The old saw attributed to former House Speaker, Tip O’Neill that “all politics is local” may be in need of a refresh. After the 2008 presidential election, you could argue that all politics is social and we might attribute some of that shift to Jonathan Kopp, Ketchum’s new Global Director for Ketchum Digital.
Jonathan would know. As a partner for SS+K, he served on Barack Obama’s national media team and was tasked with reaching and registering 18-34 year old voters. Last night in San Francisco, Access co-hosted with Ketchum a conversation with Jonathan on lessons corporate marketers could learn from the campaign. Jonathan outlined four strategic imperatives the campaign used to engage this target audience and change the rules of the game:
When it comes to political campaigns, Obama changed the rules of engagement and Kopp believes that the Obama campaign can provide many lessons to brand marketers. “Let the game come to you and don’t over-push the brand,” recommended Kopp who claims that in as much as Gen-Yers want to discover and share, it is important to start small and “avoid doing an open mic with the biggest megaphone”.
In addition to discovering the message, consumers, especially younger audiences, want to personally relate to the message and that means that they want to feel that they were involved in the evolution of the message. They want to hear their words, in their voice and in their medium of choice. Many of the most powerful headlines that fueled the Obama campaign marketing came from the users. Of course the market at large has learned the power of user generated content, and Obama is the first politician who truly empowered the youth demographic to register, act and vote.
As social networking has overtaken email as the internet activity used most, brand owners may be concerned about the shift in power to the consumer, but Kopp believes successful marketing lies in giving consumers the tools they need to have conversations about their brands and let those conversations happen without interruption. Kopp pointed out that there is a lot of power in letting go and embracing the distributed power of the consumers (or in the case of Obama, the voters), but it requires a shift in thinking, and dare I say, some hope and change?
- Susan Butenhoff
VOICES OF INFLUENCE
Before joining Ketchum earlier this year, Jonathan Kopp was part of the team at integrated marketing agency SS+K that engineered the successful youth campaign that helped drive President Barack Obama to victory. That campaign relied heavily on social and other digital media, and its impact was in not only getting messages out to a target audience, but also welcoming this influential audience to share their own messages in support of the Obama brand. Here, Kopp shares some key learnings from his work on the Obama campaign and talks about their applications for corporate communications.
What Corporate Marketers Can Learn from the Obama Campaign
By Jonathan Kopp, Global Director, Ketchum Digital
One of the keys to President Obama’s victory was the campaign’s groundbreaking social marketing movement, which used both traditional and nontraditional media. The campaign defined the Obama brand early, maintained a consistent message, and invited everyday people to be a part of the brand. The role of digital media in the process was indispensable.
Here are six lessons about the way the campaign used digital media and some thoughts on how tools and tactics can be applied for corporate brands:
Lesson One: A social networking site was a powerful complement to the campaign’s official Web site.
The Obama campaign benefited greatly from both its Web site, BarackObama.com, and an opt-in social networking and community organizing engine, MyBarackObama.com (MyBO). They were the two MVPs of the campaign. The Web site offered useful top-down content, such as news releases, speeches, position papers and volunteer opportunities, while MyBO served as a way to communicate ideas and connect people based on their interests and locations. Importantly, MyBO – which was designed by one of the founders of Facebook – didn’t just deliver information. It encouraged and facilitated people taking action to help the candidate, such as making phone calls to voters, hosting house parties and donating money. It offered a way for people to be involved in the campaign both online and offline.
In addition to their corporate Web sites, companies and brands also can use online communities to connect consumers around their products or issues related to them. Already, some brands offer sites where consumers can share information and advice, rather than just receive information from a company. Such sites also can be used to facilitate volunteer activities or encourage attendance at local events and promotions.
Lesson Two: Relentless e-mail blasts kept supporters connected to the campaign.
