Obamacare: It’s not a PR problem, it’s a marketing problem

John Tantillo Marketing and Branding Expert
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It is not the messaging, the public relations, nor the selling of Obamacare. It’s the marketing that is the problem — customers don’t like this brand.

Yesterday’s announcement by Ezekiel Emanuel, that: “We are about to launch a big PR campaign, and that, I think, is going to persuade a lot of people to sign up,” illustrates this lack of understanding of what the American people want: their healthcare needs satisfied.

Marketing, despite what others think, is not selling. Rather it is all about satisfying needs and it is only when brands fail to perform to their full potential do others ask “where did we go wrong?” In his “Marketing Myopia” article published in the Harvard Business Review, Theodore Levitt identified that “businesses will do better in the end if they concentrate on meeting customers’ needs rather than on selling products.” If only the creators of Obamacare would have known this management shibboleth, many problems could have been averted.

So what went wrong? Well, when one speaks of marketing, branding, which is part of the process, is not far behind. Part of the problem with Obamacare was the brand name, and that it alienated a third of the market even before it was introduced to potential customers. Not a good thing from a marketing perspective.

Some will argue that this was not the original name (“Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” is the legislative name) and opponents of the legislation “branded” it Obamacare. But in marketing it is those who are in ultimate control, especially when the product is first introduced, that gets tied to the brand. Handlers of brand Obamacare should have corrected this provocative name from the start with a consistent reminder — it is the “Affordable Care Act” (their alternate brand name) not Obamacare, rather than the president himself ultimately accepting the nickname.

However, let’s be honest. The real problem with brand Obamacare is not the name. It’s that the majority of the American people do not like it! True, about forty percent like Obamacare, or will give it a try anyway, but there can be no denying that at present, most potential customers don’t, no matter reasons proponents give for its current rollout failure.

Marketing myopia — not looking at products or services from the customer’s perspective has brought down many brands with great potential. Apple’s Newton, which was not ready when it was rolled out; New Coke, where heavy users and vocal customers expressed outrage; and even the Ford Edsel, the car model that customers simply disliked, to name a few, had believers and not marketers at the helm. Believers are ideological and often make this error with products that customers simply did not want. It is only the marketer who understands that it not about them, but all about the customer.

If politicians want legislation embraced by citizens they must provide services and products that satisfy the real needs of constituents, not merely the needs of the parties they represent. And yes, it is always easier when you have marketing in mind.