Five tech trends SMEs can learn from Barack Obama’s election campaign

Barack Obama has defeated Mitt Romney in the quest for the White House, with the incumbent President winning another four years in office.

While there was some doubt as to whether the President would win re-election, networks called the race for Obama in the early afternoon yesterday after he won the key swing state of Ohio.

But the race doesn’t just represent a key political victory. It also provides some great lessons for small businesses in how campaigns can use innovative methods of organisation to win, and win big. Barack Obama has emphasised a lot of digital innovation in his own campaign and it’s enabled him to access more followers and donations.

Whether it’s using big data, or using social media in interesting ways, the Obama campaign has used the digital world to its advantage.

Here are five tech trends Australian businesses should take away from the Obama campaign:

1. Gather the data. Then use it.

The amount of data being tracked by political campaigns is huge. Obama’s team put it to their advantage, coordinating the teams deciphering this data with the people in charge.

As Time explains, this means they could react quickly to certain demographic revelations. Women in California aged 40 to 49 really liked George Clooney. So they found a New York-like celebrity to appear at a rally: Sarah Jessica Parker.

It wasn’t Clooney, but it worked. It showed how using big data to analyse what people actually wanted could influence business decisions. In fact, they were so important campaign spokesman called the data crunchers “our nuclear codes”. They even created regular, secret briefings for the President.

Sounds like something small business should get on board with.

2. Put all your databases in one place

When businesses get big, they tend to have too many elements operating independently of each other. So it was with the Obama campaign. Databases were spread everywhere, no one knew what was going on.

As Time points out, over 18 months the campaign spent time creating a single database that could be used by pollsters, fundraisers and other officials.

The benefits of this type of system are huge. You get more accurate results, you can spend your money more efficiently, and it results in less waste.

3. Target the most effective customers

Part of the benefit of coordinating these databases is that you can target your customers better. More retailers are realising this – you can improve your return on investment if you send email campaigns to people who are more likely to buy, rather than send out 100,000 emails and get 100 sales.

The new database allowed Obama’s team to identify people who were more likely to give online.

“We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” one senior aid is reported as saying.

That targeting also meant changing email subject lines and descriptions to better entice certain voters. Some people responded better to emails from Michelle Obama, the campaign found. The strategy allowed for a personal touch to break through the digital structure.

Obama’s team worked smarter, not harder. And they got better results for it.

4. Make it easy to buy

Part of the reason Obama has been able to raise so much money is because it was made simple. You don’t have to donate in blocks of $40 or $50, you can give as little as you like.

But that idea goes even further. Whether you give online, or through text messaging, it’s simple enough to donate a few bucks. Obama’s team noticed this quickly and found that people who give using digital methods were likely to give more. So they asked them to give more often.

It’s the same strategy that got Obama his huge funding boost in 2008: ask more people to give a smaller amount of money.

But that strategy has been coupled with the idea that it has to be easy to give. And it’s a reminder to business: shopping shouldn’t be a chore. Especially online.

5. Use social media – but at the right time and place

In the first few minutes after an Obama victory was proclaimed, Obama’s campaign tweeted a picture of him and Michelle Obama with the words “four more years”. It received the most retweets in history.

Businesses are always told to use social media, the message is old now. But this tweet represents something else – your social media needs to be topical and well timed.

If you can ride a wave of publicity on Twitter, it can deliver you an abundance of sales. But you always need to be carefully watching, planning the right way to strike. It isn’t enough to just put your message out there. Think and then respond with the right message.


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