lessons from America

Lessons from the Obama campaign – a branding specialist’s perspective

I’ve been to or taken part in a number of ‘lessons from America’ / ‘lessons for the UK from the Obama campaign’ type sessions over the past few months. Not all have yet produced any output. Here’s one I didn’t get to, but has reached some published conclusions, which a friend [thanks Danny] kindly circulated.

There are a few good points here, in amongst the obvious or more basic stuff. It is all solid advice for solid party political campaigners. There’s nothing really radical though; nothing that is going to shake up politics in the way the Obama campaign did in the US. Let me know what you think. I did my own version before Christmas and will post that up here shortly as a compare and contrast exercise.

Brand Democracy seminar, 20 January 2009

Six key things to learn from Obama’s campaign:

1. Understand who you can reach and what motivates them
2. Think politically. Consider your opposition in everything you do
3. Understand your vulnerabilities then deal with them
4. Use polling to find a message then stick with it
5. Make sure your communications make people feel included
6. Question the perceived wisdom

More detailed analysis:

1. Understand who you can reach and what motivates them
· Obama campaign: Obama played into the anti-business, anti-Washington feeling of the public
· Lessons learnt: Who is winnable and what are their attitudes/ priorities? Who is losable? Via polling
· Need to understand social change in society
· Campaign simulation polling

2. Think politically

· Obama campaign: Key to success was about creating a ‘change structure’. Obama beat Clinton but eliminating her as the ‘change agent’ eg making her seem as part of the Washington elite, no change from the past. It wasn’t a positive vision of the future but instead a contrast to the present.
· Lessons learnt: think competitively

3. Understand vulnerabilities and deal with them

· Obama campaign: Obama attacked on race (Rev Wright) and being unpatriotic/ disloyal to the US. He took these vulnerabilities head on (eg he didn’t pretend it didn’t happen) via his speech on race and ensuring all speeches/ photo ops behind a backdrop of a US flag.
· Lessons learnt: be alive to your vulnerabilities, understand how to counter these attacks and do so robustly, ensure you stick to your core message

4. Regularly poll

Obama campaign:

· Obama campaign regularly tested their messages before going public, eg polling found that more people felt that close ties to special interest groups was more concerning that incompetence. Therefore Obama ran with McCain being too close to oil rather than him/Bush being incompetent. Obama also polled people following McCain’s decision to put his campaign on hold over the economy – polling came back to say they thought Obama should carry on with the debate which is what he did.

· Lessons learnt: Use messages that run with the grain of society; learn fast and respond quickly

5. Inclusive communications

Obama campaign:

· Emails to volunteers – very personal in tone creating an emotional connection and making clear that
actions were part of a higher purpose. First names only used (eg Dear James; from Barack). Gave a
clear enabling tool on how people could get involved.
· Video – volunteers signed up to the campaign received a weekly email with a link to a video update
from someone in Obama’s campaign team. Resulted in volunteers feeling that were part of the
campaign/ had an inside track.
· Understood the need to involve people, not just ask for money.
· Got local campaign volunteers to talk and recruit other local people

Lessons learnt:
· Understand who you can activate for your campaign and the tools to do so
· Competitive messages can get people to get involved, eg our opponents on this issue will be writing
to their MP so it’s really important that we do to ensure our voice is heard
· Text messaging and video footage (via you tube) will be essential in getting your message out
· Automated phone calls in the UK don’t work

6. Question wisdom

· Lessons learnt: get out of the Westminster village – don’t rely on the perceived wisdom
· Positive message is more important than a negative message


February 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snow-bama and other highlights of a wintry London

Meghan came round last Sunday to do a bit more filming: me surrounded by and showing off all my inauguration memorabilia and special newspaper editions, that kind of thing. If only she had stayed around a few hours longer, she would have been able to capture my homage to Obama in the snow. Or rather an over-excited big kid building a mini-me of a snowman and recreating in my back garden that moment of history on the Mall.



And to continue the American theme, for the first time ever I made a proper snow angel in my garden too:




And so finally to some sledging fun, in the communal gardens of the flats where my godson and his parents live, just around the corner from me. Admittedly it is more entertaining doing it than watching a grainy video of me. No candid camera / you’ve been framed here, it all thankfully ends happily.

February 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment