Obama Gets Mobile Right

I have a weird fascination with politics that has nothing to do with party affiliation or public policy. My interest doesn’t come from caring to discuss candidate positions or poll numbers, nor am I one to spend hours in front of TV watching debates. Instead, I’m totally consumed by the way in which communication platforms and the changing media landscape influence politics, specifically presidential elections. Less than 10 years ago, I wrote my college thesis on the evolution of mass media in presidential elections.

Since then, I swore to never take on a challenge like that again, but recent news coverage has kept my mind spinning with new hypotheses. The crux of my paper had been centered on the tipping point live, color television brought to elections. The role of emerging media wasn’t something I had the foresight to even hint about.

Still, while televised debates are a major factor in determining an electable candidate, today’s campaign communication strategies include digital and, in some cases, mobile plans. But over the course of the last few months, periodic Google searches have lead me to realize not every presidential candidate is as enthralled with the changing media landscape as marketers like myself. Digital media presence by all candidates is pretty well solidified, but use of mobile as a contact platform is dominated by the Democrats (three to be exact). With a crowded candidate field, it’s a wonder that more candidates aren’t using mobile.

But for those who are, here are a few pointers from the leading Democratic candidate with a clear mobile strategy.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Barack Obama’s overall digital communications strategy is grounded in a well-designed Web site. However, keep in mind how you maintain contact with your audience when you refresh your site. For instance, after last week’s win in the Iowa caucus, the Obama site got a refresh to capitalize on the momentum moving into the New Hampshire primaries. This refresh has moved the “Obama Everywhere” links well below the fold, making it difficult for supporters to gain awareness about how they might further interact with the candidate across digital and mobile platforms. If you update your site, remember to make it easy for your audience to follow you.

Visual Cues Help Visitors Navigate Your Site

Building awareness of engagement opportunities is critical to the overall success of any strategy that hopes to foster participation. Two really simple suggestions might help mitigate the links’ current bottom right corner placement. First, think about using visual cues to help with site navigation. A simple cell-phone image (like the one used for the home link) would make a great addition to the top navigation bar. Second, representing the “everywhere” links with logos rather than with type would help set them apart and make them instantly recognizable to visitors quickly scanning the site.

Register a Vanity Code

Once visitors find the “Everywhere” links on the home page and click into the dedicated mobile page, a simple mobile tactic becomes evident. The Obama campaign had the foresight to register a vanity common short code (CSC) that numerically represents the word “Obama” (62262). This code is used during the mobile message alert opt-in process. While not new, the move is brilliant, considering his two closest opponents opted to use randomly generated codes instead. Essentially, a vanity code is akin to driving around with a vanity license plate on your vehicle — instant recognition. Creating a greater connection between the platform and the message or, in this case, the candidate is easily achievable with a little time spent playing around with the numbers on the keypad.

Stay Visible With Twitter

The Obama campaign has taken the idea of mobile connectedness a step further by establishing and maintaining a Twitter profile. Twitter is a prime example of the microblogging trend that resulted from the concept of status updates. It’s also a great way to take advantage of the principles behind social networking and the mobile platform. By signing up to “follow” Obama on Twitter, you receive SMS (define) updates (your account can also be accessed online) that primarily revolve around mood, location, and upcoming events. It’s a great way for supporters to feel like they are in the know and an opportunity for the campaign to send subtle reminders about upcoming debates or rally locations.

Simply put, the Obama mobile strategy is innovative and well executed. Frankly, it’s so well executed that marketers should be jealous. It proves those who are willing to take a bit of a leap are often rewarded handsomely. Obama’s building a base of voters who look beyond traditional means of communication for interaction and information. He’s satisfying that same base by integrating multiple cross-channel communication platforms. While there’s always room for improvement, there’s indeed a lesson for mobile marketers in the Obama strategy.

Want more on the presidential election and interactive marketing? Check out our Election ’08 news section, with regular updates on Web ads, e-mail, and more from the 2008 presidential campaigns.

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