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What Obama taught the world on marketing

Being a marketer by profession, the U.S. Presidential Election intrigued me but, with interesting domestic issues like the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), SAARC Economic Summit and the Olympics occupying my mind, I never got to analysing the multi million dollar entrenched competitive US presidential election. Let me do it now and pick up the learning’s for a new age marketer of Sri Lanka because as I write this Obama is elected to the way to take the most powerful job of the world to be the President of the United States of America.

The United States is clearly at a cross road with the economy shaky, the standard of living under pressure, out-of control in debt, the growing concentration of wealth among the upper income, disastrous policies of the Bush/Cheney administration and poll numbers on President Bush at a dangerous low. Hence It is very clear that 2008 will be the year where the nation can decide the future it wants.

The CNN Opinion Poll of November 5, 2008 reveal that that the burning issues that the US citizens wants the future President of the United States should address are; The economic woes that a typical American family is faced with -spiraling inflation and increasing unemployment a tough task for any government to address as its more supply driven.

The second key issue is the war in Iraq. This requires a policy change that will be relatively an easier decision though it will take a full year for implementation at the ground end for people to see the results.

The next issue identified in the CNN Poll was Health Care. This is linked to the stability of an economy whilst the issue of Immigrants is once again a policy issue but the decision is a tough call given that there are international ramifications.

Hence we see that the need profile is quite complexed which means that the product range (the solution) that each candidate puts together will have be creatively articulated in the communication strategy.

The challenge is that it has to be done with subtleness as the race is so close but the message has to be razor sharp so that it registers in an average American’s mind.

Whilst understanding the complexity of the need profile, recent research reveals that a new target group is emerging in the United States -It’s called the Hip Hop Generation. This group is between 18-29 years and is estimated to be worth a 44 million votes who can actually tipped the scale on Election Day to my mind.

The profile of this group is Whites-61%, Hispanics-17%, Blacks-15% and Asians-4%. Qualitative research says that this group celebrates not what is right but, what is wrong in society which adds to the complexity to a presidential hopeful.

But from a marketing point of view, it’s an emerging market segment that needs to be addressed. To my mind in such close race between two candidates the 44 million hip hop group can sure made a difference on Election Day with a marked increase in voter turnout of the youngsters.

If we analyse the messages on the multi million dollars advertising moneys spent by both candidates, Barack Obama said the 75 billion dollar economic stimulus is the way forward on the economy via tax cuts, directing spending on working families, Senior Citizens, Home owners and the unemployed while John McCain said in lowering the tax break from 35% to 25% and introducing R&D into organisation with a financial incentive which is a very strong strategic road map.

Analyst predict that Barack Obama’s strategy will add $3.4 trillion to the national debt while McCain’s plan will add $5 trillion which means Obama’s strategy is more feasible but he the truth of the hour is that financial reforms must take place if not the heart is pumping the money but it is not going into the veins and the different parts of the body.

However, the challenge was how the message was communicated in a way that it is more attractive to the American voter. Obama has gone on to make a sea change by recommending that an overhaul of Wall Street regulation is crucial to restoring trust in the U.S. market which to my mind is in line with the brand promise he is making of “Change” but once again the real challenge we saw was how the idea got communicated.

Obama took prime time TV slots spending millions of dollars which to my mind was the confidence he had on the power behind the idea. What is the consumer choice?

The adage ‘Money Talks” will undoubtedly hold true. Latest reports predict that overall political expenditure will reach a gigantic $4.5 billion dollars in 2008 which means that it will be an increase of 64% against the 2004 presidential election where $2.7 billion was spent. Of this expenditure almost a $3 billion will be spent on traditional media like advertising as against the $1.85 billion that was spent at the last election which means that there has been no actual shift in the selection of media.

There will be a 66% increase in spend to $1.5 billion dollars in media such as direct mail, public relations, in-person events and on line marketing efforts which is interesting but a point to note is that it is not a sea change in the communication strategy of a dynamic marketing campaign.

The advertising on broadcast television is estimated to be at 52.3% at $2.3 billion as against the 52.8% spent in the 2004 election which means that traditional media continues to dominate the communication strategy. I guess given the issues that need to be addressed like the Economy, War in Iraq, Health Care and Immigrants there is no option but use stable media that drives credibility. A point to note is that Radio advertising is said to increase to $272 million.

A new trend seen is that cable TV spending will surge by 94% as against the 2004 presidential election while Direct -mail expenditure will also increase by 67% to a $1 billion which means that direct contact communication is been used at this time Presidential race. Web site marketing is growing at a staggering 152% which means that more interactive communication is been pursued by the two candidates but a point to note is that it is a meager spend of $73 million which is negligible.

A new form of marketing that is taking form is the data base driven zip-code targeting messages where niche audiences can be reached is been used this time around which may be to the hip hop community who are between 18-29 years and difficult to reach through traditional media.

Hence what we see is that getting a message across in an entrenched competitive market requires sharp marketing strategies like what we see in the current U.S Presidential elections.

But the pivot to the ultimate success is not only the communication strategy that can fashion an American to vote for a particular candidate but the actual delivery of that promise. If not it will be like getting a consumer purchase a washing powder by way of sexy advertising but when it comes to getting stubborn stains washed the product fails.

Just like the U.S. election which is using a combination of hi-tech advertising together with grass root level street marketing campaigns an organisation of today must follow suit with a two pronged strategy so that a consumer gets involved with the brand. Some call this engagement marketing or experiential marketing. What ever term used, its all about building a relationship with a customer.

Barack Obama does this well by focusing on the all important hip hop community. He has developed an inspirational political music video titled ‘Yes We Can’ that is linked to his desired brand position of a young energetic leader who can make a real change to an Americans life. This was distributed through Face Book which has already hit 13 million viewers to date.

The importance of social media networks like e-mails, blogs, social video sites, embedded widgets is all about driving engagement with a customer. A typical responded can host views which can become viral. This will lead to influential networks that can lead to call for action behaviour.

This strategy if implemented properly can drive strong brand loyalty especially in computer savvy target groups. The most hip sites currently are Face Book and MySpace. Another area that can trigger unconscious response is mobile text messages.

These short text messages tend to be read by the wired consumer of today be it at a meeting or place of worship is what latest studies reveal. It is said that Barack Obama targeted the 18-29 youth segment of 44 million with a text message campaign on Election Day on the theme ‘Change’.

With hyper competition industry situations in everyday life in Sri Lanka just like the US presidential Election, if one does not embrace the new tools of marketing one cannot get into the minds of a new age consumer.

A key learning from the US presidential election is the importance on online media so that this viral communications can be used to reach fragmented consumer groups that traditional media does not reach. However the challenge is the delivery of the promise once purchased. Specially when the purchase made, cannot be revoked for four years (In Sri Lanka it is six). This is where ethics come to play in the world of marketing. I guess for the US only time will tell.



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