480px-President_Barack_ObamaSet aside the politics surrounding the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. It doesn't matter whether you thought it was a good idea or a bad idea to begin with.

There's a huge lesson in this for marketers of every political persuasion. 

The lesson is this: No matter what business you're in, your website is your product.

If your website is a disaster, people will assume that your product is no good and that you don't know what you're doing.

Doesn't matter if you're selling health insurance or hot tubs, consulting services or candy bars. Doesn't matter whether the product or service you're selling is actually terrific.

Just to be clear: I'm not saying Obamacare is great, and I'm not saying it's terrible. My point is that it doesn't matter.

My point is they've already blown it by blowing the website. Because the website is the product.

People are no longer willing, or able, to separate the thing itself from the website that delivers the thing.

And that's interesting because this wasn't always the case. But it is now.

Competence

That's why, when reports first surfaced that the healthcare.gov website was having problems, everyone just assumed that the whole system was a mess.

Not just the website. Everything. All the back-end programs. The policies. The law. The Obama administration. Even President Obama himself.

Websites have become a statement about organizational competence.

As conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer put it in this opinion piece in the Washington Post: "If Washington can’t even do the Web site — the literal portal to this brave new world — how does it propose to regulate the vast ecosystem of American medicine?"

The cost of having a bad website could not be higher. As pundit Michael Wolff (a columnist for USA Today and The Guardian) put it this week:

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Virtual Becomes Reality

We used to talk about virtual reality. The internet was one place, over there, and the real world was here, where we live and breathe and do our jobs.

Sure, we all created an internet presence for ourselves and our companies. But that presence was just a proxy. It wasn't us, anymore than the ad we put in the newspaper was us, or our listing in the phone book.

But the lines are blurring. More and more, your website is your company. It is your product. It is you.

These things are inextricably linked in the mind of the consumer.

Of course this is not fair. You could be the world's greatest plumber and have a lousy website. You could be a terrible plumber but have a great website.

People used to know this. But more and more, they don't.

That should be a lesson for all of us.

Photo: Pete Souza, via Wikimedia and Creative Commons. 

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Originally published Nov 15, 2013 2:44:29 PM, updated October 20 2016