Fixing what's broken best way to rebrand Obamacare

“Obama says they will need to remarket and rebrand the Affordable Care Act, but he is confident the model they built will succeed,” tweeted the Wall Street Journal’s Colleen Nelson this afternoon.  “Rebrand,” I would argue, is not the right word.   But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, to be clear: This is not a political commentary.  As an observer of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and recent stumbles thereof, I simply want to use this moment in history to highlight some thoughts on brand communications and strategies.  So, no matter where you sit politically, please resist the temptation to hurl every epithet in your repertoire my way.  

Back to the “rebranding” comment. The implication behind the news nugget tweeted by the WSJ reporter is that the president’s team thinks that it can come up with perhaps a new tagline or some catch-phrase and this will be the “new brand” of Obamacare. 

But that logic is faulty.  The problem is that what really needs fixing – desperately so – is the implementation, the actual business of running a totally new health insurance system.  This is exponentially more difficult than cranking out a hip, new logo or a cute jingle, which many mistakenly believe to be “branding.”  

The law was, as many agree, poorly written.  The website isn’t working properly.  Many are receiving cancellation notices from their insurance companies.  And these operational issues have created a brand.  

Let’s repeat that:  Operations – how the system actually works – have created the Obamacare brand.  Not slogans or platitudes.  Those have been overwhelmed by reality.  This is a lesson many businesses need to learn.

The brand identity of Obamacare already exists.  It was molded by the reality of how the program works.  The marketplace “rebranded” Obamacare on its own when the rollout of the law went off the rails.  What is the Obamacare brand now?  Some words that probably come to mind for many are “mess,” “not what we expected,” and “expensive,” just to list a few. 

The best thing the Administration could do to “rebrand” the Affordable Care Act?  Make the website work, stop cancelling policies and make the insurance affordable.  If those things happen, will the president’s team still “need to remarket and rebrand” the law?  Absolutely not.  Happy consumers will do it for them. 

Brands are not mere logos, websites, colors, slogans, jingles or catch-phrases.  A business (or government) can spend vast sums of money on those things but if they are treating their customers badly, selling inferior products or failing to deliver on their promises, all the logos and photos of happy consumers in the world won’t change how their brand is perceived in the marketplace. 

As many a Texan might say, “You can’t put lipstick on a pig.”  Even if you could, it’s still a pig.  

A brand identity is the product of many things, but the most important factor is the way the enterprise conducts business.  Day in, day out, the often thankless, daily grind of providing products or services.

If the Obama Administration can deliver affordable insurance, the ability of those with existing coverage to keep it, and make the website an easy, efficient user experience, that will take care of 99 percent of the image problem.  No lipstick required. 

- Eric Whittington