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Monday, November 18, 2013




We’re most fortunate to work within many private sectors, throughout the world. We’ve worked within the services industry, medical devices and diagnostics, financial, fast moving consumer goods and pharmaceutical among many others. And, we’ve learned much from each. But, we can also learn from observing what transpires in the public sector. This article deals with lessons gleaned from government, the U.S. government to be precise.


This focuses on what we perceive to be key lessons from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It’s a highly topical subject, garnering intense scrutiny from the press and the American public lately. It is often referred to as Obamacare but, perhaps, because it was so contested and criticized it became a somewhat pejorative moniker so it was given its official name, which is commonly referred to as the “Affordable Care Act.” Now please understand that we are not advocating for or against it. We are merely trying to identify lessons from our observations that are applicable to marketing within private enterprise regarding those practices that should be avoided and those conversely that should be adopted.


Let’s start with the strategic. This is about the act itself. It’s a whopping 2700-pages in length. It is quite a task to read through and make sense of a 2700-page document. We wonder how many, if any, of the legislators who voted on the bill read through it, no less internalized it so they could intelligently vote on it and, subsequently, act in accordance with it. In fact, Democratic representative Nancy Pelosi told fellow Democrats “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.” What’s the connection to marketing? Think about your brand positioning strategy statements, creative briefs and marketing plans that are presented via massive decks of PowerPoint slides and/or word documents. The reality is they lose their meaning, obfuscate versus clarify and are so very difficult, if not impossible, to execute with excellence. Additionally, do we really know our product? You might respond “certainly” but we encounter so many marketers who don’t know what their product can really do, how it works, its difference versus competition or its impact on customers.


How sound or competitive is the product? Really, while the Affordable Care Act has become law why is it that our representatives in Washington have a different health care program for themselves and their families? If the product represents a new, higher standard of care then why is it that they are not dropping their current programs for a new one? How curious. If the product is not quite good enough for you then why, as a marketer, would you serve it up to current and/or prospective customers? Importantly, what can you do to enhance the product to make it not merely acceptable but preferable?


Then there’s the process, the way the bill was crafted. There was virtually no collaboration with the opposition party. No room for negotiation. The Democratic Party, the President’s Party, feeling it had the upper hand due to superior numbers of delegates in the Senate drove it right through the Republican legislators. It was take it or leave it. The Republican Party left it. In addition to the bill itself, the lack of collaboration and dialogue rankled the Republican Party. They voted as a bloc against the law. The superior numbers of Democrats in the Senate were able to pass the bill and with the President’s signature make it the law of the land. Despite their victory, Democrats took umbrage with their counterparts’ opposition. Now, when it comes to marketing are we encouraging collaboration? Are we involving essential support groups and contributors such as sales personnel, marketing research, our advertising agencies, joint venture partners, etc., in the development of our strategies? Or are we merely foisting our strategies down the throats of these other disciplines? If support personnel are not included in the process the strategies will surely not be optimal and whatever the output a resultant lack of understanding or buy-in will undermine successful execution.   


Moving on to the promise of the law for the American people, the President promised that Americans could keep their present insurance policies if they preferred. He also sold it on the promise that it would lower insurance premiums and health care costs. Well it appears that people cannot choose to keep current policies if it is not consistent with the standards of the new law. Moreover, policy owners are receiving notices that their insurance coverage has been cancelled and a new insurance policy will cost them more. Hmmm, how very interesting. The product is not being delivered as promised. There is little faith that the Affordable Health Care Act will actually lower health care costs. A case may be made that it will increase health care costs. The President’s approval rating at the time of this writing has fallen below 40%, the lowest of his presidency. Additionally, key Democrats, fearful of losing their seats in Congress, have inveighed upon the President to make changes and he recently delayed enforcement of the law for one year. Marketers should never ever promise what they cannot deliver. It can be expected to hurt their brands, organizations and careers. Nor can any marketers afford to alienate their current customer base in search of new customers. It is so much more costly to secure a customer than maintain one, and gains trail losses of customers. That’s a double whammy!


What about the issues and assumptions for projections, where do these come from? Were these clearly thought through? Well, sign-up is well below projections. Now there have been incredible problems with the website, which have undoubtedly slowed enrollment. But has this problem contributed to achievement (this is such a strange word to use since its launch has been marked with a lack of achievement) of only 20% of expectations? Then there is the mix of those enrolling. The government was counting on a larger percentage of younger people signing-up to offset their less healthy older cohorts. But the numbers are not coming-in that way. The mix is skewing older and that will mean higher premiums to offset the risks associated with this less healthy segment of the population. Also, younger people may choose to pay the penalty prescribed by the act for not enrolling in an insurance plan in order to avoid the higher cost of premiums. There are acts of omission and commission that we marketers must be careful to avoid. Omission, that is not considering or overlooking an issue, tend to be the most devastating. However, acts of commission, not thinking through and issue correctly can also hurt our brands. We need to face up to issues and think through them carefully. We also need to conduct scenario planning so we are prepared to take appropriate action should we fail to achieve our goals.


Then there’s execution. Here’s where the fire over Obamacare was flamed. The website for enrollment is a disaster. People cannot get through to register online. The President in an attempt to remedy this problem told people to telephone if they were unable to register online. And, like a telemarketer he announced the call-in number. But when people called-in they received a recorded message to go online. Also, data being sent to health providers from the government website is full of inaccuracies. It has been reported that about one million lines of code need to be written to fix the problem. The Department of Health and Human Services has been working frantically to get the website on track. They are shooting for the problems to be remedied by our Thanksgiving (end of November). But, no one is making hard promises. (Perhaps, that’s a lesson learned.) Marketers, strategy is important but if it is not well executed then it is will result in substandard performance. By the way, need we say that this is not “marketing excellence?” Also, we are seeing more companies rushing new products into the marketplace without vetting them. This is causing untold headaches, increasing costs, slowing new product growth rates, alienating customers and poisoning the market.


