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Winning an Election with Mobile Technologies

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Monday, May 30, 2011

In 2008, Barack Obama, then an underdog candidate for the highest office in the U.S, set a very important precedent in Presidential politics. His campaign office sent a (now historic) text message announcing that Joe Biden (a Senator from Delaware) would be his running mate in the upcoming election. This surprising development, as innovative and striking as it seemed at the time, fit right in with the general character of the Obama campaign. And it further revealed the marketing genius of the Obama election team, which ran a campaign on the backbone of Internet and mobile technologies, centered in large part on social media, blogging, and online phone banks.

Mobile Business IntelligenceObama was not the first political candidate in the U.S to harness the power of the Internet or mobile technologies, but he was unquestionably the most effective when you consider the enormous electorate population of the United States and the scale of the country’s Presidential elections. His campaign messages were continuously and relentlessly brought to voters via remotely enabled means of communication, often in very novel ways. Almost overnight, the days of the old fashioned political bumper sticker were supplanted by customized ringtones created from audio mashups of Obama’s speeches. Thus, 2008 marked a new turning point in grassroots political politics. Now various elements of political campaigns would be augmented and enhanced through the use of technologies that required a minimum of investment in infrastructure or specialized technical expertise. The mobile revolution in politics could no longer be ignored.

Mobile phones are a vital part of the fabric of everyday life in the United States. With his messages being blasted out to millions of mobile phone owners, Obama quickly became part of this fabric. It did not hurt the Obama campaign that Apple’s iPhone was experiencing exponential growth during this time, further hastening the successful blending of mobile marketing and branding with national politics. Initially SMS and mobile text messages were used to raise awareness about Obama and provide voters with up-to-the-minute news, as well as reminders about the main issues of the upcoming election, on a national, state, and local level. Information on how to register (to vote) was also blasted out to millions, which included details on where to register and most importantly, where voters could go to cast their ballots on election day.

However, once the Obama brand was established, the theme of the messages became more motivational and impassioned, urging supporters to “get out the vote”. For example: “Fired up? Ask friends to join our movement by texting HOPE to 62262.” Such texts delivered instant gratification to supporters. Although these messages were not highly personalized, the fact that they were spontaneously accessible on a remote basis, right at the phone user’s fingertips, made them supremely effective. Obama staffers understood that if a campaign can better personalize the political process and create a sense of belonging to a political candidate, the chances of winning an election are enhanced exponentially. Although Obama’s competitor was a worthy opponent -John McCain had a lifetime of political and military service for the United States, he was a decorated war hero and Arizona Senator- the McCain campaign did a lousy job of utilizing technology to bring their candidate closer to the voters and cultivate a feeling of belonging. By the time the McCain campaign realized how badly behind they were in the technology race, they simply could not catch up to the competition in terms of technology advantage or votership.

President Obama has just publicly announced his second run for the Presidency of the United States. As would be expected, Team Obama has already set in motion its “Obamamania” machine and has commenced fundraising through the use of mobile technologies and SMS communication. Now that all aspiring politicians understand the effectiveness of mobile technologies, it will be very interesting to see how Obama’s campaign managers strive to gain competitive advantages over other candidates this time around. While the same Internet and mobile technologies were available to all candidates in the last election, Obama’s staff had the dexterity and foresight to implement Presidential campaigning solutions that were vastly superior to those of the competition. But can the current President’s team retain their technological superiority, or will a worthy challenger be able to outmaneuver the incumbent with a more sophisticated array of electronic communications infrastructure and applications?

The answer depends on which party will be able to best leverage mainstream business intelligence (BI) tools and practices. Knowing how to reach the masses with Internet and mobile technologies was the first step towards getting a leg up on political competitors; however, the next necessary advancement in the battle for the hearts and minds of voters is to bring them (i.e. data about them) to the candidate. Politicians will need to continue collecting data about voters, but they will also have to collect better data, with an improved breadth of demographic classifications, at lower levels of minutia. This information will be fodder for the next generation of political data analytics applications and predictive modeling engines that will help aspiring leaders prioritize and streamline their political messages and in-person appearances.

Already the incumbent administration is putting data mining to work: It is gathering intelligence about the attitudes and characteristics of its supporters from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook; it is combing the posts on various forums and blogs, and using the Whitehouse.gov website as a locus of control for interested constituents to sign up for automated email and SMS updates, or to add the Whitehouse to their LinkedIn.com contacts or MySpace friends. In fact, all elected officials are better equipped to gauge public opinion and sentiment on just about any issue thanks to social media. Data mining and advanced data give politicians an understanding of how to fine tune their running agenda and campaign messages; and once this “voter intelligence” is coupled with mobile messaging technologies, an extremely powerful communications platform emerges: one which can swiftly sway the results of elections at any level.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices—across all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide.. As a Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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