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Lessons from the Obama campaign - traditional marketing vs. cause marketing

Marshall Ganz is the person who designed organizational systems for the Barack Obama campaign. In listening to him on NPR's On the Media about how they motivated and coached Obama volunteers to promote their candidate and recruit other volunteers, I was struck by the following passage:

What we helped them understand is that the first thing they need to learn is how to articulate their own story, in other words, what is it that moved them to become involved and engaged, because it's from their own story that they're going to be able to most effectively engage others. So when people leave, they leave equipped to do that. That's sort of the foundational piece.

And in the initial series in California, we launched 200 teams in two weekends that, with the support of four staff people, built that operation out there to the point where it could make 100,000 phone calls a day. This is like an investment in civic assets, in local communities that no political campaign has done for years.

The right benefited from being rooted in social movements, which do this because that's what social movements do. They translate values into action; they bring people in to work together. But on the progressive side, everybody had become marketeers. Everybody'd been marketing their cause or marketing their candidates as if it was another bar of soap, transforming people from citizens into customers.

What we did was bring the citizenship back in and put the people back in charge, and then put the tools in their hands.

For me the biggest difference is not to bring the citizenship back, it's about realizing that the power of personal stories - what motivated you to buy into this cause - is much stronger than that of talking points about the cause.

The same is true for brands, products and services. Let people tell their own narrative about why they like it instead of trying to get them to sing from the same song sheet with canned corporate speak.


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