Thursday, November 6, 2008

Beyond The Bumper Sticker

Politics aside, Barack Obama's presidential campaign was one of the finest integrated marketing efforts I've ever seen. Of course the message and the man are core factors to the campaigns success. But the brand discipline has created a powerful framework for how people connected with the message and the man. Ultimately this branded connection is greater than the sum of its (branding) parts and inspired change.

Here are some of the basic elements of the framework that helped develop a simple and compelling story about Obama.

The Message: Obama's clear and compelling statements outlined what he stands for and how he would deliver it. "Change we can believe in" became the brand promise and allowed the audience to connect to his vision of who we could become. In short the brand essence: transformational.

The Brand Personality: Obama's message of change harmonized across both the intellectual and emotional sides of the brand. The intellectual side appeared authentic, thoughtful and progressive. Emotionally he connected with an approachable, open-mindedand and an empowering tone.

The Brand Design: From the consistent use of the American inspired Gotham typography to the gracefulness of the "O" logo, each of these elements helped shape reinforced his message with a consistent visual voice. The design did more than just look nice in a news clip, it demonstrated a level of control that you don't often find in even high-end consumer brands.

The Brand Connection: The campaign website it truly the experience engine of the campaign. From a design perspective it presents the candidate and the messaging in a clean, smooth and elegant fashion. Of course the content is relevant and dynamic, and because it was updated daily (and sometimes hourly) it opened the door for a "real time conversation" of sorts between the candidate and the audience. Not only was this a chance for the campaign to make meaningful connections, it allowed the audience to share what they felt was relevant, the way they wanted to share and consume it.

Opening The Brand: Taking the website experience a step further with a solid brand framework as its foundation, the Obama brand to become an open brand experience. Being an open brand didn't mean giving up control of the message, rather it allowed people to participate with the campaign on their terms. Of course there were blogs, video feeds and real time feedback but there was a sense that this campaign was be co-created with the community. People were interacting and sharing with perfect strangers over the internet through social networking. Micro-communities were springing up all over the internet and created a momentum that took on a life all of its own and became difficult to blunt let alone stop.

Obamamania Goes Viral: This campaign took on a life of it's own through associations wanting to connect to Obama and what the brand stood for. Everything from the mash up to inspired citizens creating videos, art and music began to circulate online. You could see tangible evidence of the bottom up model creating content and embracing the message. This wasn't a creation of the media. It was an authentic and it also helped to convert passive online viewers into active (financial) contributors to the campaign.

The Obamamania experience came to a crescendo on November 4th with the celebration in Chicago's Grant Park. Not only did the brand evangelists come out by the tens of thousands but the man, the message and design framework came full circle once again as the echo of "Yes we can" was heard around the world.

I'm certain that there will be dozens of books written in the months to come about how the campaign leveraged marketing principals to reach its goals that will be much more thorough than my entry. But there are a few additional points worth mentioning:

1) The design framework that shaped the open brand campaign approach brought a level of inclusion and intimacy that you don't often find in brand let along political campaigns.

2) An obvious but critical element to the success of this campaign (or any brand) is it was easy to donate (or make a purchase) online. There was also an instant follow up confirming and thanking the individual for contributing. These were design and communication elements that were planned well in advance that gave the user a level of comfort and sense of forethought.

3) People love brands for the experience they deliver not just the product specifications. You'll never see technical specs in a iPod commercial because nobody really cares. Much like a high-end brand Obama was able to project and reinforce the essence of his brand himself without getting pulled down into the marketing weeds. He left the policy specification to other tactical channels and was able to build equity into his core message where his competition couldn't compete.

4) This campaign was less of a political machine and more of a media organization. Control of communication is critical across the organization as well as to the audience. Design can play a significant role in optimizing the message as well as the presentation of the message.

5) Brand design is more art than formula. If there's one thing that was mastered by the Obama campaign it was creating a balance between structure and flexibility.

The bottom line is that building a brand framework that leads to a self sustaining community looks less like marketing or design and more like customer relationship management. It takes the combined effort of different disciplines to bring life into something that has an extreme level of control. It's not a campaign you can launch and let the media buy do the rest of the work. However, if you are fortunate enough to have an audience that wants to connect, it's something worth developing.


Nora said...

There's a really great article in like two New Yorkers ago that looks into Obama's campaign managers and the whole style and tone of the campaign. Let me google it for you and link you to it...

Excellent article; it kind of hovers around all the points you made in your post.

Patrick said...

Thank you for the article.