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Case Study: How the Obama Presidential Campaign Leveraged Mobile Marketing to Generate Support, Increase Participation and Outreach

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Company: Obama for America
Contact: Scott Goodstein, External Online Director for Obama for America
Location: N/A
Industry: Politics—Government
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: Confidential

Quick Read

Mobile marketing offers a sense of immediacy and intimacy that few other media can. Such timely connection is what the Obama for America Presidential campaign leveraged to establish deeper relationships with supporters, provide them with breaking news, and motivate them to become active contributors and promoters.

A first in American politics, it was likely the first mobile campaign to be launched on such a massive scale. And it proved an effective device for organizing and getting out the vote, thanks in large part to a targeted approach that turned a nationwide program into localized operations.

This study shows how the Obama for America campaign was able to establish an opt-in list of more than 2.9 million Americans and provide them with the tools and inspiration to get directly involved in the campaign.


Challenge

The Obama for America Presidential campaign was already well underway when it decided to engage in mobile marketing, because it couldn't ignore the channel's growing popularity.

"Over 80% of people have a mobile device according to the cellular communications industry," said Scott Goodstein, External Online Director for the Obama for America campaign. "That is critical mass."

Mobile also possesses distinct characteristics that the campaign thought would add value to its initiatives.

For example, since users typically carry their phones on their person (an average of 18-24 hours a day, according to Goodstein), mobile offered the ability to deliver breaking news and other timely information.

Mobile is also perceived as a more intimate form of communication, since users must opt in to receive messages, according to a Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) stipulation designed to limit spam. By definition, then, those who choose to participate are more receptive to messages received.

To best make use of these attributes, the campaign established a two-part goal for its mobile efforts:

  1. To quickly and efficiently distribute—and engage people with—up-to-date news and other information
  2. To encourage supporter action and involvement in the campaign

Goodstein also wanted to ensure that both of these elements tied back into the larger campaign goal of developing focused regional programs, which were helping the campaign gain ground on a state-by-state basis.

Campaign

The campaign leveraged several mobile channels for engaging supporters, distributing information, and encouraging participation:

An iPhone application: An interactive application was developed to provide iPhone application users an in-demand platform for accessing complete national election news coverage and campaign information, including photos and videos. Furthermore, it encouraged users to get involved and offered localized content, also providing directions to regional events and local campaign offices using Google maps and relying on the iPhone's triangulation and GPS capabilities.

The application also worked as a campaign address book that listed users' contacts by state and highlighted those contacts residing in key battleground states. An integrated leaderboard provided further encouragement for users to call their contacts; the board rater users according to number of calls they had initiated through the application. The application also enabled users to organize contacts based on voting intentions and reminded users to re-contact anyone classified as undecided.

A mobile Web site: A mobile phone (WAP) Web site was set up for mobile Internet browsers, especially designed so that news features and other information such as whitepapers could be easily read and forwarded "on the go." Fun features were also incorporated, such as the ability to download videos, ringtones, and wallpapers. In addition, users were encouraged to get out the vote with prompts such as "Let your voice be heard," "Give hope to your friends," and "Ask a friend to join Obama Mobile."

Toll-free hotlines: The hotlines were established to provide the public with an easy way to access timely, local information without an Internet connection. Callers were asked to identify their locales by ZIP code, then to select from a list of information requests, such as state registration deadlines, absentee-voting instructions, and directions to their local campaign offices. Requested information was also then sent by text to the caller's mobile phone, where it could be saved for future reference.

Texting

Each of those mobile initiatives also supported a text-messaging campaign designed to deliver localized and relevant communications in a more intimate and timely manner.

Using a single, dedicated short code 62262, which spells "Obama," in combination with 50,000+ unique keywords, the campaign allowed supporters to directly interact with the campaign via text, while simultaneously enabling the campaign to gather information on users such as interests and demographics.

For example, the message at a particular rally might have prompted attendees to text "FL" for Florida or "USC" for a campus event, therefore offering insight into the user's location. Other keywords such as "JOBS" or "IRAQ" were used to identify issues of interest, while "PLEDGE" and "VOL" were used to signal which supporters were interested in becoming more active in the campaign.

This information was then used to provide users with targeted messaging that related to their particular regions and interests, such as an announcement for a local event or news updates specific to their state or issue of interest.

Building a list

To build its mobile opt-in list, the campaign posted messages on campaign Web sites and social media pages, as well as on yard signs, digital event billboards, and other campaign collateral, including ads. It also emailed its entire list of supporters.

Program endorsements were also made by speakers at live events, including some from celebrities such as Oprah. And those who opted in were encouraged to spread the word among family and friends with personal endorsements of their own.

In addition, the campaign offered special ringtones and wallpapers, or special privileges such as being among the first to hear the announcement of Obama's running mate, to encourage people to opt in.

Giveaways offering campaign stickers, T-shirts, and special-event invites were also offered in exchange for additional user information, such as ZIP codes and campaign interests.

These tactics helped the program earn national media attention, including a lead story on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," which further expanded awareness.

Results

By the time the vice-presidential-nominee announcement was made in August 2008, more than 2.9 million supporters had opted in to receive text messaging from the campaign, according to Nielsen Mobile data.

Tens of thousands of people downloaded the free ringtones and wallpapers, while hundreds of thousands of users downloaded the iPhone application.

Goodstein also reports that over 30,000 campaign calls were made using the iPhone application.

Lessons Learned

The Obama for America campaign’s micro-targeting tactics were very effective not only for connecting with supporters and getting out the vote but also for developing detailed user profiles, which the campaign then used to its advantage, as follows:

  • Delivering relevant messaging related to individual interests and locales, as a result of which recipients were more likely to act on those messages. Local campaign offices, for example, acknowledged that they would often receive an influx of volunteers after a local request was made via mobile text.
  • Not overwhelming all users with messaging intended for a select group, therefore creating more positive user experiences, since recipients could find value in the messages they did receive and avoid paying for the messages that did not apply to them.

Note that for its texting program, the campaign found free giveaways to be an effective mechanism for both motivating users to opt in and for gathering additional user information thereafter. Distributive Networks, which powered the Obama for America mobile text campaign, reports that over 80% of opt-ins responded with additional information when such a request was made.

(Got a mobile campaign that’s ringing with success? Tell us about it by emailing CaseStudies@MarketingProfs.com.)

Related Links

Interested in adding mobile media to your marketing mix? Check out dozen of articles on the subject like Mobile Marketing: What is UR txt msg str@tegy? in the Marketing Articles section of the MarketingProfs Library. Premium Plus Members may also enjoy viewing Mobile Marketing: How to Harness the Power of the Small Screen in the MarketingProfs Seminar Library. We hope these resources help you create an effective mobile marketing program.


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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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