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What marketers can learn from the US election

Written by: Thomas Praus December 6, 2012  

While Mitt Romney mostly targeted “white old men” with his naturally conservative messages, Barack Obama managed to reach a much broader audience: groups with different ethnic background, different education level and work situation, different ages, gender etc. This opened up his colorful catalogue of positions, nevertheless formed a new challenge for the campaign organization. Would it be able to bring the right message to the right target group?

The answer is, yes, it did, Obama won, despite a terrible performance in the first tv debate and to a great part because of his superb use of data mining and microtargeting. That weapon made it possible for Obama to win, although many voters find the tactic of data mining and microtargeting, well, scary.

The last election was the most data-intensive campaign in history which makes sense when watching the habits of people changing. Sharing information about ourselves is quiet normal nowadays and even more common in the US. Political parties use the general information in their databases (age, gender, income, etc.) for a long time. In 2012 those information had been used in a different way. They have been combined with data about habits or other activities. Social Networks and the integration of the internet in people’s life made it possible to track and analyze all that and use it for the campaign.

Microtargeting, as a method to getting specific information about how to communicate unique information with the exact fitting subgroup was the solution this year. Having this huge amount of data and analyzing it the right way made it possible to interact with different subgroups about their own interests and topics. Bringing the same topics in individual forms to the different subgroups makes them feel a lot more important and personal. The same information send to an Hispanic woman and a white middle class man differs in many ways but delivers the same message.

Planning a campaign as a marketer follows similar parameters. Normally the strategy focuses on one defined target group and speaks to all in the same way. Using the right tracking and arranging the campaigns on different subgroups of the stakeholders can be more effective like Obama’s team proved. Deciding for the success of Obama’s campaign was also the integration of real time data in progress. “There was constant testing. A lot of people were responsible for that culture … a culture of experimentation. If we had an idea that was kooky, we would test it to see if it would work, “said Amelia Showalter, the campaign’s director of digital analytics.

For example, they tested different forms of presenting content in fundraising emails. One version outperformed other emails, so they kept using this new format. Volunteers that build the important base of the campaign also used this culture of experimentation in their daily work. Having the one to one contact to the potential voters they deliver input for changes with every meeting. Using this information for individual changes in the strategy made this campaign so flexible and successful in the end.

This live-testing and implementing the results in the improvement of the campaign is highly relevant for business today. Keeping the campaign constantly in move allows to fully reach every single one of the different stakeholder subgroups. Obama’s campaign showed that stakeholder feedback used for improvements in real time is the key to a successful marketing strategy.

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