(CNN) – Even before the federal HealthCare.gov website got an overhaul, President Barack Obama acknowledged the need to "remarket and rebrand" his signature health legislation.
On Tuesday, the effort appeared to kick off with remarks touting the law's benefits, including a ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and allowing adult children to remain on their parents' plans.
But if Obama and his team really want to make inroads on Americans' perception of the Affordable Care Act – and by extension, his presidency - they're going to have to separate the website from the law, according to a top branding boss.
"He has to be clear about what he's rebranding. He needs to rebrand the Affordable Care Act, not HealthCare.gov. The website is a tactical implementation of what's really being rebranded," said Howard Belk, the co-CEO of the branding firm Siegel+Gale. "To do that you must think about what's driving the need for rebranding."
For Obama, the bulk of the problem lies in how closely the health law is tied to his presidency and that it will likely serve as the cornerstone of his legacy.
"I don't think we've seen a disaster like this in a while," Judy Smith, the crisis management expert who was the inspiration for Olivia Pope, the lead character in the hit television show "Scandal", said on CNN Monday. "I think it is very problematic really because this was the President's signature piece of legislation. And I think everybody agrees that the initial rollout has been an absolute mess. The President has apologized for it."
Private companies rebrand for a variety of reasons, Belk said, describing incidents when products either become outdated, like Kodak film, or are revealed to be faulty.
In the case of Obamacare, Belk described the problem as the poor launch of a product that many people regard as good, even though it was not ready to be launched.
"Sometimes a company launches poorly what is actually a good product," Belk said. "How can they rebrand and have people take another look at it?"
Shifts in opinion
Polling has remained consistent on whether or not Obamacare will have a positive impact – Gallup surveys taken in June and November on the law's impact on families are not markedly different. The June poll showed 42% of respondents said the law would make their situation worse; in November, 41% gave that answer.
But the rollout has seemed to affect attitudes over the government's role in getting health coverage for Americans – in 2011, 50% said it was the government's responsibility to make sure all Americans were covered. Today, the situation has reversed – now just 42% think it is the government's responsibility and 56% say it is not.
Belk said that shift can be traced back to the "political theater" of the Obamacare rollout.
"It is an execution and a communications issue. It's a storytelling issue," he said.
To turn the tide, the White House needs to communicate a few key points – like why the law matters and what consumers will get out of it – and identify the law's "brand assets" like its overall objective of getting Americans coverage.
The White House is planning a PR blitz to do just that, emphasizing one benefit of the law each day until December 23, when Americans who need individual insurance coverage by January 1, must sign up. President Obama and administration officials will emphasize preventive services and new rules that insurance policies cover pre-existing conditions.
"It's clear he's losing ground there," Belk said, suggesting a simple motto, or "benefit driven statement," that can help people understand what the law is about. "Keeping America Healthy" is one motto Belk suggested on the fly.
What's in a name
The name Obamacare – and the much maligned URL HealthCare.gov – have become associated with digital failure and government disorganization. Key to the rebranding effort is separating the two, according to Belk.
"They need to be clear about what they're rebranding. They need to rebrand Obamacare, not HealthCare.gov," he said. "They should change the name from Obamacare and go back to the Affordable Care Act for a whole bunch of reasons. First, because it expresses what it is."
That recommendation seemed to be in the works – the President avoided using the "Obamacare" title for almost a month – though he resumed using it at his event Tuesday.
And while the nickname Obamacare may be on the way out, Belk said the name of the website might be worth keeping.
"We've found there's latent power in names that are well known," Belk says, citing Time Warner Cable as an example. (Time Warner Cable is not associated with Time Warner, CNN's parent company). While trying to get away from the negative associations that customers often have with cable companies, "Time Warner Cable considered a name change, but that name was stronger than any new name they could launch. The cost of new name recognition was expensive and we suggested they work on customer experience instead."
Timing is everything
Obama and his administration are embarking on a month-long effort to build new confidence in the law, starting with remarks Tuesday at the White House. The new effort will tout the benefits of law while encouraging people to look beyond the initial website issues.
They need to start signing people up faster if they want to reach their goal of enrolling seven million people on the exchanges by the end of March.
But instead of diving right into the rebranding, Belk suggests giving the website fixes, which are still in progress, time to settle in.
"I would get this fixed, have site experience really improved," he said. "Don't rebrand then. Let 90 days or more go by. Let people get experience with a really good set of features (on the website) that also help them manage their health care. Don't try to jam it in there."
For the Obama administration, the clock is ticking and the temptation to rebrand sooner may be strong. The health care law mandates that Americans enroll in health insurance by the end of March or face a fine.
Still, the risks of trying to rebrand the program before the website is fully operational are enormous, Belk says. "It's worse than not rebranding," he told CNN.