Barack Obamas victorious 2012 election campaign has been praised all over the media for its technological sophistication and the metric-driven organization that led to an advantage in the swing states and with the big minority groups. But what exactly did they do? With all the articles written, none provides a complete list of measures. For this post, I have gathered information published by the NYT, FT, Business Insider, HBR, MIT and Time Magazine to list the important measures that we product and brand marketers can learn from.
Early Planning and Money
In swing states, the campaign was on air even before Romney’s candidacy was declared. Upfronts were secured early, which saved significant campaign funds but also solidified opinions before the opponent could air his messages.
Unlike 2008, when Obama outspend John McCain 3:1, it was clear that this time Mitt Romney would have the advantage of the bigger budget. So this time, all campaign elements had to be focussed more on fundraising. As a result, Obama fundraising reached $934m vs. Romney’s $882m.
Regional Media Plan
Online traffic, mobile usage, TV viewing and radio vary often from region to region. Media budget was used much more efficiently by taking swing state differences in media usage into account. Campaign staff said later that they saved 14% on TV with this tactic. The campaign aired different media mixes in every single of these states based on the media habits of the local target voters. Polling data was analyzed on a day to day basis to predict election scenarios and campaign resources were re-allocated accordingly.
The upfronts were locked in early, but the creative was kept as flexible as possible to be able to react to the latest headlines, news, events and data (see benchmarking below). News are always a source for social media discussions, therefore being able to air relevant messages creates a big advantage.
Campaign management met with top executives of Apple, Facebook, DreamWorks, etc. to understand technology to be used to reach target voters.
Every marketing measure including knocking on doors of voters had to be counted, measured, analyzed and compared with the goals. Campaign elements had to be changed when they failed to deliver the results.
Real-time data was organized in a way that allowed it to drive all marketing and advertising decisions. Polling data had immediate influence over media spending. Only a perfectly organized interface between the number crunchers and all advertising entities makes this information transfer possible.
Integrated CRM, Microtargeting and Mass Customization
Facing Obamas low approval ratings, the campaign used very sophisticated technology to address voters on a very individual level. In the old days, only voter’s names and addresses were available to address them. Today they leave information through Twitter, blog posts and Facebook interactions, that can be stored and mined for a very individual communication with the voter. Number crunching was a major contributor to the campaign’s success – the quants have taken over. The Obama campaign is one of the largest CRM databases of America. They knew your name, address, age, marital status, religion, housing, number of kids as well as if you plan to vote for Obama, what your friends think, the circles you are engaging in, similar interests of the groups you are frequenting and more. Put that in a database, mine the data, look for patterns and correlations and you get a very detailed picture of how to address a person and through which channels. But with all the current push for transparency, the Obama campaign managed to keep their data and the algorithms a secret. Volunteers did not know more than they needed to know to knock on a voter’s door.
“The Cave” at campaign headquarters in Chicago (Daniel Shea for Time Magazine
With all the available information on supporters and voters, behavioural information was leveraged and conveyed with individual email messages, e.g. from Michelle Obama. The goal was to send information that can be passed on to friends and ideally go viral. The Obama campaign team states proudly that it is able to put stuff in front of every American through forwarded emails. Unsubscribers from the 2008 campaign were digged up again from the database and with the right meassage have been reactivated.
My.BarackObama.com offers extensive community features: join groups, arrange events and raise money. This has been invented for the 2008 campaign already and has now 2m profiles with 400,000 blog posts.
The Obama Channel carries 2,000 official videos. In addition, almost 500,000 user generated videos have been uploaded.
The text messaging program attracted 3m people, who received up to 20 messages per month.
Knocking on Doors
Running on iOS and Android, the app showed campaign events and offices near the user’s location and identified nearby Obama supporters, allowing the user to knock on their door to promote the candidate. This feature even led to the private address of Frederick Harris, the campaign manager and it set off serious privacy concerns.
Twitter and Facebook
Obama had a big head start with his own social media accounts, that have built vast followership since the 2008 campaign. At election date he stood at 28m Facebook likes and 23m Twitter followers vs. Romney’s 6.5m likes and 1.7m followers. In the last weeks of the campaign, app and Facebook data was used to intensify the “get-out-the-vote”-effort by cross-encouraging voters to register to vote, to vote early or get to the polls. 20% of people being contacted that way by a friend took action accordingly.
Cross Engagement over all Channels
The campaign created various entry points across the above mentioned channels, so that supporters won through one channel could engage and attract supporters in another. This includes getting engaged online to engage offline, i.e. convincing your friends and volunteering.
Well, not all of the things listed qualify for the marketing of products or brands. For example, you should probably not send 20 text messages per month to people whose cell phone number you have. But improving your marketing organization with the examples described under planning, money, media, creative, technology, benchmarking and microtargeting will definitely create a competitive advantage for your company.