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Obama Everywhere: Using New Channels to Involve Citizens in the Experience

Jenna Paulat is a member of Capgemini's US Consulting practice The world of marketing is full of innovation. Consider the likes of Apple, Nike and Zappos – from unique advertisements to the use of unconventional methods to reach their customers – these companies push the boundaries to effectively get their messages to their growing customer bases. So which of these companies did “Advertising Age” recognize with its 2008 “Marketer of the Year” award? The correct answer is none of the above. The winner: Barack Obama. Yes, the campaign for President Obama earned the illustrious marketing award.

Obama’s campaign was a social media blitz unlike any other seen in politics – or for that matter – in the private sector. His use of networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as its official networking tool my.barackobama.com, provided new channels for his supporters to become actively involved in the campaign. Twenty thousand citizens downloaded the Obama iPhone app, which identified local campaign events using the iPhone’s GPS locator, and encouraged users to call friends from their contact list, highlighting those who lived in the “swing states”, to vote for Obama. Thirty-five thousand groups of volunteers managed their meetings and outreach through my.barackobama.com. And the online “Neighbor-to-Neighbor” tool, which matched volunteers with potential Obama supporters, facilitated 8 million personal calls to canvass potential Obama voters. The result? President Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States by a final electoral count of 365 to 173. Technology has changed the way we view politics and elections, but perhaps the true lesson to learn from Barack Obama is how he uses social media to involve his “customers” (citizens) in the experience. Obama’s technology innovations continue in the White House. Citizens can answer the President’s call to participate in the US recovery and renewal by serving communities at www.serve.gov. The President introduced Americans to his Supreme Court Justice Appointee Sonia Sotomayor through Facebook and YouTube videos. And the new technologies are also aligned to support to the nation’s hottest debate, how to reform its ailing healthcare system. Those opposing the proposed reforms have their medium, from television ad campaigns to the in-person protests at “town hall meetings” held by members of Congress this summer. The President also uses traditional channels to seek support, such as a joint address to Congress and a televised speech to labor unions. But he is also using social media to help win the battle. Whitehouse Live, a Facebook application which streams live video, allows viewers to share their questions and opinions on the video topic in a chat room with other participants, while also automatically updating their Facebook status. In addition to providing a window into live debates on Capitol Hill, Whitehouse Live has been used by President Obama to speak directly to his supporters about what they could do to promote healthcare reform. Organizers follow the President’s message with tactical directions such as “Look right below my image on your screen and enter your zip code. You’ll find an event near you as well as the contact information for your local congressional representatives.” “Organizing for America”, a group of 13 million Obama supporters, utilizes my.barackobama.com to promote his legislative agenda. In 10 weeks this summer, they hosted nearly 12,000 events promoting healthcare reform and collected over 230,000 personal stories about how average citizens have been affected by the current health system. In just one week, supporters made 65,000 office visits to local congressional offices pledging their support for healthcare reform, outnumbering the protestors at the town hall meetings. Perhaps the success isn’t best measured by numbers, however, but by individual responses. After participating on a conference call, one supporter changed her Facebook status to read: “Have just finished up a conference call with our President from Air Force One. I am now more fired up and ready to go.” And perhaps that is the secret – using multiple channels to involve citizens in the experience drives the emotion that energizes their support. Many treat government as the antithesis of “best in breed”, but the private sector could take a lesson from President Obama’s ability to reach his customers: Provide a product they believe in, and make it a priority to involve them in the experience. Then your customers will take your message to the market for you. Heck, if a government can win marketing awards, perhaps it is possible to conceive that it can also provide effective and efficient healthcare to its citizens. But we’ll save that debate for another forum.

About the author

Jenna Paulat
Jenna Paulat

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