What CMO’s Can Learn From the Obama Campaign — Part 1

Can politics teach Marketers anything ?  David Plouffe, the architect of President Obama’s election campaign, recently spoke at the M50 CMO Summit I attended. Sitting at the intersection of Marketing and politics, Plouffe had some interesting thoughts about the Presidential campaign that are highly relevant for Marketers.

Much has already been written about the Obama campaigns innovative usage of social media, and what business can learn from it. It’s true that they led with new media (e.g. Twitter, MyBarackObama.com, etc.) and used the various tools to great advantage. But listening to Plouffe, it’s clear there are other important lessons as well.

Brand Obama: A Consistent Message Across Media Channels

Brand Obama: A Consistent Message Across Media Channels

Plouffe described the two pillars of Obama’s campaign as “message” and “strategy.” Message was what Obama stood for–his “brand,” including his policy positions on health care, the environment, economy, etc.  Strategy was about where to play and how to win choices–e.g. contest the swing states,  leverage the web, how and where to communicate the message, etc.

The Message

Plouffe talked at length about how Obama’s message was non-negotiable. Obama defined the message based on his beliefs and policy positions, and then it was communicated clearly and consistently throughout the entire campaign organization. Everyone in the campaign–from the candidate himself down to the ground-level volunteers knocking on doors, had the same basic understanding of the message and what Obama stood for. There was one and only one message.

The Media

The campaign “media” strategy was to be where the voters were. Every meaningful media channel was used if it could help communicate the message to target voters: community events, e-mail, door-to-door, candidate interviews, etc. And importantly, the message was coordinated across media channels on a daily basis. If the message of the day was about health care, everyone from top to bottom knew the daily health care message and exactly what they were supposed to communicate.

What Marketers Can Learn

The Obama campaign approach above illustrates good basic Marketing principles. Define your value proposition and communicate it effectively. For me, though, what really stands out about their plans are two things:

First, was their consistent and disciplined message communication. The Obama campaign had a clear message, and they stayed with it. They even had a key brand visual. No significant changes or deviations. McCain, by contrast, careened from message to message. The lesson: brand message consistency and focus are important. Decide what you want your brand to stand for and stick with it. Otherwise, you’ll stand for not much of anything. For more on this topic, the Branding Strategy Insider had an excellent recent post on the importance of brand consistency.

Second, the campaign drove the same message across multiple media on a daily basis.  This magnified and multiplied the impact of the message as it reverberated across the media channels. Voters heard the same message from multiple sources via different channels on a daily basis: Obama’s speech, a David Axelrod interview, a voter registration effort, TV ads–they all carried the same message at the same time.

The Obama campaign was a model of strategic focus and message management coordination. Marketers could learn from the campaign by sticking with a focused brand message and leveraging the message throughout their marketing mix.

6 Responses to What CMO’s Can Learn From the Obama Campaign — Part 1

  1. thebrandsquad says:

    Absolutely marketers can learn a lot from Obama campaign. In India, i believe political parties also can learn a lot as evey day both the leading party Congress and BJP were changing their message. In branding consistency plays a crucial role, agree.

    • beardrs says:

      Kirit — Thanks for your comment. Consistency in message was clearly important for Obama, but what impressed me even more was the consistency of communication across media channels in a highly complex, largely volunteer based operation. Marketing organizations have challenges organizing and integrating their messaging and often do so in an operation with much less complexity than a national political campaign. Probably something else we can learn from.

  2. DonB says:

    Spot on, Randall…but lets also not forget that the Obama team masterfuly used social media as a way to spread their message. It was a finely tuned “brand campaign” that was perhaps stronger because of their strategic use of digital vehicles.

    • beardrs says:

      Don — You are 100% correct that the Obama campaign used social media masterfully. Interestingly, David Plouffe said that one of the biggest advantages they exploited in the primaries was their “virtual organization” of 2nd tier states. Obama campaign volunteers organized virtually in these states while most of the on-the-ground focus was in the big swing states. This enabled the Obama campaign to win the smaller states convincingly thru virtual organizations even when they didn’t have the manpower to put boots on the ground. There are many other things they did well in this space, as well, so totally agree with your points.

  3. Kris says:

    Interesting article. No doubt they ran a remarkable campaign, and we can learn a lot from the consistent delivery. But they did have a few advantages…

    1. A huge budget (and importantly much larger than the opponent) for the marketing of a single product (especially if you include all the free labor and politically motivated favors e.g. celebrity endorsement, airtime etc.)
    2. A single competitor (at least after the primaries.)
    3. Huge public disapproval of the organization (party) they were campaigning against.
    4. Enormous enthusiasm within their whole organization to promote their product
    5. The role of the entire organization was marketing (no conflicting interests / distractions)

    Imagine a private company in a similar situation. 🙂

    • beardrs says:

      Kris–Thanks for your comments. Your point is a really good one. No business (or campaign) can win based on great marketing alone. There are many other necessary ingredients to success, including the ones you mention and others as well. This is the key point of one of my other posts “Does Brand Value=Marketing Value.” Marketing is clearly a necessary, but not sufficient factor in business success.

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