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Look Beyond Data For Hidden Comms Lessons From Obama's Victory

Damon Jones 21 Nov 2012

Far from dry is the ink on the analysis of the 2012 campaign and the counting of the women, minority and young voters (and the millions of white, straight, Christian guys too) who propelled Obama to victory.  But this myopic, data-driven approach to number crunching and political geo-targeting potentially casts a shadow over important lessons hidden in the final results of November 6.

PR pros would be well served to take note: numbers don’t tell the entire story.  That’s where we come in.

Let’s assume for a moment that both President Obama and Governor Romney, were equally liked by voters, that their policies were equally attractive and that there were no significant differences in financial fuel behind the campaigns – several things would still their campaigns apart:

Brilliant Storytelling. Let’s face it; everyone likes a good story – especially when it’s about them.  The overarching narrative of the Obama campaign wasn’t about the candidate, his plan or the other guy. It was about the American people and their vision for their own future. 

President Obama’s story was easy to follow – it balanced tough economic realities with historical context (“how we got into this mess in the first place”) then bridged to a future that reflects nearly universal values (“when my daughters have the same opportunities as your sons”).  It was told vividly and transparently, not just with words and pictures from the usual suspects, but through a diverse coalition of citizens and celebrities that easily and eagerly promoted their membership in the big tent.

Key take-away: powerful brands connect through stories about people they serve and impact they make; not with talk of performance superiority and side-by-side comparisons versus the leading national competitor.

Competitive (De)Positioning. At their core, campaigns are about contrast.  From the earliest days of the race, the most ‘sticky’ descriptions of Governor Romney, his record and his plan were created by the other side – all too often using his own words, or lack thereof.

No, the Governor never actually uttered the words “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” but try telling that to the guys on 8 Mile Road.  The lesson here is clear: if you don’t tell your own story in a compelling way, someone else will.  

Other example of how Democrats set the tone: the questions openly raised about perceived changes in the Romney’s positions on key issues, unreleased tax returns (#WhatsMittHiding) and on his role in shuttering dozens of businesses while CEO of Bain Capital – questions that sometimes went unanswered for weeks. 

Contrast that with the superb rapid response of the Obama campaign, headlined in part by the Truth Squad.  This team deployed counter-arguments in near real time throughout the campaign, not just with facts, videos and third-party proof points, but with humor and wit that inspired their tweets and videos to be shared at record levels.

Empowering Engagement. “Fired Up, Ready to Go” proved to be much more than a slogan that plays well for the evening news.  Everyone leaving an Obama for America volunteer rally leaves the room believing that what they will do for the next few hours will indeed change the world.

This inclusive approach created millions of brand managers for whom this campaign was deeply personal.  It let them know the stakes were high, fuelled them with a passion and purpose and equipped them to execute with authenticity that couldn’t be choreographed in Chicago. 

The campaign also picked up where they left off in 2008 – at the forefront of technology that enabled anyone, anywhere to do just about anything in service to the cause. 

The final campaign analysis: elegantly simple in its design and superb in its execution, resulting in a decisive victory.  For those watching from the sidelines in corporations, small businesses and non-profits alike, there’s a lot we can learn about our own sales/profit/cause campaigns and the role we play as Communications Leader in them.

Our ability to bring strategic drivers to bear, such as these, together with compelling data about our target audiences, is fundamental to our role as valued communications partners.  It will enable us to both drive strategy and deliver wining results.  It will help our partners see the forest and the trees, and in the case of the 2012 Presidential Election, all 62,049,770 of them.

Damon Jones was the communications director for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.  He now leads communications for P&G Asia based in Singapore.  These views are his own.
 

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