online lessons for marketers
Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business
January 13-19, 2009; issue 1003
High Tech Office column
In the previous High Tech
Office column, I suggested that one of 2008’s noteworthy events was the
successful use of the Internet for fundraising and organizing by the
Barack Obama campaign. Most often, websites for both politicians and
businesses function as high-tech brochure-ware, reworking traditional
print media into digital form. Like print media, they offer their
sponsors’ spin on information, but rarely invite interaction.
contrast, even post-election, barackobama.com welcomes input and
interaction. Right up at the top is a request to “share your feedback –
help shape this movement.” Beside it is a pitch to donate and get a
“2008 victory T-shirt.” Nearby is a link: “Get involved now – find an
event near you.” Lower down: up-to-date blog entries, video clips and
more. Companion site, mybarackobama.com, offers users Facebook-like
tools to “talk to other voters, join a local group, find an event,
fundraise or blog,” along with links to Obama-friendly groups on a
range of popular social-networking websites.
campaign, mybarackobama.com hosted nearly 10,000 local groups, more
than 4,000 special interest groups – many with memberships in the tens
of thousands – and 20,000 volunteer-generated blog pages. Though the
Obama team has not commented, these online organizations might continue
post-inauguration – certainly the continued online activities at
barackobama.com and ongoing regular e-mails to supporters.
using its website to engage and organize supporters, the Obama campaign
made online tools central to its fundraising efforts. Obama raised
almost US$750 million during the campaign. More than $500 million was
raised from online donations averaging $80.
During the election
campaign, Chris Goward, co-founder of Vancouver-based WiderFunnel
Marketing, took a look at barackobama.com. WiderFunnel works with
clients to improve their online potential using tools such as Google’s
Over repeated visits to the Obama home page,
he found different images of the candidate, changing in ways that
suggested optimization testing. One photo featured a casual group shot
of the Obama family, another showed the family waving, while another
grouped Obama, vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden and their wives.
Both colour and black-and-white photos were tested.
the coziest image (in black and white) proved the most effective – or
at least brought in the most donations – and was used for the rest of
Similarly, the donations page offered several
variations. Some promised donors “a limited-edition shirt” in either
dark blue, light blue or white; others simply asked visitors to make a
Goward doesn’t know which design was the most
effective donation-generator, but he believes the evidence is clear:
the Obama campaign was testing to make sure its website was optimized
to maximize donations and best engage visitors.
that, too often, marketers avoid testing the effectiveness of marketing
campaigns. When testing is carried out, it often makes use of a small
focus group that might not be a valid sample of the target population
or might not be run long enough to provide meaningful data.
likes tools such as Google’s website optimizer, which allows website
owners to post multiple versions of their online content and analyses
which provide the best results. These tests offer data by measuring the
actions of everyone who really visits the website.
tools are not all-powerful, Goward notes. In the recent U.S. campaign,
it might have been useful for Republican candidate John McCain to have
been able to run tests comparing Sarah Palin with other potential
vice-presidential nominees, but it probably wasn’t practical.
Obama organizers were able to use website optimization tools to help
make their use of the web effective. Goward hopes that marketers will
follow their example – particularly in a tighter economy. He suggests
that more than ever, marketers have to prove their value to clients by
being able to demonstrate the return that their online and other
marketing efforts can bring. •