Email And The Obama Campaign: Lessons To Heed Now!

I just returned from MediaPost's Email Insider Summit in Park City, Utah, and while many of my co-workers would like to believe it was all about snowmobiling, skiing, drinking and eating, the event was primarily an exchange of ideas and expertise around my favorite topic, email.  (OK, half of it was an exchange of ideas and expertise, and the other half was more in line with my co-workers' expectations.)

With that confession out of the way, I would like to focus on a very compelling concept shared by Stephen Geer, director of email and online fundraising for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.  He began his keynote presentation by sharing the three cornerstones of any political campaign: messaging, mobilization and money.  He explained that winning campaigns execute in those three areas. While Geer walked us through successful examples from the Obama campaign, it was easy to make parallels to email marketing.  The following are some lessons from each area that email marketers must apply to their own programs.

Messaging
This is core to the campaign. As we all know from spending over a year in the election "hoopla," candidates and their supporters do everything they can to stay on message.  Similarly, marketers understand the importance of their brand message.  Specifically, they understand the importance of building a unique relationship with each customer that results in increased loyalty and repeat business. If we understand this concept, then why are our email marketing messages so disjointed and fragmented?  Why do e-commerce, operations, customer service and marketing all own and deploy specific messages to customers without the knowledge or coordination of other departments?

In a single day, a customer can receive a lifecycyle campaign from marketing, an answer to a question from customer care, a statement notification from finance, and a purchase confirmation from ecommerce -- all without any knowledge or coordination across departments. Can you imagine Obama and Biden being booked on "Meet the Press" without each other's knowledge -- and then showing up and having dissenting opinions because they weren't able to get on the same page beforehand? Of course not!  Political campaigns control the message and the experience of the electorate to drive engagement and loyalty with their constituents; we need to do the same with out customers.  Go find those email streams and get control of the messaging!

Mobilization
This concept is simple. If you cannot mobilize the electorate to support your campaign (from volunteering to voting), you lose.  The same is true for consumers and our brands.  If we cannot mobilize a group of people to spread the value, ideas and benefits associated with our brands, we lose and the competition wins.  

Seth Godin discussed this in his book "The Idea Virus."  He called the folks that mobilize behind brands "Sneezers," influential people that latch on to your brand and its value proposition and spread them like a virus.  Geer explained that mobilization was based on the campaign's ability to respect, empower and include the constituency.  Hmmm, that sounds a lot like how we should treat the recipients of our email campaigns.

Respect your recipients' interests. Making your communications more relevant is all about respect.  Empower your recipients. This one is great.  We spent a good deal of time discussing preference centers at the Email Insider Summit.  Put your recipients in control and allow them to set their own preferences around frequency and subscriptions.  

Include your recipients. Web 2.0 has helped introduce this concept to email, and we should all be running with it. Companies like Home Depot include peer reviews in their campaigns, and Kraft Foods includes customer-submitted recipes in newsletters.  This not only builds brand loyalty with those submitting content, it provides valuable input to your subscribers.

Money
What can I say, this one is easy. If you control your message and mobilize your most influential customers in support of your brand...you're going to make piles of it!

Editor's Note: Want to see (and hear) firsthand what happened at the Email Insider Summit? Click here for the first videos from the Summit.

Tags: email
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6 comments about "Email And The Obama Campaign: Lessons To Heed Now! ".
  1. Michael Durwin from Social Media & Online Consultant , December 16, 2008 at 11:15 a.m.

    What isn't mentioned above is value. As a grass roots Obama campaigner I got a great deal of value from the multiple areas of engagement (email, SMS, iPhone app), but especially from email. Many supporters used Reply All to the threads sent out by the campaign to share local stories, the latest news, and opinions. This helped knit us together for a common cause. The campaign itself offered a great deal of value such as information to fight rumors, meet-ups, even discounted t-shirts. You can control the message all you want, but without value to the target psychographic, the messages won't be read or spread.

  2. Casey Newman from Knotice , December 17, 2008 at 9:18 a.m.

    All great points Ryan. I especially agree that relevance is of great importance when reaching out to recipients. The Obama campaign did this quite well by including local information/news in some communications.
    Knotice's Amy Chubbuck also attended the Email Insider Summit and blogged about what she took away from some of the sessions. Check out the post here: http://lunchpail.knotice.com/2008/12/10/on-email-a-dispatch-from-the-email-insider-summit/

  3. Will Hortman from EW Scripps , December 17, 2008 at 10:01 a.m.

    When they switched from "support the candidate" to "donate (more) to the DNC" after November 4, they really lost me.

  4. Mike Chapman from Buzz Corps , December 17, 2008 at 1:26 p.m.

    Excellent report. What also prevailed throughout the campaign was the feeling of empowerment you mentioned under the mobilization category. One nuance point, the idea is to raise money for your cause rather than to make it. Although, I'm sure there will be plenty of money made by the professionals who ran the campaign. That's also a good thing, in my opinion.

  5. Ryan Deutsch , December 19, 2008 at 7:45 a.m.

    Thanks for all the comments! Michael, your point on value is a great one. The email channel allows us to distribute relevant content and then provide direct access to additional value on the topic. From critical political issues to important product/service information, properly built email programs make it easy for recipients to bet "better off" for having engaged with an email campaign.

  6. Rahaf Harfoush , December 23, 2008 at 10:10 p.m.

    I wasn't able to make the session this year, :( Is there video of his keynote?