Obama Gets Creative, and Wins

An Obama 2012 campaign promise to emphasize education has already been fulfilled in some respects: The president’s team schooled Romney’s on how to run an effective, analytics-driven campaign, and educated marketers on best practices for analytics-enabled marketing using Big Data and social media.

Whatever your political affiliation, if you’re a marketer, it’s worth studying how the Obama team leveraged analytics to win the election.

1. Treat analytics as a creative force. It takes creativity and broad thinking to consider whether a phone call from a local person versus someone in a non-swing state makes a difference, then analyzing the impact. This was one of many ways that the Obama team was creative in the application of analytics. Since your competitors are likely to have similar data, software, and analytics expertise, the game-changing difference is in uncovering key insights by thinking broadly and creatively about how the world works and how to influence consumers.

2. Target customers with highest potential. The Obama team was masterful at identifying the swing voters who could be persuaded in granular key battleground geographies. Who are your most persuadable “swing voters”? Which customers offer the highest upside potential? Marketers too often focus investments on their current most valuable customers, which often is not where the real opportunity lies. Developing detailed customer profiles, predictive models, and experiments reveals customers who should be targeted for their potentially greater share of wallet and responsiveness to marketing.

3. Drive relevance through analytics to win. The Obama campaign understood the relevance equation. Its robust customer database and profiles guided all marketing tactics. Which target voters got phone calls, emails, or door-knocks? Which social media channels are most relevant? What was the right content in terms of messaging and creative? Aligning with Sarah Jessica Parker engaging on Reddit, and highly targeted television ads further showed the campaign had answers to the who, what, when, where, and how of communications and engagement.

4. Make testing part of the culture. When you have office pools about whose email will perform best, as Obama’s team did, testing is imbedded in the culture. World-class, analytics-enabled marketing programs incorporate testing in every facet in two ways: Experimental designs that answer fundamental questions about resource allocation and test a broad set of ideas. Ongoing A/B tests drive continual performance improvements around individual tactics such as email.

5. Set clear, measurable objectives for social media. The Obama team demonstrated this with its creative use of Facebook, where photos of users’ friends were posted in swing states to influence such behaviors as registering or voting early. It’s critical to have clear business, brand, and marketing goals for each channel across paid, owned, and earned media. A holistic measurement plan will account for cross-channel interactions tied to these objectives.

6. Use robust data and apply context to improve models. Those looking at more robust data did not believe the election was a toss-up — including both Team Obama and New York Times blogger Nate Silver. The Obama team’s predictive accuracy was rooted in very large sample sizes and analysis of very granular but key geographic areas. Having less data to work with, Silver filled the gaps by incorporating judgment and context. The lesson for marketers is that the right Big Data plus simple algorithms can be a powerful predictor. And filling in data gaps with smart, informed assumptions can result in highly accurate predictive models.

7. Leverage analytics across all stakeholders. The Obama team leveraged analytics to drive both fundraising (raising $1 billion) and voting behavior. Similarly, marketers and businesses should consider how they can leverage analytics broadly across stakeholders to drive overall results. For example, analytics can also be leveraged for internal employee engagement to segment employees and target them for increased engagement, skill development, and a variety of other objectives.

Clearly, Team Obama has set the bar for analytics-driven campaigning. It took outstanding analytics as well as a multidisciplinary approach to help achieve the victory.

photo credit: Mr. Wright via photopin cc

About Jeff Hennige

Jeff Hennige is an engagement manager in Prophet's San Francisco office.

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