The campaign used e-mail to drive fundraising, capture data, and to reach out directly to voters to rally support throughout the campaign. These frequent, opt-in e-mail messages had the effect of making people feel connected to Obama and to the greater movement. They also personalized politics in an unprecedented manner by delivering messages not only from the candidate and his campaign manager, but also from his wife, his running mate and his running mate’s wife. At the same time, the campaign was always careful to balance the e-mail blasts between “frequent” and “too much” to avoid overwhelming audiences.
In the same way, companies can personalize consumers’ and other stakeholders’ connections to their brands. Opt-in e-mail blasts can keep customers informed of new products, product enhancements or other relevant news. They can even be used to communicate directly to stakeholders when issues and crises arise, and to capture data for consumer research.
Lesson Three: Paid search and search engine optimization were important elements in online advertising.
Obama outspent McCain 10-to-1 in online advertising, including click-through banners and boxes and videos, and his cash advantage enabled him to target messages to different constituencies around issues such as healthcare and the economy. Paid search and search engine optimization enabled the campaign to promote the candidate even when Internet users were not specifically looking for information about the election.
Search engines are the most frequently used sites on the Internet, and many companies already use search engine optimization to direct consumers to their Web sites. Companies and brands should carefully consider ways to get the most out of both SEO and paid search. For instance, a company faced with undue criticism or false information about its brands can employ search to directly deliver accurate information to individuals who are looking for information related to the topic. Or a mattress retailer can target ads to consumers who are looking for information about buying a new bed. Tools such as Ketchum’s Search Matters can even predict what topics consumers will be searching during a given time — enabling brands to stay ahead of market trends.
Lesson Four: Text messaging was an invaluable tool for gathering data.
Text messaging was a critical element in helping the campaign reach a young, mobile audience. In fact, the campaign’s database ballooned when it publicized that the candidate’s choice for vice president would be announced via text messaging. Even the short code (62262) was a strategic piece of communication: It spelled O-B-A-M-A on the cell phone’s alphanumeric keypad. Supporters also could use their mobile phones to voice their concern about particular issues, such as the war in Iraq, in response to outdoor, video-projection billboard messages. And the campaign later was able to send text messages directly to individuals to help drive voter registration and turnout on Election Day.
Brands can use text messaging to drive participation in contests and promotions as well as to gather quick feedback on existing products or changes that consumers would like to see. Highly mobile consumers who may not take the time to complete a survey can send a text message in less than a minute. Twitter offers similar speed of communication and is a great way to personalize corporate and brand communications and build conversations with the public. If used as a promotional device, Twitter also can drive revenue.
Lesson Five: Open source activity was a major asset.
Some of the most memorable activity in support of the Obama campaign didn’t come from the campaign at all. It came from unaffiliated individuals who created artwork, music and videos that took on lives of their own, both online and offline. Rather than try to control or compete with those outside efforts, the campaign encouraged, and even equipped, fans to express support in their own ways. For instance, the campaign’s “O” logo was animated and reinterpreted for numerous constituent groups, from students to environmentalists to gay and lesbian organizations to various ethnic groups. Not only did unregulated, open-source activity allow groups to show support for Obama, but the fact that the campaign did not oppose or try to compete with the activity made the groups feel supported by the candidate.
Companies are naturally protective of their brands. But in the Web 2.0 world, the best way to protect brands may be to welcome and encourage consumer involvement with them. Young people, especially, don’t accept brands as static things; they feel free to re-imagine them. Companies should use the Web to make it easier for consumers to provide feedback and suggestions and even to share brand news and information with others. Enabling consumers to feel more connected to your brand also will develop brand advocates who may be motivated to defend the brand when negative news arrives. For instance, the campaign had dissenters as well as supporters on MyBO; we accommodated them for a more authentic conversation and to empower supporters to respond, too, offering third-party validation.
Lesson Six: Microtargeting was an essential way to get into the conversation.
