By Shiraz Latiff
The American people recently demonstrated once again their unique capacity for self-renewal by electing, for the first time, a black man as head of state, not much more than a generation after the country's African-Americans were accorded full civil rights.
In electing Barack Obama - President by a solid margin - together with a congress which got the biggest Democratic majority since the 1970s, Americans signaled a dramatic change in the direction the world's sole superpower was taking.
The country, regarded loftily by many Europeans as hopelessly racist and irredeemably right wing, voted to be ruled by a black man at the head of a party committed to economic redistribution and a foreign policy rooted in peaceful diplomatic engagement.
However, if we re-wind this scene to two years ago, today's achievement by Barack Obama would not have been thought possible. What we are talking about today, is the success of a presidential campaign that was executed with clinical perfection. Barack Hussein Obama, two years ago, was a relatively unknown name of a young upstart senator and lawyer with excellent oratorical acumen and a mountain-sized ambition to succeed in life.
If you consider him as a branded product on the shelf, he had all the demerits that a marketer could attribute to a disastrous brand: a black man born to an immigrant Kenyan father and an American mother in a country where racism is rampant despite all the egalitarian rights given by the Constitution; a middle name, Hussein, loathed by all Americans, especially both the Bushes, senior and junior. His father, though a non-practicing Muslim, not only extended his genes but his Muslim name to his son. A Muslim, by all means, whether practicing or none practicing, is considered a potential Al-Qaeda sympathizer - or even a potential recruit - in most American minds.
With all these drawbacks, how did Barack Hussein Obama pull off an emphatic win over the war-hero turned business-heir, apparent-long-standing senator-savior of America from the clutches of terrorism - John McCain? Any marketing or PR guru would have first told him to re-brand himself, viz, change the name to something more American, and re-position himself to the demand of the country, viz, Country First or liberation from terrorism, like McCain did.
But what did Obama do that we all marketers can learn from. Though he might not have borrowed that euphemistic Bible of marketing from Kotler, he seems to have done all that a good marketer would have done, all the way.
Targeted the Correct Segments
Obama's hybrid segmentation of the market singled out the exact target markets to focus on. Demographically, he targeted the young voters, who were either moderate or liberal, instead of the conservative middle-aged and the elderly. The Exit Polls as per CNN, showed that 66% of 18-29 and 54% of 30-44 age groups had indicated voting for Obama. He targeted the Blacks and the Hispanics who expected a Obama who would be able to relate to them, as one of a minority himself. The Exit Polls showed 95% Blacks and 66% Hispanics would vote for him.
Geographically, the South was heavily biased towards his opponent due to historical reasons of the white dominant mentality. Other regions showed more of a tie as per the Exit Polls. Therefore, his segmentations did not concentrate much on geographical demarcations except for last minute campaigns in the toss-up states.
However, psychographically, he focused on the moderate and the liberals who wanted a change from the Bush era and a focus on the economy. Exit Polls again showed 60% of the moderates and 88% of the liberals voting for Obama.
Turned weakness into strength
His weakness was inexperience in the political system. Barely two years into his term as a Senator, he could not have boasted of a strong CV in the political arena to outweigh his opponents. However, he targeted the right market segments, as discussed above, whose expectations were not an experienced politician with a 'silver' bullet but a pragmatist with a promise to 'Change' and bring fresh thinking to the country and the economy.
USP and Singular message all the way
Two years ago Obama correctly identified that the overwhelming sentiment in this presidential election would be a desire for change. America's yearning for change focused most closely on dissatisfaction with the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. John McCain was never able to distance himself from the Republican calamities of the past eight years, even though he had a right to be considered at least as much as an agent of change, as Obama.
His Unique Selling Proposition was 'Change that we can Believe in'. Though his opponent's 'Country First' was deemed to have appealed strongly to the patriots, it was not the expectations of the target market, which constituted the majority in the country. McCain kept on improvising with his slogan and the pay-off lines expecting the tide to turn towards it. When all else failed, he expected the blonde Sarah Palin to give him that touch of magic, which she did, but for a brief respite. People did get carried away with her charm and glamour but it was not sufficient to convince the voters to handover the presidency to McCain.
Once the initial euphoria died down and reality set in, there was Obama still touting the 'Change' slogan. He did not change his focus when he saw the sudden rise in the ratings for McCain. His consistent message paid off and the voters not only remembered him for what he was offering but also trusted him for being so consistent in his message and offers.
Usage of Technology and the Internet
When modern day elections are always full of sleaze funding and scandals, Obama not only refused to accept Federal funding but also did not run after major donors to fill his campaign coffers. He was ably supported by the co-founder of Facebook, Christopher Hughes, as the Director of Online Organizing, to mobilize an online community to create a 70 million member army of bloggers, fundraisers, and volunteers who were hooked up by e-mail, blogs, chat rooms, and pocket networks; who not only worked tirelessly for Obama but also contributed a mere USD 5 each to the campaign fund.
This initiative gave him the best of the money that any Presidential nominee received in years and the biggest ever volunteer group - mind you, majority of them young - working tirelessly for his campaign.
If Obama can market himself with such clinical precision without re-branding or re-positioning himself to suit the current thinking but to change the minds of the prospects to his thinking, isn't he the greatest marketer of them all in contemporary politics or business, for that matter?
My analogy of his political campaign in a marketing context, is for the purpose of persuading our marketers to think outside the box and learn from the parallel avenues that are available in the world.
The writer, Mr. Shiraz Latiff is the Chairman of CIM Sri Lanka Region and Asst. Vice President - Service Quality of HSBC Electronic Data Processing Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. Mr. Latiff is a Member of The Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK and is a Chartered Marketer by profession. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from the Postgraduate Institute of Management and an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from the Association of Business Executives, UK.