Generation O: The Implications for Traditional Marketers

ClickZ Campaign 08 Election Coverage

I’m relieved the campaign is finally over. Despite lasting two years, this election demonstrated that campaigning matters. Good campaigns win.

On Election Day, I read “The Washington Post” story “Running In Place: The Predictable Election,” with great interest. It was about Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who has historically predicted the outcome of elections months before the election itself. Abramowitz’s formula combines three factors: how long the incumbent party has been in power, how the public rates the incumbent president, and how well the U.S. economy did in the second quarter of the election year.

Such a perspective is just too cynical for me.

Intent and effort drive results in both politics and business. Barack Obama’s election victory wasn’t preordained by history. It was the result of an exceptional campaign that could take advantage of extraordinary conditions, as well as his opponent’s mistakes. Campaigns matter because they create new social relationships, rejuvenate our democratic institutions, and establish leaders who go on to serve other important causes and missions.

For general marketers, Obama’s campaign demonstrates that a good marketing campaign is essential to success. Campaign 2008 shows that those who spend and innovate win. It also establishes that digital communications are a core component of campaign success. The proof is in the numbers.

And the numbers can be found at techPresident and Polling Report. For example, President-Elect Obama had over 3 million Facebook supporters, 875,000 MySpace friends, and over 100 million YouTube views.

Equally as important, campaign 2008 showed that digital communications are unlike other media and obtain power from its social dimensions.

In “The New York Times” article “Generation O Gets Its Hopes Up,” reporter Damien Cave highlights these social attributes and more broadly defines the cultural implications of the Obama victory. I differ with Cave on one point: Generation O isn’t defined by age or comfort using social technology alone.

The Obama generation is defined by those who believe that communities (whether geographically or digitally connected) are important to creating opportunities for the individuals. And many individuals were in fact first inspired by President Kennedy or by people inspired by him.

Insights from the Cave article are extraordinarily relevant to general marketers:

  • Generation O is willing to communicate with large numbers of people about issues they find important. Digital technology’s social nature makes it easy for people to share across geographic boundaries. The Obama campaign asked for and offered incentives for this communication all the way through Election Day.

    To get their own economic engines humming again, general marketers will need to similarly ask for and offer incentives for their fans and followers to spread to the word about them. Direct marketing will only get you so far. The validation of real people and the positive reputation created by their digital communications distinguishes winners from losers.

  • Younger people persuaded older people. To paraphrase Chris Matthews, host of MSNC’s “Hardball,” this election was about a great generational divide. John McCain supporters, he said, were voting like their grandparents, who couldn’t imagine the world we are confronting. Obama supporters, meanwhile, were voting like their grandchildren, ready for a new age.

    For general marketers, this is an important insight. If you’re trying to provide a product or service to a mature audience, you may need to focus some effort on younger relatives to get the word out. The point isn’t whether intergenerational communications are occurring digitally. The point is these discussions are highly influential. Most likely, a traditional marketer can best influence this dialogue through digital techniques.

  • Both the campaigns and the media established a high level of expectation for staying informed during the two-year campaign. And a whole new generation of political junkies was created in 2008.

    In contrast, general marketers don’t typically need to communicate as frequently with their audiences as did the campaigns online. The amount of communication must be proportionate with the task at hand. That said, the campaigns showed that communication must be more personal and transparent.

Bottom line: campaign 2008 showed that enthusiasm and disappointment have a way of spreading. For general marketers, it’s now confirmed that the flames of enthusiasm are fueled by digital techniques.

Want more campaign information? Check out our ClickZ News Campaign ’08 section for the latest news and analysis.

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