AnalyticsROI MarketingObama Teaches Business About Persuading People Online

Obama Teaches Business About Persuading People Online

Marketers don't need to be a Barack Obama supporter to benefit from the presidential candidate's digital marketing strategy.

You know that big windup jack-in-the-box of loud political debates? Let’s you and I put it aside for a while.

And please, I beg thee, take your own political goggles off for a few minutes and join me as I take you on a tour of online marketing done well. The fact that we’re talking about a marketing effort headed by a politician running for the highest office is incidental.

Regardless of where you stand politically, even the most jaded pundit admits Sen. Obama’s campaign has built an online apparatus that would make most online businesses execs drool. In both scope and execution, there are few that equal it.

Those of us in the businesses universe can swipe a few lessons by observing the Obama online effort.

Several articles, like this, outline some tactics engaged in by the Obama team. But I want to sort a few of these and show you how they fall into a pattern of a stronger high-level strategy.

Putting People First

It doesn’t take much time on the Barack Obama Web site to realize that it’s focused on building relationships with people. Wording like “Find an Event Near You” reveals a visitor focus. While I was visiting the site, I found several active window Flash banners. One of them highlights the benefits of making a small donation; the other is a simple call to action allowing you to click a button and send a message to Obama’s new vice presidential pick.

Further down the page, Obama reaches out to Hillary Clinton supporters and sends them to a page where they can learn more about Obama in their own context, learn about the issues, and even invite others to the Obama cause. This is great example of a persuasion scenario done well.

The Obama machine understands what motivates people. If you engage the Obama site, you have the sense that you’re joining a team with a cause. You feel like you have a chance to go on the inside and look around, build a few relationships, and be a part of something bigger than you are. This is a powerful human motivation. Maybe that’s why it has motivated millions to donate to his cause.

By contrast, the John McCain Web site has good content and several prominent calls to action but little of it feels tied together to bigger purpose beyond simply helping McCain. There is no sense of WIIFM (define).

Using Engagement as a Success Measure

The team dedicated to maintaining Obama’s YouTube videos has it exactly right. While most social media jockeys are focused on views and traffic, this team is focused on a more profitable metric for the campaign: participation and engagement. In other words, viewers are engaging the campaign and taking action, like signing up to volunteer, joining the conversation, even making a contribution. Kate Albright-Hanna, who runs Obama’s YouTube video team, told the “Washington Post“:

    Here, we don’t worry about how many views our videos get. That’s not the priority. One of our goals is to get people talking about what’s going on in their lives and why they’re supporting Barack — and hopefully not only will they watch the videos but also comment on them and forward them to relatives and friends and co-workers.

Possessing a Longer-Term Vision

Last Saturday, the Obama team made a small note in history by officially announcing Obama’s vice presidential pick by text message. Many pundits questioned the move, making the case that the text message platform was too small for such a big announcement. They felt this decision would squander a big opportunity to reach a larger audience. This is beside the point.

The real wisdom of the announcement is that thousands, maybe millions, signed up to be notified by text message.

Now the Obama campaign has a database of mobile numbers it can text in the future and use this communication medium to mobilize people on Election Day, or even before and after. Obama can now speak to a huge, engaged audience wherever they may be, right on their cell phones.

That’s thinking beyond the short term. Score.

Staying Customer Focused on the Micro Level

On the well-executed site, there are sign-up forms for several types of visitor conversions: events, e-mail lists, volunteer lists, and even a network that is a MySpace/Facebook type application for Obama supporters to connect.

Each form is presented clearly, is easy to fill out, and are among some of the best forms I’ve seen online. The Obama Web design team has done everything it can to get the site out of the way and let people sign up easily for anything they might be interested in.

Call-to-action buttons on the site are clear, large, easy to see, and generally worded well. You know exactly what you are doing when you click them.

Leveraging Technology, Not Just Using It

The Obama camp clearly understands what people do online. And it seems to be using social media technology well. Obama has a presence on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and every other relevant 2.0 site.

You simply cannot ignore this presence.

For example, the Flickr account sports a slew of albums updated daily with pics from behind the scenes, all with descriptive captions. Again you get the sense that you can get inside the campaign.

Heck, Sen. Obama has overtaken Kevin Rose on Twitter.

Obama has even launched a site to address all the negative rumors and e-mail messages floating around the Internet about him.

The effectiveness of how the campaign uses the e-mail medium is impressive and probably worth a column all by itself.

Maintaining Consistency

This is easy in concept but hard for a large organization to execute.

Logos, fonts, and color palettes are consistent everywhere you look. Even the podium at the Democratic National Convention sports Obama’s font and colors. The consistent look and feel of the campaign touch points is impressive, and you get the sense that the campaign is a well-oiled machine. What kind of confidence do you believe that instills in visitors and supporters?


If you can ignore the politics and imagine the Obama campaign as a business like any other, you can’t help but admire its execution of a well thought-out plan to reach and engage people in the campaign. Ask yourself: how can you deploy these principles in your online marketing effort to better result? These are the same principle we use when we deploy persuasion architecture in companies.

Whether Obama can translate this into an election win is yet to be seen. The other question that remains: can you take this type of online grass-roots machine into a political office and use it influence change while you are in office? As a marketer, not a political animal, it will be interesting to watch.

And for the record, I am officially endorsing this man for president of the United States.

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

Join us for ClickZ Presents: Online Marketing Summit, September 25 at the Sheraton San Diego.

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