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Data Analytics and the Race for the Presidency: What Obama's Campaign Team Knew

by Leah Anathan  |  
December 19, 2012

If you’re working in digital marketing but didn’t see the most recent reports from Joshua Green, a senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek, then it’s time for you to take a coffee break and go read them.

In Green's investigation, he discovered a digital petri dish with powerful evidence that every online marketer should see. It’s the science behind winning campaigns. This campaign just happened to be the 2012 US presidential election.

In the post-election analysis, there has been great discussion about polls, voter data, and state-by-state numbers. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Republicans were predicting a big win for Governor Romney, while the Democrats were predicting an equally big win for President Obama.

Most media folks shrugged, with a "We don’t know what’s going to happen" look on their faces. That attitude also left most Americans in a slight panic with the fear that it would take another trip to the Supreme Court to determine the winner.

What President Obama's Campaign Team Knew

We have since learned that President Obama’s campaign team had the real numbers the whole time. Why?

Part of the answer sits with their data-driven campaign and online marketing tactics. It’s not the whole answer, but digital marketers should take note. The Obama campaign marketing strategy is a significant reason why Obama will be in the White House for another four years. As Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, an informal campaign adviser, said in a Bloomberg Businessweek article, “This is seen as the best-run campaign ever. And there’s a lot of carry-over from political tactics to business tactics.”

Try and wrap your head around these numbers: The campaign raised approximately $690 million through online marketing, and most of that money was raised through email marketing. That said, it wasn’t email marketing in the form of a daily blast to millions of Americans---it was targeted digital marketing that was rigorously tested, adjusted then executed. Yes, millions of Americans received daily updates from the Obama campaign, but not before 18 variations of multivariate testing took place on every email campaign.

As a corporate marketing director, I cringed when I read the Oct. 30 email with the subject line, “Get his back---make some calls,” but in the world of digital marketing, opinions are far less important than data. The data said that was a winning subject line.

The Role of Data Analytics

Speaking of data, it’s difficult to underestimate the role of data analytics in the Obama campaign. After discovering that half of their target group (age 29 and younger) could not be reached by phone, most of this group was reached through marketing on Facebook. As reported in Bloomberg Businessweek, the responses from their social campaign represented a higher number of people than Obama’s overall margin of victory.

What happened when the digital team in Obama’s campaign saw that 25% of their clicks were coming from mobile devices? The team raced to redevelop a mobile optimized website and release an innovative program that enabled subscribers to make one-click donations from their mobile phones. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “The 1.5 million one-click donors gave $115 million, or about $75 million more than tests indicated they would have otherwise.”

Those of us in digital marketing dream of having Eric Schmidt as an "informal campaign advisor" plus Obama’s several-hundred person team of digital marketers, developers and data experts. Resources aside, however, recent reports provide us with a view into the Obama team's winning digital strategy.

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Leah Anthan is technology marketing professional specializing in corporate and product marketing for software companies. She currently works as director of Corporate Marketing for EmailVision, a SaaS provider of campaign management solutions.

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