No matter what your politics, from coast to coast, the country is breathing a sigh of relief that the 2012 election season is finally behind us. Already, quite a bit has been written about what marketers can learn from the election. So, in this post, I won’t be talking about the huge dollars spent on advertising, how social, digital, and mobile communication continued to be important touchpoints, the impact of grassroots marketing, or how important effectively communicating the candidate’s message or brand affected the outcome. No need for another political pundit in the mix!

While all of these areas have something to teach B2B marketers, what I found the most fascinating is how the use of data, the right data, served as the foundation for Obama’s successful re-election. Starting on election night, the analysts on the best-known news shows were already talking about how calm and confident the Obama team members were. And, why were they confident? According to Obama’s team, it had the data to back up its march to a second term. The team members believed that data and how they used it was one of the biggest advantages they had over the Romney campaign. Think about that for a minute. Obama, traditionally seen as the image and message guy, ran his re-election campaign based on using the right data effectively. And, it worked. 

As a matter of fact, one of the most interesting comments on this came from Chuck Todd of NBC news on the Today show the day after the election. Chuck told the NBC news audience that 12 months ago, the Obama campaign had shared with him its strategy of what states it could win, how it could win them, and where it needed to focus to succeed. It shared these insights with him based on the data it had put together. And, in reflection, almost every prediction the team made came true. Collecting and then understanding the right data in depth provided the road map for the Obama campaign to develop its re-election strategy. 

So, what exactly did it do that matters to us as B2B marketers? 

The Obama team solved the data integration challenge that B2B CMOs deal with every day. It managed to create one database to provide customer understanding and support its go-to-market strategy. It collapsed disparate and disjointed databases into a single huge data mart that, according to a recently published article in Time, contained information from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers, and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts and then integrated all of that data with the main Democratic voter files in key swing states. Then, it mined this data mart to provide insight into voter behavior; test effective messages, offers, and campaigns; and create analytic models to predict election results on a specific target and on a precinct-by-precinct basis. In fact, in the same Time article, a senior campaign official related that the team ran the election 66,000 times every night and then each morning reviewed the chances of winning those states, allocating resources based on the results. Imagine if we as B2B CMOs could develop and use a similar data mart and process to not only understand our customers but also inform our market strategies, predict the results, and adjust the execution as needed to exceed expectations. This is the power that right data can provide. 

What can we as CMOs and marketing leaders learn from this to inform our strategy and execution? I’ve shared my observations below:

  • In-depth market understanding must serve as the basis for any successful marketing strategy. Just as the Obama team used deep understanding of the changing demographics of the electorate to form the foundation of its strategy, as marketing leaders, we must not only understand our markets but also keep a pulse on the market changes and adapt to them quickly. A great example that provides an actionable model for us is how the campaign used the insights it gleaned from its data analysis to micro-target its advertising and messages specifically to each unique segment at the individual state and precinct level. 
  • Big data is more than an interesting idea; it’s key to a winning strategy. Big data is on the minds of many CMOs. But, we often lack a path to move from understanding the power of the concept to being able to put it into practice. The 2012 election showed us not only that we must take the power of data seriously but also that we must use it correctly; it can be put into practice to drive strategy and campaigns to achieve our goals and objective. 
  • Think globally but act locally. One of the most important learnings for me was how actionable the Obama team made its data insights. It used the understanding of the data down to the precinct level, knowing where the votes were, where the campaign could succeed, who needed to get out to the polls, where to put resources, and, as importantly, what was not worth focusing on. For example, in Ohio alone, the campaign had collected and analyzed data on 29,000 people enabling the team to focus its efforts on the most likely voters and mobilize local workers with specific targeted messages for each door they knocked on. For us as CMOs and marketing leaders, using the right data in a similar way can help us understand and then develop our go-to-market strategies, taking into account the different dimensions of our markets, our segments, and our customers’ needs and enabling us to channel our precious resources in the right places. It’s as important to know where not to go as where to focus.
  • Customer understanding matters. This should be a given for every marketer, yet surprisingly it is not. The 2012 election reinforced for me how powerful it is to truly understand customer needs and then tailor messages specifically to those needs. 

The Obama team developed an analytical and customer-focused culture and proved that a commitment to a data- and metrics-based strategy and focus works. Now, it’s up to us as B2B CMOs to understand these lessons and apply them to our own business. 

In today’s Hillicon Valley Blog, the quote from Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, while focused on candidates, really says it all for B2B organizations as well: “In the 21st century, the candidate (or business) with [the] best data, merged with the best messages, [and] dictated by data wins.”

So, while some of us may not like how the election ultimately turned out, there are important lessons from the campaigns that can help us be more effective marketing leaders.

I’m interested in your thoughts and perspectives on this subject.  Comment on this post or reach out to me via email or tweet