Conversation about the campaign was happening on the Internet. Since the campaign couldn’t control the conversation, it simply engaged in it. One way to do that was microtargeting — speaking to different audiences in ways that showed that the candidate related to them. For instance, when we created ads for Barack Obama to speak to youth, we had him speaking to a webcam. It was another way to show that Obama understood the ways that young people communicate.
Similarly, by marrying macro brand messages with micro customization, corporate communicators can draw in niche audiences. Customizing conversations for specific audiences enables brands to introduce their points of view in ways that people will more readily listen to. For instance, Levi’s recently launched a global branding campaign called “Go Forth,” which focuses on the theme of the American pioneer and targets men ages 18 to 33. To complement traditional advertising done by Weiden+Kennedy, Ketchum created a guerilla campaign on Craigslist across U.S. markets that provided a modern take on Antarctic explorer Ernest Shakleton’s legendary classified ad seeking brave men for hazardous work and low wages. The ad has already generated thousands of unique visitors to the “Go Forth” Web site, and the campaign is still underway. We also created and published a social media release and provided blogger and online media relations.
On a final note, Barack Obama was a stellar candidate who represented the right change at the right time. But discipline on consistent communication strategy and messaging throughout the two-year campaign was critical to his success. The same is true in corporate marketing. To achieve that consistency, digital communication and offline activity must be integrated seamlessly – and from the beginning. Digital communication cannot be just a tactic or a bolt-on to a marketing campaign. It needs to be a part of the discussion during the strategic development phase and embedded in the core communications all the way through. Only then will a company truly harness the full spectrum of the digital space.
by Susan Mach
Social networking and digital information technologies helped spark the massive increase in youth participation that led to President Barack Obama’s victory in November. During the U.S. presidential campaign, Jonathan Kopp, now global director at Ketchum Digital, was a partner with SS+K, the integrated communication agency that managed Obama’s youth communication efforts. Kopp talks about how youth communication helped make history.
Congratulations on your role in President Obama’s win.
We were working with the perfect candidate. He was young, charismatic and personified change. The Obama “brand” – if you will — was set early, far in advance of his 2007 announcement. His campaign was disciplined and consistent, never defensive. His message and vision were clear, and he never wavered. The challenge was pushing this positioning out to voters, literally every minute of every day, for 21 months, through the most aggressive, measured and successful social media strategy ever seen in politics, or in consumer brand marketing for that matter.
What did your research tell you about young voters?
The numbers of registered young voters—the campaign defined them as ages 18 to 35—have been going up since 2000. George W. Bush turned out not to be a compassionate conservative. We knew that voter discontent was starting to mount over issues like the war in Iraq, which was spiralling out of control. Obama ran at a time when 89 percent of Americans believed the country (United States) was on the wrong track.
We did lots of research. Public frustration was high. People wanted change.
We knew young people were latently leaning toward Obama, but we also knew President Obama would have to earn their respect to win their votes.
One way to lose them would be to over-market to them. Young people are savvy to the ways of marketing. They can embrace a brand, but only as long as they can trust it.
Young people don’t want to be a candidate’s or marketer’s tool. So it was important for us to downplay the branding and lay out the facts, and give them the chance to discover it on their own. For Obama to win them, we had to get them to register to vote—or in cases in which people had moved away — we had to get them to re-register. Young people don’t want to hear about voter registration from the candidate who needs their votes. Instead, voter registration is more about civic duty. So the voter registration message could not come from the candidate. It would be presumptuous.
So we dialed down the Obama branding. The voter registration Web site—voteforchange.com—was neutral. The word “change” was an allusion to Obama, but the purpose of the site was to make registering to vote quick and easy.
And to motivate action, we linked registration to the issues frustrating U.S. citizens: Iraq, gas prices, health care, etc. We made a simple connection: register if you want to make a difference on the issues. We didn’t tell young people “you’re angry.” Our tagline was: “Don’t get mad. Get registered.”
So young people don’t want to hear from marketers or even the candidate?