There is also an issue of the right medium for the right target. Here we are dealing with strategy and execution. The Obama camp was swept into the 2012 presidency behind smart marketing. They were extremely adept at targeting and reaching the right people and getting them out to vote for President Obama. They have also been quite astute in matching media to the young cohort to encourage enrollment in an insurance program. They’ve carefully selected TV programming and tapped into appropriate social networks to connect with this cohort. But, the key influencer and driver is “Mom.” C’est le vie. Are you certain that you have the right target?


Oh, what about the damage control to manage the adverse blow from the bungled execution? Well President Obama has apologized more than once. He has also made “concessions,” which may be very difficult for him, twice. The first concession he made was to delay implementation and penalties for corporations. The second concession was recently made to the American public. (They can keep their current plans for a year.) It is most unfortunate for him that this comes on the heels of Benghazi, security leaks, Syria and reports regarding spying on allies. Is he merely saying what he wants the American public to hear? Is he being straight with us? We hope so. Regardless, many are losing confidence in him and our government. Thank goodness midterm elections are a year away and the presidential election comes up in 2016. We do have the power of the vote. Customers might forgive marketers and their organizations for an honest mistake, depending upon their relationship to the brand, but if we continue to pile-up mistakes and/or are not straight with them they’ll abandon our brands and choose competitive offerings.


Defining and measuring success for the Affordable Care Act is an important consideration. How might it be defined and measured? The number of young people that sign-up? Regulating insurance companies? Providing affordable care to the populace? Providing health care for currently uninsurable people? According to the White House success is about enrolling a sufficient number of those young and healthy people, who are not signing-up, to enroll in order to keep premiums low. Hmm, that doesn’t sound much like success for a 2700-page act that is supposed to fix health care. We marketers need to know what success should look like and develop metrics and systems to assess it.


In addition to the aforementioned italicized commentary here are additional suggestions:


1.   KISS – When developing strategy keep in mind the acronym KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. Make certain that your strategies are relevant to your target, meaningfully differentiated versus competition and single-minded.


2.   Create a product you can be proud of – Marketers and their organizations will frequently focus on product tangibles, namely features, which are provided by R&D. They overlook intangibles (which are not found in the product but are part of the brand offering such as servicing), which marketers create. We need to develop the “whole” product and deliver a customer experience that goes beyond the physical product itself. If you are not proud of what you have created and are marketing then it’s time to do something about it and, if you can’t, perhaps, move on. Don’t settle for, nor serve, your customers anything you wouldn’t want for yourself, family members or friends.


3.   Be customer centric – This bears repeating. If we are to create brand loyalty we must serve our customer better than the competition. Our duty is to serve them not vice versa. Ensure that you are choiceful in selecting a strategically appropriate target that shares the values of your offering and can say, “yes” to it by influencing or making the purchase.


4.   Collaborate for best results – We are not referring to consensus. We are talking about someone being responsible for making choices and deciding. But like a mosaic everyone has a piece. No one has the whole picture. Collaboration enables us to see the pieces and create the total picture. Collaboration helps us tap into the collective wisdom of our team and organization. Collaboration also serves to ensure all involved appreciate the choices and are engaged in the execution of our strategies.


5.   Be not afraid – No issue should be off the table. Anything and everything goes if we are to avoid the sin of omission. Then find a way to pressure test everything so as to minimize the sin of commission.


6.   Keep your promises – Do what you say you are going to do, say what you plan to do! Marketing is about creating brand loyalty. It is transformational not transactional. You may fool a customer with a false promise into making a transaction but it will not engender a positive relationship with them. In today’s digital age a wronged customer could market against you on the Internet through the use of social media, YouTube, tweets and any number of digital vehicles. But then we get what we deserve.


7.   Test before going broadscale – It so very important to test strategy and initiatives. This will provide invaluable feedback and experience to help enhance the likelihood of successful broadscale execution, and avoid failure. If we don’t have time to do it right then how do we have the time to fix it? By the way, it is about fixing more than the product too. It’s about fixing morale, reputation and relationships.


8.   Check it out and check it again– If something is not going to work one wants to know before it strikes. It is important to check for yourself that everything is going smoothly. Get involved. God is in the details. Include yourself as part of the beta testing. While you may be an “unrepresentative sample of one” you are nonetheless a valuable one. For example, call into your customer service line with a complaint. What response do you get? Is it acceptable? Is it part of a positive experience? If not, fix it!


9.   Be honest when dealing with customers – Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. Treat them honestly. If something goes awry fess-up. Avoid “corporate speak.” Instead, speak the language of your customers. But don’t stop there. Do something about it to make it right with the customer A mistake, if handled properly, can actually serve to help you make good and strengthen your relationship with customers.


10.Define success in a way that’s relevant, develop metrics and measure against them – Unfortunately, we marketers do too little of this. It’s the exception rather than the norm. Senior marketers are failing their organizations by not demanding the development of metrics and measuring against those metrics. Let’s get a start on it!



We apologize for any inaccuracies about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or any inferences that suggest we are politicizing it. We’ve addressed it because it is so topical, controversial and generally recognized as being most troublesome, particularly as highlighted by flaws in execution. Also, there are other issues dealing with the impact on the health care industry, insurance companies, the economy and employment that we have not addressed due to a lack of expertise in these areas. We feel that this on-going case offers the opportunity for reflect on learning from other sectors regarding what to consider and/or avoid in our marketing. We welcome any thoughts and insights you might share with us on learning from this case, or others, to help make our marketing matter more.

Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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