we had to go out into the wild and purchase individual health insurance.

Let me start by saying, this was an obnoxiously painful experience. We started doing some light research when we got the letter in October but quickly gave up. We punted the decision for as long as we could, because we knew there was no easy answer out there.

Finally, after countless hours of research, comparing plans, crunching numbers and reading reviews, I made the choice to go with Oscar.

The next day after my brain recovered from the painful process, I immediately started thinking about how big of an opportunity there was to improve this process, and I think Oscar is just the company to do it. I realize it's easy to sit on the sidelines and pass judgement, but that's not what this is about. I'm writing this because it may be helpful for someone at Oscar or more importantly other startups looking to differentiate themselves from their competition. Here's how I believe Oscar should focus their marketing efforts.

Education Marketing

The typical insurance purchasing individual has no clue how to properly evaluate an insurance plan. This represents massive opportunity for Oscar to leverage education marketing. Show people how to compare plans, the definitions of the important terminology and how to evaluate networks. Teach them how to make the most informed decision.

If you believe you have the best product, which is the entire foundation that Oscar was built upon, then you should present people with the facts and data. You won't need to sell anything. You educate them and let them make their own decisions.

This is the best possible sales channel for Oscar. You will show people that you care about them, that you want to help them find the best solution for their individual needs and you allow them to sell themselves. It also has two amazing secondary benefits aside from increasing sales (both of which just so happen to lead to further a increase in sales as well):

  1. Educated customers require less customer service. I read through so many negative reviews for insurance companies where people complained about things as a result of their lack of understanding. They felt like they were getting hosed because they didn't know the facts. Better informed consumers will result in happier customers and less negative reviews.
  2. Happy, educated customers talk positively about your company. When someone else is complaining about how much they hate their insurance, these people will happily chime in on your behalf about how much they enjoy their choice. This will definitely help with referrals and word of mouth marketing.

Implementing Education Marketing

This requires some legwork and dedication, but for all the reasons above, will be an incredible use of resources. There's so many different ways to educate people and standout above the old, stodgy competition. Here's just a few off the top of my head:

  • An independently researched report: create a guide that teaches individual insurance buyers what they need to know. Call it something like "The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Buying Health Insurance for the First Time" or "The 5 Things Health Insurance Companies Don't Want You to Know." This report isn't a sales pitch; it's educational. And sure maybe one of those five things can talk about how Oscar is changing the game. This report gives your sales and marketing teams something to offer potential customers that no one else is and changed the conversation from trying to close on the first date to offering to add value.
  • Discount double checker tool: Oscar's biggest advantage is that they are an insurance company focused on technology to improve the experience. Awesome. Do more of that. Create some online tools that help people objective compare plans from different companies. I'm leaving out the specfics here, because it's not important. You can also integrate some online chat functionality with these tools to allow people to directly engage with experts who can answer questions about these comparisons.
  • Meetup events: as a member of an active coworking space, we have companies come in and pitch us their services all the time. They buy lunch or beers and people show up in impressive numbers. Oscar should have been all over this. Combine this with idea #1 -- host a talk at every coworking spaces you can find about "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Buying Health Insurance." I would have shown up early and ready to take notes.
  • Partnerships with the cool kids -- if you want to be one of the cool kids on the playground, one of the most important things you must do is hang out with the other cool kids. Oscar needs to develop some relationships with companies like WeWork and Zenefits. Create a special offering for their communities or even just have a dedicated rep to service them. Do whatever you have to do to be seen hanging out with the cool kids.

There's lot of ways to implement education marketing, mainly because the bar has been set so low by the competition. The most important thing that Oscar needs to focus on is educating the massive population of consumers who just don't understand insurance.

It reminds me of the mutual fund industry. They created so much jargon to confuse the consumer into not understanding exactly what was going on. It's the same with insurance. Lift the veil of secrecy, educate your potential customers and add more value than anyone else in the industry. That's how Oscar will win.