Brand Obama, Social Media And The Biggest Lessons Learned
I'm not referring to our first black president, the renewed hope for our deteriorating morale, nor the reclamation of our stature as a productive participant in the global society, but rather the precedent of such astronomical digital engagement focused around a single purpose. The proverbial water cooler effect was alive and kicking as live TV met social media for the first time ever via CNN's live stream of President Barack Obama's inauguration and an effective implementation of Facebook's data portability product, Facebook Connect.
As media continues to fragment and marketing interaction becomes more personal, the Obama story represents a macro view of the forest that sometimes marketers and agencies tend to miss due to the intricacy of the trees.
The Basics: The Product, The Brand
During Obama's campaign for the presidency, his team was praised for their use of digital media channels, particularly the incorporation of emerging channels like social media and mobile. I applaud the marketing team for their efforts, but remind you that it is brand Obama that fostered the community, engagement, energy and word of mouth, more so than the marketing vehicles.
That being said, the channels lent themselves to what brand Obama stands for -- transparency, community, revitalization and unity. Sen. John McCain's campaign utilized similar channels but they yielded different results, albeit the McCain campaign had seemingly differing prioritization of these channels and lacked the support of the younger demos fueling some of the social media participation. Generally, brand McCain simply represented something different than brand Obama.
Everywhere we look, transparency is becoming an increasingly significant attribute. Consumers don't want transparency, they demand it - from our politicians, from the businesses that represent the backbone of our economy, and from our marketing efforts. The ubiquitous requirement of transparency benefits all except those who have something to hide. You can't run and you can't hide. The social media ecosystem now represents a mechanism of enforcement, judge, jury and executioner. Especially in the down economy, you must be honest with yourself about your product, your business practices and operations. Fix what is truly broken. Surely we all agree with the old adage that perception is 90% of reality, and never before has reality been able to influence perception in the manner it does today.
"Obama Everywhere" was the header of the block of links leading to his presence within various social networks, but should have been the incorporated his presence in all channels. Now that Obama's in office, the federal government has an integrated communications strategy that exceeds that of many marketers. Who would've thunk it? The consistent message of "change" and "revitalization" have been weaved across media platform and marketing discipline and are actualized to become more than just words.
The icing on the cake: The re-launch of WhiteHouse.gov at 12:01 p.m. on inauguration day. The welcoming message: "WhiteHouse.gov will be a central part of President Obama's pledge to make his the most transparent and accountable administration in American history" complete with a new blog, email updates, and access to the Office of Public Liaison, which "seeks to embody the essence of the President's movement for change through the meaningful engagement of citizens and their elected officials by the federal government." The last time I visited WhiteHouse.gov was when my ISP asked me to check my internet connection. It's now in my list of RSS feeds.
During his campaign Obama utilized the mobile channel to engage and activate voters, many of whom were segmented on a local level. Text messages reminded you to get out and vote -- heck, the selection of Sen. Joe Biden as Obama's running mate was announced via SMS before any other channel. The iPhone app made rallying behind your candidate an interactive experience versus a stream of static messaging. Those who attended the inauguration in D.C. had the opportunity to receive SMS updates about which entrances to use, which routes had the least traffic, and even a reminder of the weather. Although the mobile efforts may not have done much to influence baby boomers in the mid-west at scale, it was one of the multi-faceted ways brand Obama reached those who favor the channel of their choice. When thinking about mobile, think about aspects of utility and activation.
The Take Away: The Un-Campaign
Brand Obama led less of a campaign and created more of a movement. Although "hope" and "dreams" may work for political speeches, they do not present the foundation of a solid marketing strategy. Most brands have not achieved the level of equity as brand Obama, but all brands have advocates. Energizing brand advocates and listening to the market at large are universal principles of brand marketing that have been around since the dawn of marketing time. The tools and channels have evolved, and will continue to do so.
Social media has reached a point where the energy of brand advocates (or detractors for that matter) creates a constant undertone, unattached to the parameters of your marketing campaigns. It is no longer optional to monitor the social media ecosystem and modify your marketing, PR and product development efforts based on this undertone. Prospective brand consumers have access to the collective at all times. Are you doing what you can to understand what consumers feel about your brand? Does the reality of what your brand stands for meet your desire of its perception? Remember, your brand is what consumers say and think it is.