By Y.M. Ousley
Whether or not you agree with his
policies or views, Barack Obama has unarguably run an exceptionally well
marketed campaign. Using the internet to build support isn't new –
Howard Dean, Ron Paul both built early support online. But Obama's
campaign is a study in turning the online support into action that
every marketer can take a page from.
A list of strategies to replicate in
your next campaign
Establish a benefit early, emphasize
Change. For nearly all of his campaign,
Obama has been the candidate for change. No matter if you think he
would be a change for the better or worse, when most Americans hear
the word “change,” they associate that message with one
There weren't always details of exactly
what would change, how it would affect you or your family, and
perhaps on purpose. Strange as it sounds, (good) branding sells
products by not focusing on products. Economic policy, foreign
relations policy, energy policy – all very important products that
both candidates are trying to sell to voters, but most people aren't
voting for the individual products, they're voting for the brand.
Obama established himself as the brand of change very early on, and
his campaign repeats it often. For many, this establishes consistency
and reliability. That doesn't mean it will sway everyone – McCain
supporters may view him as consistently and reliably wrong with
respect to their view, but his brand benefit is easy to identify.
How do you use this as an online
The more products you sell, the greater
the need to build your brand. Start establishing a message of your
site as a whole entity, rather than one that's a sum of parts. For
Amazon, it's been fulfillment – once exclusively for books, now for
everything from electronics to web hosting. For Zappos, it's customer
service – once exclusively for shoes, now for clothes. Whatever
your benefit, drive it into everything you do internally or
Call to action, make it easy to act
I'm registered to vote in Washington,
DC, but won't be there on November 4th. Months ago, I saw
a (likely geo-targeted) banner reminding me of absentee voting
deadlines and dates. I submitted my information online, received
instructions for submitting the official documents, and later
received my ballot. To receive subsequent information from Obama I
simply had to check a box.
The branding will not make a difference
if people aren't driven to action. By showing the absentee voting ads
to people outside the US with deadlines, there was a clear call to
action. In responding, the process clearly guided potential voters to
the end result: registering to vote, or requesting absentee ballots.
If I visit the website now, the first
page I see is a donation form. Any question what the Obama campaign
wants from visitors? For a campaign that is one of the best funded in
recent history, it appears the call to action is clear.
How do you use this as an online
Whether your traffic comes from organic
search, paid search, affiliates, banners or branding, make it easy
for people to act. I recently saw an ad encouraging me to “shop
now” for Nanette Lepore clothing at Bergdorf Goodman. So I clicked
the ad. Instead of going to a section featuring the top in the ad, or
other clothing from Nanette Lepore, I ended up at a page of Wear to
Work tops. Huh?
If I'm particularly dedicated, I could
click through 12 pages of tops, or try to figure out where the
Nanette Lepore page is in the general menu, or... try my search at
ShopStyle, or even Google, or just close the window and go back to
the website I was reading.
Very few will have the type of ongoing
press or funding of a presidential campaign. As a marketer, you don't
have unlimited time with your audience. For the moment that you
manage to hold their attention, or distract them from the numerous
other things they have to do, it's your responsibility to make doing
business with you as easy as possible. If you want people to buy,
don't send them to a page encouraging them to browse. If you want
readers to return, encourage them at the start of the article to
subscribe to your feed or sign up for a newsletter. If you want a
link to a special section or report, give people a copy and paste
No matter how easy the process, not
everyone will vote, not everyone will buy, subscribe or link. But you
stand to get far more votes, sales, readers or links if you remove
barriers that make it difficult.
Stay in touch
I signed up for the Barack Obama
newsletter when I submitted my information for my absentee ballot,
and boy did they keep in touch. Newsletters, alerts, blog feeds –
most people get so many emails or messages everyday that the natural
instinct is not to add to the noise. But going against the natural
instinct can be an incredibly effective marketing strategy.
Since I signed up, I've received at
least one email every day. The subjects are different – some
encourage me to donate, others to make campaign calls to voters in
swing states, and some inviting me to rallies. They've been from the
same address, but are authored (according to the from line) by
Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, campaign manager David Plouffe, and the
list goes on. I don't always have time to read each email, but every
week at least one subject line or sender usually stands out.
How do you use this as an online
Build your list. Email marketing is old
and familiar. In getting to know the young(er) and sexy marketing
methods of search, social media and mobile it's often overlooked, but
is absolutely still relevant. Google, Facebook, MySpace are
pervasive, but for near 100% penetration of people online, email is
still the killer app of choice.
I don't have formal studies to support
(if you know of any, please leave in the comments), but I'd gamble
that for as much time as you spend on your 2.0 site of choice
(twitter, friendfeed, facebook, etc), you spend as much or more time
on email. So does your audience.
Staying in touch without being a pest
can be difficult, but frequency works. Sure, you'll get people who
unsubscribe, but even if you emailed once every blue moon, you'd
still get people who leave. Anecdotally speaking, you'll have far
more people who stay. Generally speaking, you have one chance to make
your pitch to someone who clicks on one of your ads (text or
otherwise) or search listings. Generally speaking, you have 365
chances to make your pitch to someone who joins your mailing list.
You don't have to be a math whiz to like the odds of email. The Obama
campaign has taken this a step further with mobile updates for
important announcements and live events. The only discouragement
against frequency here would come for countries where users are
likely to pay a significant amount to receive text or mobile updates.
Even McCain supporters admit admiration
for the success of Obama's campaign. From the amount of money raised,
to the extent the internet's been used to build, maintain and grow
support. There are many other parts which I give kudos to as a
marketer – the 30 minute infomercial, product placement. Politics
aside, it's been a phenomenal integrated marketing campaign with contributions from many mediums. While few of us will have the budget or level
of press to replicate to the letter, it's certainly within reason to
duplicate some of the results in your next online campaign.
Disclaimer: I became an Obama supporter
shortly after the RNC. He also resides in the same Chicago
neighborhood where my family lives, but hasn't palled around with me (Ylayn Meredith the Marketer).