Learning from the Best

Learning from the Best

Before our new virtual life dictated by the pandemic, I had been traveling the world as a speaker during in-person events. It is impossible to forget the one in which I had the honor to share the stage with a group of prestigious panelists, Barack Obama among them, and 7,000 attendees! But wait a minute, what was Barack Obama doing at a marketing event in Colombia?

Some people may have been surprised to learn that Barack Obama was scheduled to speak at a marketing event in Colombia. For those of us in the marketing world this made a lot of sense, however. The reasons are obvious: Obama’s 2012 campaign is a case study on how to successfully use social media and the digital environment with a clear objective, in a results-oriented way. Let’s talk about what made his campaign so successful.

  • The pillar: Barack Obama. A great charismatic and enlightening character, with a clear, message. Rather than portraying himself as better than the other candidate, like most politicians do, and which seldom works in marketing, he acknowledged his differences.  Above all, he generated empathy. Empathy is the foundation of influence; it moves people to trust (something most brands need to build). Barack Obama was not looking for people’s attention or interest, we worked to become interesting. His influence was based on a trustworthy image and a genuine message based on robust ideas and practical information on how to implement them in the real world.
  • But the pillar is not enough. A marketing project that expects to be successful should clearly state its goals in a measurable fashion. If you don’t know where you go, you may end up anywhere. Without this starting milestone meaning, not knowing where you go, you may end up anywhere. Obama’s campaign had two clear general objectives: to gain adopters for its political cause (hence, voters) and to collect donations to finance the campaign.
  • Although media and channels are always relevant, back then they were not exceptionally different than what we can use today. Facebook and Twitter were the core social media in 2012 (in 2008 Obama’s campaign used 16 different social media), complemented by a robust responsive web page, solid email marketing and the visual aid of YouTube and Flickr. However, these media were not the key to his success. By the end of his 2012 campaign, his Facebook page had more than 20 million followers and his Twitter 8 million (today 57 and 129 million respectively) The key to this success was excellent implementation and his persistent and convergent orientation to tangible results (database entries and donations). An excellence based on love for details, purposely chosen images (remember that photo of Obama looking to the upper right corner of the screen, exactly where the data entry form was?), a state-by-state segmentation criteria (coinciding with the electoral system in the US), responsive design, etc. He ran a results-oriented campaign based on two convergent call-to-actions in absolutely all media, with several amount options to donate (removing any mental conflict and facilitating decision), constant A/B testing, etc.

With all these elements, the campaign achieved its objectives, becoming a supporter-making machine and a donations cash register. The end of the story is now history. Barack Obama was re-elected, and his campaign attracted more donors than his own political party. Almost half of the $639 million ($500 million in 2008) collected came from small donors of $300 or less.

Why was Barack Obama speaking at a marketing event in Colombia? Because of his excellence in marketing, among other things. We all do marketing. All the tools and media Obama used during his campaign are available to us. Excellence and results-oriented marketing is not limited to a few.  Everyone can learn from Obama’s success and apply the lessons to create their own.


Related content:

4 Steps for Pumping Up Your Marketing Muscle

Mastering the Art of Online Marketing

Marketing Tips to Resonate with Your Audience


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