Obama's Cultural Movement. An Insider's View

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by: Scott Goodson

We believe brands can lead cultural movements, that they should have a relevant role in popular culture and encourage grassroots interaction and participation. This is our focus at StrawberryFrog. This posting below was written by Ilana Bryant, one of our partners, and StrawberryFrog’s Chief Strategy Officer who worked with the Obama camp the past few of years. On this remarkable day when Obama is sworn in as the next US President (the first internet 2.0 President I might add) this posting is meant to pay homage to Ilana’s efforts and the efforts of many other Obama marketing minds.

This year we witnessed an incredible Cultural Movement and marketing phenomenon in action, and here are our thoughts on what marketer’s can learn from this American cultural movement and marketing philosophy,

1. Leveraging the power of inspiration

If you want your target audience to love you, wear your T-shirt and forgive your weaknesses, you need connect with them on a level beyond the rational benefits/details.

The voter’s long journey to the voting booth may twist and turn on those rational policy points, but selecting the candidate inside the booth is often a split-second, emotional, non-rational decision — in much the same way that consumers make product choices on the shelves.

Obama’s campaign laid out a clear set of inspiring values — hope, action, change — that it weaved consistently through all forms of communication. The rest was commentary. The campaign was very good at seamlessly translating these values directly into simple slogans designed to elicit the desired responses. Phrases like "Change we can believe in" and "Yes, we can" are examples of phrases that epitomize the Obama brand values and speak positively to the subconscious in a way that would make NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) practitioners proud.

2. Bottom-up brand management

The Obama brand has been led from the bottom up, not the top down. The campaign has a social-networking site with powerful, instant peer-to-peer communication. With features like "create your own event" and "create your own Obama group," the campaign created a self-organizing system. Obama HQ provided the tools for these people to meet, organize, fund-raise and canvass voters, but did not dictate the content or intervene with the peer groups. The chat rooms and events on barackobama.com, such as "Jazz Brunch for Obama Fundraiser," "Anime Fans for Obama" and "Barack the Kitchen Club," displayed the eclectic and organic nature of the organization. I’m sure if I had set up a "Twisty Balloon Animals for Obama Fundraiser" it would be uploaded unedited to the site. This created grassroots ownership and made campaigners less like foot soldiers and more like the passionate minuteman of the American Revolution. If you wanted to show up to proverbially fight for Obama with a pitchfork and a homemade uniform, all you had to do was sign up and you were in.

The campaign gave brand imagery to the movement in the form of downloadable media clips, images and copy and it positively encouraged open interpretation of Obama branding and imagery and symbols. These rei-interpretations found themselves proudly displayed on the official brand site via Artists for Obama and Creatives for Obama communities, and the campaign eventually started to sell theme in the official Obama merchandise shop.

This campaign’s user-generated brand culture also had a halo effect, spawning independent grassroots Obama campaigns and communities online. For example, the "Yes We Can" viral video created by Will.i.am and cYclops achieved nearly 6 million hits on YouTube without any seeding or media funding. The video, a personal project created by Will.i.am and first posted on his blog, dipdive, broke viral ratings record. Mark Jurkovac, producer of the video, recalls that as soon as it went viral "we got calls from all sorts of groups saying they wanted to do their version of the ‘Yes We Can’ and so we in turn created an online community for this kind of content." A Web site, hopeactchange.com, was created and became a social community for Obama user-generated content, a sort of pro-Obama YouTube. Though Obama is credited as the ‘CEO of Inspiration’, no one involved in these projects ever spoke to or worked directly with the official Obama campaign. As another self-organizing community, hopeactchange continued to generate new viral content.

3. Continuous activation through ‘SMART’ objectives

Marketing 101 instructs that to achieve goals, objectives must be "Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed." It seems that all internal Obama peer-to-peer campaign initiatives followed this dictum. There were no woolly entreaties to "donate your time to the cause." Initiatives gave a specific goal and date (e.g., "1.5 million calls by Tuesday") and make them actionable and realistic through easy-to-use online tools (e.g., "click on this button and make 20 calls from this list") and results are posted in real time. Momentum was maintained by a new internal action objective that greets registered users on the home page and in targeted emails.

4. Social networking infused with healthy competition

The Obama Web site’s social-networking tools, created by the inventors of Facebook, were infused with healthy peer-to-peer competition that helps to drive traffic. Matching peer donations, viewable personal fundraising pages and shared postings of peers with the highest calling rates are examples of how the campaign harnesses friendly peer-to-peer competition. The Web site’s point scoring system awards actions on level of commitment and usefulness to the cause. These points are not redeemable, but help users understand their level of action in the movement and to set personal goals.

5. Pop-up stores to galvanize online/offline activities

The Obama campaign overcame its lack of infrastructure in key areas by utilizing for want of a better term, a pop-up stores – a temporary distribution channel/brand experience set up in a vacant retail space. For example, my local Obama campaign HQ was an old movie rental shop. It was rebranded in Obama campaign signage and began distributing campaign material and running phone banks despite still having the original "We Got Movies" neon sign over the door. These pop-up stores on the ground are combined with the Web site’s powerful Mapquest-style location tool so peer groups could find each other and local events, as well as find their new campaign HQ. The result was a holistic integration of a real-world grassroots meeting place for the virtual, online groups and activities. Arguably it was this fusion of the online and offline activation that enables the campaign to harness the power of its grassroots fan base.

Barack Obama was an unknown, untested brand that succeeded against the powerful brand leaders in the market. His ability to create a cultural movement and his innovative risk-taking marketing is an inspiration to us all.

Original Post: http://scottgoodson.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/01/obamas-cultural-movement-an-insiders-view.html