In an earlier Blog post, I asked the question “Can politics teach Marketers anything?” and answered with some learnings from David Plouffe, the chief architect of President Obama’s election campaign. Plouffe recently spoke at the M50 CMO Summit I attended. To summarize that post, I said Marketers could learn two important lessons from the Obama campaign:
- The importance of staking out a brand position and sticking with it. Consistency counts.
- The ability to leverage the brand’s strategic message across all relevent marketing touchpoints in a coordinated and integrated manner.
These are Marketing truths often forgotten in even the best Marketing organizations. But what else can we learn from the Obama campaign?
Plouffe outlined how transparency and authenticity, both of which are discussed in depth in the excellent book “Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online,” were the twin character traits to the Obama campaign. In Marketing terms, these would be Obama’s “Brand Character,” or personality. The two are related and both speak to what is required for a brand — Obama or otherwise — to inspire trust and confidence.
Obama, according to Plouffe, wanted the campaign to be “authentic.” Over time, they learned — sometimes painfully — about authenticity and what it really meant to voters. When Will I Am came forward with the idea for his “We Are The Ones” song, the original idea was for the Obama campaign to produce and promote it. While control can be a good thing, Obama rejected the offer because he felt it wouldn’t be authentic. So Will I Am produced the song and it was a huge YouTube sensation with 3.5 million views–an authentic tribute to Obama.
In another example, Plouffe developed short video clips explaining to supporters various campaign topics–e.g. the Obama strategy in Florida; how they would use the web; etc. After several low production hand-held videos, someone in the campaign naturally decided the videos there was a need for more professional video. This led to new slicker, high production value video–which immediately prompted a barrage of complaints from supporters. Low tech was good–and authentic.
Plouffe held a contrarian view when it came to campaign strategy and tactics–to be completely open and transparent with supporters. He did so with the full knowledge that the McCain campaign would ultimately see the communications and understand the Obama strategy. He felt the benefits outweighed the risks.
Example: the Florida strategy. Plouffe developed a video which outlined exactly how they intended to win supporters, how much money they would need, and how it would be spent. Of course, the Republicans learned what the Democrats would do in Florida. But transparency was part of brand Obama and the video helped energize and ultimately win the Florida campaign.
Interestingly, the Obama administration is now extending transparency beyond the campaign with the launch of Data.gov, a website designed to disseminate government data to voters.
What Marketers Can Learn
First, understand your consumer. The Obama campaign understood that American voters were looking for authenticity and transparency in their president. Like good Marketers, they understood their consumer–and had a clearly defined brand character to address their needs.
Second, communicate in an authentic manner. Authentic means honest, real and not manufactured–adhering to facts and supported by experience. The Obama campaign had a clear message, but beyond this, they communicated in a tone and style that increased the believability of their message.
Third, communicate with transparency. Transparency means telling people exactly what’s happening and what they would like to know–even when there is some risk in doing so. Obama’s strategy for Florida was very clear to Democratic supporters–and Republicans as well.
So what did Obama gain with authenticity and transparency ? Trust and confidence. When people believe they are being told the full story, they’re treated as adults, and being told the truth, they’re more likely to trust and have confidence–something in very short supply for many brands these days.