Old Technology And New Brand Masters

If you had anything to do with the Obama presidential campaign, you have not indulged in any post-election relaxation. Instead, you've been taking calls from conferences wanting you to speak. For the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit in San Jose last August, I was lucky enough to get Mark Skidmore, Director of Advertising & Promotion at Blue State Digital on the podum.

Mark is very enthusiastic about his role in the campaign and is a huge proponent of crowd sourcing, widgets, Twitter, Facebook and every other cutting-edge, latest and greatest tool, technique and toy that's out there. But he gives the majority of the communication credit to an old tool that I consider the wave of the future: email.

Yeah, boring, isn't it? The online campaign ran on email blasts sent out by (OK, on behalf of) Barack, Michelle and a handful of top-level advisors. They used email to drive every message and push every sound bite to link up millions of people behind a single cause.

This is not to ignore the amazing work done by the Web site team nor the untold hours put in by the banner ad folks, etc. But for getting out the vote, motivating the volunteers and bringing in the donations, email was the killer ap.

Email is fast, efficient, cheap -- and even though I was told by one tween that she only used it to talk to old people, it's ubiquitous. Everybody's got email. It's absurdly reliable; it just plain works. It also lets the campaign focus on the message instead of the media. And that's where my "wave of the future" comes in: managing the message.

In his keynote presentation at eMetrics, Skidmore said they were thrilled that people took the logo and made it their own. It would be too hard to organize a barn painting program, but if you let the artwork free, anything can happen.

While turning the creative loose for use by the multitudes, the results felt unified. Newsweek pointed out that "Obama's marketing is much more cohesive and comprehensive than anything we've seen before, involving fonts, logos and web design in a way that transcends the mere appropriation of commercial tactics to achieve the sort of seamless brand identity that the most up-to-date companies strive for."

A throwaway line in Skidmore's speech has stuck with me for months and I think it's the way forward for all of us. I think I have believed this since I saw my first Web site (Sun Microsystems, 1993) but have never said it out loud due to its sheer audacity. Skidmore said they were able to accomplish such a consistent look and feel across all media, at light speed, by all concerned, because digital owned the brand.

I can feel "Mad Men" everywhere now wanting my guts for garters.

I do not think marketing should run the company, but I do believe digital should own the brand. Digital is better able to compare, test, measure, segment, target, disseminate and adjust a brand identity than any other discipline in the company.

Sacrilege? Certainly. But mark my words -- it's the way forward for all of us.

5 comments about "Old Technology And New Brand Masters".
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  1. Alex Czajkowski from eGaming 2.0 Ltd, June 9, 2009 at 4:16 p.m.

    " They used email to drive every message and push every sound bite to link up millions of people behind a single cause. " Sounds like spam to me mate. Did I opt-in to receive mesages from a political party? Never in my life.. did you? Did the millions? Great viral stuff--the personalized Lost by One Vote Less is epic in every dimension, but email? permission marketing? Am I missing something? I never asked to be contacted by a presidential candidate or viagra supplier.... my emails too filled up with new friend requests on FB ;-)

  2. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., June 9, 2009 at 5:05 p.m.

    Because digital owns the brand ... Yeah, baby!

    I'd take that one step further, based on your young friend's statement that she only uses email to talk to old people, and state that the conflation of marketing with digital may also be a temporary proposition. Business is about creating a virtuous and continually self-optimizing cycle in which each iteration delivers product to market and gets paid, and which (of course) includes agile, bidirectional feedback loops to design and communicate messages around the brand, to listen, to dialogue, and to action market guidance and strategic vision on next steps. The tool for all of this is digital. The people who own digital are the ones who natively command that tool in this context.

    I'm not sure marketing qualifies. The ascendancy of marketing (and advertising) in digital is just a side-effect of the fact that Web 1.0 is good at flashing words and images in front of eyeballs, which looks like a marketing function, but this is as dinosaur-dead as any other old economy proposition. When the systems are linked to let us calculate the carbon cost of mining the iron, smelting the steel, making the car, selling the car, driving the car and talking about driving the car, we'll need a new discipline to take the reins and wrangle the herd for profitability.

  3. John Caldwell from, June 9, 2009 at 8:16 p.m.

    It's not just driving the message, it's also the "product" the message is promoting.

    Both political parties had roughly the same size email base; 13mm (D) & 12.5mm (R).

    Both saturated subscriber's inboxes. One "product" resonated with it's audience (D), and the other didn't (R).

    That said, and while I agree that email is the "killer app" (and proto social media), and that "digital" should "own" the brand, don't forget that the product has something to do with success, too.

    We've heard about the short-term fund-raising success, but how does that apply to the long-term goals of business? What have the results of email campaigns to those subscribers been since the election?

  4. Kevin Horne from Verizon, June 10, 2009 at midnight

    You said "digital should own the brand. Digital is better able to compare, test, measure, segment, target, disseminate and adjust a brand identity than any other discipline in the company." Was CREATE left out intentionally? Did you mean to say digital should own the brand AFTER it is created?

    Otherwise, the comment is indeed sacrilege. And foolish.

    P.S. it will be news to many that you can "segment" a brand identity.

  5. Jim Sterne from Target Marketing, June 15, 2009 at 1:10 p.m.

    Oh yes Kevin - I definitely left off CREATE intentionally.

    Digital is the management/delivery mechanism. It is fast, agile and responsive, but has no magic ability to come up with a brilliant idea, a fabulous graphic or a completely resonant message. Those who have been trained in and done creative for many moons are skilled at their jobs and are central to marketing success regardless of how the message is managed and disseminated. My point is to hand the management over to the digital side and let them collaborate with the creative side so that there can be a brand conversation in the marketplace rather than a brand pronouncement from the company to the public.

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