Right. They cut through the spin. That’s why social media are critical. Young people want to hear it from their friends. They’re looking for the information, the tools and the opportunities to be laid out there for them so they themselves can discover it on their terms and their time.
Were you promoting more than an idea?
Yes. The Obama campaign was pragmatic in its communication, whether it was buying a T-shirt, donating $10, making phone calls, or registering to vote. It was always about action. As a result, they channelled broad goodwill into a movement—and increased supporters’ emotional investment in Obama’s candidacy. Consumers had a tangible way to register their interest.
How did you keep the conversation with young voters going?
When we did engage supporters, our approach was always pragmatic and efficient. We asked for specific actions. For example, capturing data on mybarackobama.com was critical. Once we knew who they were—by capturing their e-mail address and their telephone numbers—we moved them eventually to become evangelists who helped us find others.
What about the use of compelling images to mobilise young voters?
We created a distinctive look and feel for promoting voteforchange.com. Our advertising and marketing was set in the voice and imagery of youth peer-to-peer conversation, featuring young street artists and headlines that were testimonials of actual young people’s frustrations with the status quo. For example, “I registered because the economy stinks. Or “I’m voting because I refuse to be a bystander.” These headlines had a user-generated authenticity.
We also created digital, interactive billboards, covering 30 cities in the last 10 nights of the campaign. We hit urban areas in battleground states where a lot of young people lived. We trained a spotlight on the side of a building. We lit up a huge text message: “I’m voting because….” Young people would respond. We then showed their text messages on the interactive billboard. It was like a beacon in the sky, and people were drawn to the light. They sent texts explaining their own reasons for voting. It was simple. It gave people something meaningful to do. It sparked peer-to-peer conversation. It gave our street teams a chance to hand out materials and information. It enabled us to capture data.
How did your strategy balance the need for overall message consistency from the top—the Obama campaign—with highly specific peer-to-peer conversations?
The campaign knew the difference between conversations among voters, which had to be respected, and the campaign-to-voter conversation, which had to be controlled and directed from the top. The campaign earned voters’ trust by respecting peer-to-peer conversation and making sure not to interrupt it or interject the Obama brand inappropriately. We had to strike a balance.
We gave people the tools, info and opportunities. They mobilised. We earned their trust. Meanwhile, we learned to live with contradictions: tight control from the top vs. an “open source” approach from the bottom.
You’ve said the “most valuable players” of the campaign were the Web site and mybarackobama.com, or MyBo.
The Web site offered useful, up-to-the-minute, top-down content, such as speeches, position papers, news releases, volunteer opportunities and training videos in text, audio and video. MyBo was a social networking, community organising engine that communicated ideas and connected people peer-to-peer, based on their interests and locations. MyBo also facilitated action, both online and off. It made it fun and easy for supporters to take real-world actions to help the candidate—making phone calls, housing fundraisers or donating money.
How did the campaign reach a group that’s so mobile?
Text messaging was a critical element, and the campaign’s database ballooned when it announced that the vice president choice would be announced via text messaging. Even the short code (62262) was a strategic piece of communication: It spelled O-B-A-M-A on the cell phone’s alphanumeric keypad.
Do you think technology has changed the world?
Digital is just that, a technology. It’s only an enabler. What will matter in the digital age is the ability to influence the conversation with sharp insights about our audience and in thoughtful communication strategies. What will matter is a core of consistent messages that can be crafted into a compelling story. The media we use to convey that story should never be limited to either digital or traditional media. The real magic happens when we deliver the message consistently both online and offline. Using either online or offline exclusively is not enough. Online social networks mobilise people,.
Do you think youth movements like the ones that helped make Barack Obama President of the United States are likely to continue?
I think it’s too early to say. Certainly the opportunity is there. We’ll have to wait and see. We must continue to expand our skill set and knowledge. I am optimistic and confident that we’ve learned from the Obama experience. There’s an opportunity to spike that openness. The American people have been invited into—actually, back into—the conversation.
