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What Obama’s Victory Should Signal for Marketers: 3 Key Lessons Learned

Posted by Brandon Evans on November 26th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

The 2012 presidential election will be discussed for years, especially amongst Washington’s political junkies.  Those of us who work in marketing have much to learn from Obama’s campaign as well.  Despite being severely outspent and a well documented rocky first four years in office, Obama won all but one swing state and was reelected in a decisive victory.

While the efficacy of each candidate’s political messaging can be debated, their respective marketing strategies cannot; Obama’s team definitively won on this front by leveraging the most current strategies available to marketers.  The 2012 race is a case study in just how real and important it is continually stay ahead of the latest marketing developments. Just as Obama did, marketers with lesser budgets can outsmart competitors by recognizing a few key principles that are now critical to a brand’s marketing strategy.

1. Brands Need a Strong Ground Game

Perhaps the most talked about element of Obama’s successful campaign was the ground game. Utilizing the latest technology, Obama was able to connect with his most passionate fans and get them to the voting booths. Much has also been cited about how the Romney camp’s technology codenamed Orca (think “beached whale”) failed on Election Day, lacking the sophistication that the Obama team created with their solution.

Recognizing the increasing ineffectiveness of traditional media, the Obama team decided early on to invest in building technology to mobilize their supporters. The result?  Vocal supporters pledged their support across social networks, inspiring peers and showing up to the polls in droves with their friends.

For most brands, engaging their core supporters or advocates is still not a top priority. Engaging advocates, however, represents an enormous opportunity and competitive advantage. Brands have built social databases of millions of fans and followers, in addition to massive CRM databases, but many have yet to activate them by investing in brand advocacy platforms like Crowdtap. Prioritizing the activation of a brand’s base will be a core differentiator for successful brands in the future.

2. Social Media Storytelling Reaches Today’s Audience

While voters age 65+ over index for television news programming, the under-30 demographic, as well as other important demos, are more difficult to find here. Rather, it was social media that best reached all of Obama’s key constituencies, These constituencies match many of the most important demographics to marketers as well like women, young adults, Hispanics and African Americans.

The Obama team was commended in 2008 for its effective use of social media. Once more analysis is done, it is likely to be shown that its effect on the 2012 election was even greater. With social media far more pervasive and marketing strategies and platforms more developed, the Obama campaign was able to leverage a greater than 2-1 advantage on social networks to communicate its message. By delivering highly-target messages via pictures, videos, and infographics, the social conversation was simply dominated by Obama.

Most marketers covet many of the same demographics that won Obama’s re-election. While most top brands are actively employing social marketing strategies, few if any have made it the central focus and communication point to the extent that the Obama team did. Most brands still struggle to identify content and initiatives that are important to their constituencies or consumers; cracking this code is key for brands wishing to own their own social conversation. To succeed, marketers need to do more than just listen to their base. Brands and their agencies must collaborate with consumers to develop the amount of content and relevancy that is needed to tell a persistent story.

3. Advanced Targeting and Big Data Drive Ad Efficiency

The Romney fundraising advantage was a well-known obstacle that the Obama team needed to overcome. To do so, the team set aside traditional programmatic buying behavior, where candidates typically spend their money. Rather than spending based on time of day, channels, and programming, the Obama team collected rich data, both door-to-door and online.  This finely targeted data was used to identify where two core behavioral groups, undecided voters and sporadic voters likely to favor Obama, could most like be reached.

Utilizing rich data via a tool they termed “The Optimizer”, the Obama team was able to purchase more targeted ads across all of the cable stations, in addition to traditional prime time and cable news networks that dominated Romney’s buys. This technology and data advantage allowed the Obama team to stretch its media budget, creating efficiencies that closed the spending gap.

Targeting and big data are certainly important areas of discussion in the ad world today.  Spending, however, is still dominated by programmatic buys that offer little targeting beyond basic demographics. Like voters, consumers today are far less likely to be accurately stereotyped amongst those demographics. Due to the greatly expanded media options as well as broader communities one can now associate with due to social media, the mass market no longer exists.  Instead, niche groups of consumers with common interests and behaviors combine to form significant purchasing power. Marketers must deeply understand these groups and their interests and motivations in real-time.

Using the latest and greatest in marketing strategy and technology, the Obama team narrowed in on its biggest supporters and converted them into an army of amateur campaigners.  From advanced data mining tools to deeply understand likely supporters to social technology platforms to mobilize them, the Obama team crafted a modern day marketing plan. The result was an odds-defying voter turnout and a definitive victory for Obama.  For marketers, the Obama campaign is a visionary blueprint for the future of brand marketing. This is the new path to victory in both politics and branding.

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