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Making a Meaningful Name for California's New Health Marketplace

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(Sacramento, CA)
Sunday, September 23, 2012

The word 'exchange' is government-speak. But the Californians building the online marketplace where can buy health insurance want a name that doesn't communicate wasteful bureaucracy. They want it to sound like a 'fresh approach to what many feel is a broken health system.'

"What we're trying to figure out is... what's a name that's going to stick, that's going to grab hold, that all Californians are going to say 'boy, that's where I go to find healthcare," says Peter Lee Executive Director of California's Health Benefit Exchange.  

The California planners hope at least three million customers will enroll starting in 2014. That's why they need a name that will grab all Californians. 

"Almost half of the people that are going to be eligible for subsidized coverage in the exchange are Latino, many of whom are Spanish-speaking," says Lee.

"But that's not the only market. We have about 600,000 people that speak Asian-Pacific Highlander languages. Some of them speak Mandarin, some speak Hmong."

The first thing they did was hunt for ideas. They got hundreds of suggestions, and tested some with multi-lingual focus groups. A PR firm is helping them.

"We're testing the idea of Avocado, Ursa, Eureka. These are names or concepts or words that have a thread which is unique to California," says Lee.

The name Avocado got laughs, but is now out of the running. Other names borrowed from Spanish, like 'Calvida and Beneficia.' They considered "Healthifornia" and "Wellquest."

But Claudia Caplan, Chief Marketing Officer at RP3 Agency in Bethesda, Maryland. says she's not a fan of slapping two words together, or made-up words.

"I think you want to not be so monolithic. You know, in England they have the National Health Service and I'm not sure in America that a name like that would go over quite as well."

Caplan's done everything from naming fast food hamburgers to digital messaging for non-profits.  She says a name for a new health marketplace should have humanity, but shouldn't be too cute.

"This is a whole new world for people in terms of how they're going to access insurance," says Caplan. 

"It might be wise to give [future customers] a name that makes them feel good about doing that...as though they're being sort of metaphorically wrapped in some nice, warm arms that are going to take care of them."

Caplan says a name is only one part of building a public image, and can sometimes be counterintuitive.

Think of Dr. Pepper, she says. That's not the first thing you would call a sugary drink. She says a name isn't as important as what you build around it.

"So you better make sure if you're going to give it a great name that embodies a great promise, that the product is also terrific because it's going to be such a turnoff if you give it this great, nurturing name and it just turns out to be the DMV all over again," says Caplan.

California's exchange staff is sharing notes with other exchanges. Maryland just came up with their name and logo. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein is the Health Secretary of Maryland, and Chair of that state's exchange.

"We had some that had like verbs in them like Cover Me Now Maryland, Cover Insure Maryland, Get Health Care Maryland, those sorts of things," says Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Chair of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

Sharfstein says one person even suggested www.icantbelieveitsthiseasytobuyhealthinsurance.com.

But the Maryland planners wanted something safe, trustworthy and catchy. They wanted a name that conveyed that exchanges are not providing health care directly, but a place people can buy private health care with confidence.

"In the end we went with Maryland Health Connection. We thought t was simple. It illustrated the importance of connecting - connecting with insurance brokers, producers, connecting people to insurance products as well as connecting people to health care and health," says Sharfstein.

California is expected to release its new name and logo in November. The frontrunners? Eureka, and Ursa- that's bear in Latin.  'Condor' is off the table.



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