To view examples of urban interactive billboards in the Obama campaign, visit: www.txtualhealing.com
The Communication Working Group met January 26-28 in London to discuss its ongoing work researching youth-driven social networks, engaging new voices in debates around AIDS communication and how belief systems interact with HIV through public conversations, and analyzing the history and possible futures of AIDS communication. The group is also exploring issues of communication with those exposed to chronic violence and how the use of language contributes to stigma.
Highlights of the meeting: A panel of new media analysts explored, “Social Networks and AIDS: Threat or Opportunity;” Jonathan Kopp, partner of SS+K (the firm that managed communication for young people for President Obama) presented “Mobilizing Youth: Lessons from the Barack Obama Campaign;” and the working group began finalizing their recommendations for the aids2031 final report, An Agenda for the Future. The Communication Working Group also finalized plans to host a public conversation on AIDS in Cameroon in the near future.
Questions or comments about the Communication Working Group? Please e-mail Working Group convener Denise Gray-Felder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the inauguration of Barack Obama a day away, it is worth noting the communications strategy that helped get him to the presidency. In last month’s New York Times Magazine, there was an excellent analysis on how the Obama campaign mastered the media. I think it is very useful for communications professionals who wish to embrace both openness and message control.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say you can’t control the message in the age of new media. While you can’t dictate what bloggers say about you (and it behooves you to pay attention to what they are in fact saying), you can control what you say and how you say it.
As the Times reported, “Obama’s New Way organization was grounded largely on Old School codes — notions of loyalty, aggressiveness and discretion.” If there were any disagreements, power struggles or hurt feelings you would never know it. Perhaps that is the luxury of a winning campaign. Losing campaigns tend to spout leaks.
Interestingly, Obama’s control of the message coincided with an “open” embrace of new media. In the course of the campaign, the Obama team showcased a number of new-media applications designed to project a sense of open-book communications to the public. While clearly not ignored, traditional media had to compete with new forms of communications including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
The Obama campaign made news by directly communicating with voters via email and text addresses for major announcements and taking advantage of websites like fightthesmears.com to defend against rival attacks.
And what did openness mean to the Obama campaign? According to the Times, it was about the campaign’s willingness to make the candidate, senior staff and information (from policy positions, donors lists, and birth certificates) available in a manner that “bred a feeling of real-time connectedness between campaign and voter.”
In short, they provided access to information to those with the least amount of access – the public.
For corporate communications professionals, the Obama campaign demonstrates that even the most open and transparent communications efforts can be disciplined.
As Jonathan Kopp wrote me
Obviously, a balance has to be struck. The campaign clearly respected and valued peer-to-peer conversations among voters. And they earned people’s respect and trust by providing the information and tools that helped those conversations flourish on MyBarackObama and at offline gatherings. The campaign-to-voter conversation is a different story. That’s where message discipline and consistency come in to play.
Jonathan is a partner at Shepardson Stern & Kaminsky, an integrated communications firm that was on Obama for America’s national media team and the campaign’s agency for youth.
In the age of conversations, with decentralized communications and multiple spokespersons, losing control is a palpable fear. And in fact your message will be lost or muddled without guidelines.
New media gives you new ways to reach your audience. It’s immediate. It’s personal. It’s about creating a “non traditional” corporate image. But it isn’t carte blanche for employees to say what they want. They should be fired for using abusive language or revealing proprietary information. The Obama campaign was relentless in staying on message.
Disciplined also means not wavering when embracing new forms of communications. The Obama communications team understood its value — using it imaginatively and consistently. It was not a gimmick used on an ad hoc basis. New media was integral to Obama’s message and central to a large portion of his supporters.
Perhaps in the end, one of the lasting legacies of the Obama campaign may very well be its understanding of the power and novelty of new media as well as its ability to use it as a fulcrum to drive its message.
Let me get back to you.
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