10 Interactive Marketing Tips from Barack and Hillary

I’m winding down a three-month exercise analyzing the online strategy of every single Super Bowl advertiser, looking for tell-tale signs of cross-promotion, offline-online integration, innovative use of Web 2.0 “expression” tools, and more.

Decent results overall — an improvement over last year — but very few breakthroughs. Most big brands are still pretty slow to adapt to the migratory patterns of consumer attention and engagement.

By contrast, here in Ohio, my adopted home state — and home of today’s “make or break” primary for Democrats — I’m witnessing the equivalent of a Super Bowl of interactive advertising, and I’m really impressed.

Like most voters around me, I’ve started to tune in big time, and what’s obvious and clear upon reviewing Barack Obama‘s and Hillary Clinton‘s respective Web sites is that offline marketing is utterly incomplete — dare I say “naked” — without a robust online marketing component. Indeed, these sites are hotbeds of marketing innovation. And they don’t just preach or wax poetic about “participation” — the mother’s milk of loyalty — they depend on it.

John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and the other former contenders also deserve credit for pushing the needle, but there’s a progressive “edge of the wedge” in what Democrats are doing, and I thought I’d translated my learning into 10 interactive marketing lessons from the Barack and Hillary campaigns.

  • Win on the home (page) front. Both candidates do an excellent job providing enough well-organized content and “click to engage” choices to maximize relevance to as many visitors as possible. Even if you visit for half-a-second, you get a great feel for the things you can do on your second visit. This is important because most brands make consumers zip through multiple levels to get to what they need.
  • Engage, enroll, and participate. Unlike most Super Bowl advertisers, candidates are constantly teeing up “things to do.” Barack and Hillary both have similar home page utilities to “Be a Volunteer,” “Vote Early in Ohio,” “House a Volunteer,” “Make Phone Calls” or “Find and Plan Events.” This, my friends, is what’s known as engagement and when millions of consumers are engaging at some level, you know it can work.
  • Roll up the TV set. The political campaigns exploit TV wherever they can go, and if your consumers can get it customized, oon-demand, or tailored to specific needs or constituencies on their Web sites via video, so be it. Video persuades, and connects emotionally. Both Clinton and Obama do a superb just exploiting the power of online video on their Web sites, and this has evolved nicely in the past six months or so. They are also both getting much better and making video embeddable and sharable, and they use to power of cross-promotion to power videos hosted on YouTube such as Obama’s five million views — an growing — “Yes We Can.”
  • Hablamos con todas audiencias. While most automated teller machines open their first interaction with consumers with question about English or Spanish preference, most big brands give this short shrift. “That’s not the focus of our interactive strategy,” they’ll say. The candidates, by contrast, are doing a great job teeing up parallel content in Spanish, and it doesn’t take Bill Richardson to explain why this is important. Both candidates have very strong Spanish language sites, and they’ve done a commendable job developing tailored content. Blog links also suggest key influencers are paying attention. Both sites also do a nice job appealing to the “long tail” of audiences out there, whether by state, ethnicity, unique need (e.g. hearing impaired) and they do this without the core site looking too all over the place.
  • Win with emotion. Obama’s site does a brilliant job playing consumer emotion — even more so than Hillary’s. I’m not sure if it amounts to what Chris Matthews described as a “thrill going up my leg,” but close. In particular, the use of video during and after the contribution process is very effective, and it almost makes you feel like there’s the “emotional wind” behind your back in the giving process. Hillary’s site is a bit more functional and operational, but also scores points here and there on emotion.
  • Make it simple; make it friendly. I still marvel at the impenetrable unfriendliness of typical brand feedback or survey forms. Obama and Clinton are hardly perfect here, but they at least make their forms feel inviting. Oh, and I don’t feel rushed, or forced to write it down in 50 letters before the software caves in on me. It’s like the folks who designed the forms have felt the pain and anger over rude employees, lame call-center scripts, and more.
  • Reinforce the loyalty immediately. Both Clinton and Obama appear to have solid relationship marketing tools in place to respond immediately to feedback or financial contributions. Both are customized but I give the edge to Obama on personalization and including yet another call-to-action in the follow-up. In my follow-up e-mail, it just felt more personal. Hillary encourages pass-along (e.g. “Click here to send an email to friends and family).
  • Customize the loyalty. The Obama campaign goes well beyind reinforcing the loyalty to customizing the loyalty by encouraging people who sign up or give contributions to create their own mini-portal or blog platform via mybarackobama.com. You can blog, check your Barack points, build a profile and more. In some respects, this amounts to user-controlled panel management. Hillary allows users to create their own “groups” but the Obama campaign in on to something in driving deeper, more involved action at the what I call the “Ex-Spot.”
  • Share the assets. Both campaigns do a nice job empowering enthusiasts to share “official” content in their own content areas. Obama has a robust and comprehensive download areas for everything from Buddy icons to button designs, while Hillary’s campaign offers a host of assets to share, embed, and beyond. Key lesson here: If you want to drive buzz, provide currency.
  • Blog and promote the content creators and advocates. Both sites do a great job “mashing up” content from external sources, including individual blogs. Some of these are touted in the campaign-sponsored blogs (also a smart idea), but others are featured in stand along areas like Hillary’s Spotlight section.

Not everything is perfect. I was shocked neither candidate uses search on their Web site. I also didn’t invest time here talking about all the great innovations on social networking platforms like Facebook and MySpace.

Overall there’s an impressive level of engagement every brand should pay attention to. Trust me, where’s there’s attention and engagement, there’s a healthy serving of brand insight.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.