CMO Of The Week

Moda Health's Mehdi Tabrizi

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When Mehdi Tabrizi first joined the Portland, Oregon-based insurance company now known as Moda Health as its chief marketing officer in 2014, he got straight to work on a total brand overhaul. Previously known as Oregon Dental Services, Tabrizi helped find a new brand name and positioning to help the company become more consumer-facing. 

When Mehdi Tabrizi first joined the Portland, Oregon-based insurance company now known as Moda Health as its chief marketing officer in 2014, he got straight to work on a total brand overhaul. Previously known as Oregon Dental Services, Tabrizi helped find a new brand name and positioning to help the company become more consumer-facing. 

To accelerate awareness of the new name, Tabrizi looked to Moda’s hometown basketball team The Portland Trail Blazers and their home arena, which they bought the naming rights to re-dub as the Moda Center. “Without that partnership it would have been very difficult to get a new name off the ground,” Tabrizi says. “All of a sudden you got the biggest billboard in town, and through that avenue, it allowed us to tell our story. And through the players, it’s allowed us to tell a story around purpose.” 

Moda Health is now a $3 billion healthcare organization with over 1 million customers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, complete with a purple logo to differentiate itself from its blue-colored competitors. “Even though we may not be an Aetna or an Empire, people in the community always say we punch above our weight class because of our partnerships,” Tabrizi says. 

Spearheading such massive pivots early on in his work with the organization prepared Tabrizi and Moda Health for the shifts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic this past year. The company’s virtual care business has surged as a result, with customers turning to its digital psychology, counseling and diabetes resources as an alternative to in-person consultations. For physician visits, however, some things may never change.

“As humans we want to use our senses. They inspire us, they motivate us and with digital unfortunately you don’t get to use all of that,” Tabrizi says. “I do think those are important aspects with healthcare, too. They used to say one of the most important things in a doctor’s visit was a doctor's hand, it makes you feel good, it meant a lot and it changed your mood, your optimism. You can’t get that as much through digital.” 

Tabrizi joined Moda with over 15 years of experience working with startups and Global 500 companies across various industries including healthcare, retail, consumer goods, automotive, real estate and technology. Most recently, he served as Group Managing Director at innovation and design consultancy Ziba.

Brand Innovators caught up with Tabrizi from his home in Portland to learn more about the company’s partnership with the Trail Blazers, COVID-19 relief efforts and the future of work. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Brand Innovators: What are some ways you’ve brought Moda’s relationship with the Portland Trail Blazers to life through your marketing this past year?

Mehdi Tabrizi: We have two brand ambassadors, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, who we work with to find an intersection of authenticity between what we're about and what they're about. The way we work for example with CJ is every month we try to bring awareness to something, whether it’s diabetes, men’s health and so forth. He’s been helping us to message around nutrition and what it means to eat well. We had dieticians in our organization to come up with recipes for nutritional smoothies, especially these days with kids being home, and CJ loves smoothies — he makes two or three a day. So that was a great intersection of something he really values in his health and something we care about. We shared the recipe book to the public for free, because part of our brand is about building healthier communities and that component is really important to us.

And with Damian, we work with him as an ambassador for a program we call Moda Assist for schools. We provide an all abilities playground in seven parks all around Oregon. We also have contests where communities get to vote on recipients of grant money, and it gets people involved for common good. It’s very authentic to what Damian is about. 

What are some COVID-19 relief efforts Moda was able to provide during the first phases of the pandemic?

Our community had a shortage of hand sanitizers, and we have a specialty pharmacy business that needed supply. We partnered with local distilleries to create hand sanitizers, my team made the labels and the bottles all came together in a very quick turnaround. We worked really long hours to produce these fantastic hand sanitizers with our community in the moment they needed them. 

What new behaviors have you seen develop or accelerate as a result of a year-plus of sheltering-in-place that you think will have an impact on the future of work and public health?

I think one of the big changes that’s going to drive our economy is what kind of workforce are we going back to? That will drive a lot of changes in behaviors. If we're only going to be a part-time work force in most organizations in terms of being at the office, what are the consequences in terms of businesses? A shop downtown can't survive with two or three days of people at work. So what are the offices going to look like, and how will people use that time they have at home? The time that they have at home is going to be different from the future. Kids being at home more vs. in school two or three days a week will drive new behaviors and new changes, so I think it remains to be seen as to what truly will come out of it. 

If you have a crystal ball and I think what my hope is, I think this has been a good thing in terms of bringing balance to people’s lives. We were just on this treadmill and trying to go faster and faster, but it’s just going circles in many ways. By running faster and doing more it was not making us happier, it was actually causing more stress, more illnesses, more anxiety and depression and so forth. I'm hoping this notion of part-time remote work is going to bring balance to people's lives and through that happiness you're going to see different changes in behavior. Maybe you’ll see people more active in their communities, more active in taking care of their businesses. So I think if people recognize that the old days are gone, we can take this opportunity now to have happier employees, recruit talent from anywhere in the country and think of it as a real opportunity to grow and flourish as a business.

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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