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Marketing Lessons From Obama’s Online Campaign

Scott Goodstein, external online director for the Obama presidential campaign.

Scott Goodstein, external online director for the Obama presidential campaign.

Thanks to the team at ad:tech and Upstream Asia, I had the opportunity – along with a few other bloggers – to have a quick chat with Scott Goodstein who stopped by Singapore to give a keynote presentation at the recent ad:tech Singapore.

Goodstein, the external online director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was responsible for planning and implementing the now president’s online outreach efforts, Obama for America. Since joining the campaign in February 2007 Goodstein successfully employed the latest in social networking tools and mobile technologies to engage Americans, helping to drive the presidential campaign’s key objectives of canvassing votes and raising funds.

Goodstein’s team conceptualized Obama’s presence on Twitter as well, whose Twitter account @barackobama was the most followed until Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter publicity stunt with global news giant CNN earlier in April this year.

So what made Obama’s online and mobile campaign such a smashing success? If I had to distil the conversation about Obama’s online campaign with Goodstein into key takeaway marketing lessons, it would be this:

It had the 3Ms – The Man, The Manner, and The Message.

Goodstein admits that the online campaign wouldn’t have worked as well if the man in question wasn’t Barack Obama. “It really was about the message and the messenger. There is no way to deny that it was Barack Obama as a candidate, with the right set of circumstances and the right change message.”

That message of hope and change came at a time when Americans were sick of the status quo and, as Scott puts it, the most divisive time for American politics he’s ever seen in his lifetime. The message of hope, he says, was really where America wanted to be. “All of a sudden, there was a candidate who’s talking about something different, a vision.”

And the charismatic manner that Obama brought was refreshing, and indeed, needed.

It was about building, connecting and engaging communities.

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin, in a podcast interview with Accidental Creative, talked about communities – what he calls tribes – and how Obama did something really difficult in assembling a tribe who would otherwise would never have existed.

Goodstein tells a powerful story on exactly how the use of online networking tools allowed exactly that, the galvanizing of communities of voters and enabling them to connect with one another. “People would bring food to the long lines (of voters) because they saw it on blogs or heard it on Twitter, because (the voters) can’t get out of line,” he recounts. “This encouraged those, the people who haven’t yet voted, to look forward to the voting process.”

Another great example of this can be found in Clay Shirky‘s recent presentation at TED, who spoke about how Obama’s online campaign allowed conversations to happen between Obama and his supporters. Convene, not control, your communities – as Shirky puts it.

“Businesses have to willing to engage in a two-way conversations in a unique way and can no longer  just send out a press release and put a radio or TV spot one way… it’s a tough thing for businesses.”

It told a story that was consistent and authentic.

Goodstein shares that it was an effort to make sure that the online campaign was consistent with the overall presidential campaign. At one point, he says, they had to stop people from changing the content on the campaign website. “The front page of Barack Obama and his family photo, we just put it right there. At the end of the day, that’s what people wanted to see. Two of our opponents changed their websites all the time, buried the basic information (people were looking for).”

“Hillary (Clinton)’s campaign did some things that didn’t really ring authentic (to the American public). They did a lot of spoofs and things that were scripted, but didn’t ring authentic to the conversation.”

“Our videos were either speeches (of Obama’s) or videos about the movement. It fit our image and who Barack Obama was.”

It supported the big picture.

One of the comments Goodstein made really struck was how his online team viewed themselves, that they were but a part of the greater whole and did not work in isolation. “We saw ourselves as a service organization. Our job was to be of service to the finance department, the field department, and the communications team.” They were regularly in touch with the other teams, for example, running down to the policy people to ensure that messages were consistent throughout.

“We didn’t do technology for technology’s sake,” he states.

It set the right goals.

Goodstein was very careful to not put a return-on-investment (ROI) target on essentially a new initiative. “Social networking hasn’t been around or used that long on political campaigns. To put that type of false commitment on an ROI on it, to me, didn’t make sense,” Scott said. “Basically as long as one made enough money to pay for the program, anything else on top of it will be gravy.”

Instead, they created a list of goals that they wanted to achieve and where they wanted to be, as opposed to using existing ROI methods used for traditional outreach methods such as direct mail.

It assigned the right amount of resources.

Scott points out that many underestimate the amount of resources that is needed in a campaign. “Campaigns at the end of the day are about time, people and money. If it’s costing you time and people and even if it’s not costing you money, you’re probably still not spending your time and people wisely.”

“For the people who say that all the social networks are free, sure, but consider the number of staff and amount of training that goes into it to make sure that we’re really running it as an embassy of the campaign.”

“We trained a small army of volunteers on how to answer questions, so that the answer that you got off on a MySpace page, YouTube, a text message, email or call will essentially be the same… that takes a lot of training.”

Left to Right: Me, Bernard Leong, Scott Goodstein, Mohan Belani, Dorothy Poon, Daryl Tay, Saurabh Pandey and Shalabh Pandey.

Goodstein with bloggers at ad:tech Singapore: (Left to Right) Bjorn Lee, Daniel Goh, Bernard Leong, Scott Goodstein, Mohan Belani, Dorothy Poon, Daryl Tay, Saurabh Pandey and Shalabh Pandey.

You can read more about the session with Scott Goodstein from the other bloggers present:

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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