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FutureNow Article
Friday, Aug. 29, 2008

Obama: The Online Persuasion Architect in Action

By Bryan Eisenberg
August 29th, 2008

You know that big windup jack-in-the-box of loud political debates? Let’s you and I put it aside for a while.

And please, I beg thee, take your own political goggles off for a few minutes and join me as I take you on a tour of online marketing done well. The fact that we’re talking about a marketing effort headed by a politician running for the highest office is incidental.

Regardless of where you stand politically, even the most jaded pundit admits Sen. Obama’s campaign has built an online apparatus that would make most online businesses execs drool. In both scope and execution, there are few that equal it.

Those of us in the businesses universe can swipe a few lessons by observing the Obama online effort.

Several articles, like this, outline some tactics engaged in by the Obama team. But I want to sort a few of these and show you how they fall into a pattern of a stronger high-level strategy.

Putting People First

It doesn’t take much time on the Barack Obama Web site to realize that it’s focused on building relationships with people. Wording like “Find an Event Near You” reveals a visitor focus. While I was visiting the site, I found several active window Flash banners. One of them highlights the benefits of making a small donation; the other is a simple call to action allowing you to click a button and send a message to Obama’s new vice presidential pick.

Further down the page, Obama reaches out to Hillary Clinton supporters and sends them to a page where they can learn more about Obama in their own context, learn about the issues, and even invite others to the Obama cause. This is great example of a persuasion scenario done well.

The Obama machine understands what motivates people. If you engage the Obama site, you have the sense that you’re joining a team with a cause. You feel like you have a chance to go on the inside and look around, build a few relationships, and be a part of something bigger than you are. This is a powerful human motivation. Maybe that’s why it has motivated millions to donate to his cause.

By contrast, the John McCain Web site has good content and several prominent calls to action but little of it feels tied together to bigger purpose beyond simply helping McCain. There is no sense of WIIFM (define).

Using Engagement as a Success Measure

The team dedicated to maintaining Obama’s YouTube videos has it exactly right. While most social media jockeys are focused on views and traffic, this team is focused on a more profitable metric for the campaign: participation and engagement. In other words, viewers are engaging the campaign and taking action, like signing up to volunteer, joining the conversation, even making a contribution. Kate Albright-Hanna, who runs Obama’s YouTube video team, told the “Washington Post“:

    Here, we don’t worry about how many views our videos get. That’s not the priority. One of our goals is to get people talking about what’s going on in their lives and why they’re supporting Barack — and hopefully not only will they watch the videos but also comment on them and forward them to relatives and friends and co-workers.

Possessing a Longer-Term Vision

Last Saturday, the Obama team made a small note in history by officially announcing Obama’s vice presidential pick by text message. Many pundits questioned the move, making the case that the text message platform was too small for such a big announcement. They felt this decision would squander a big opportunity to reach a larger audience. This is beside the point.

The real wisdom of the announcement is that thousands, maybe millions, signed up to be notified by text message.

Now the Obama campaign has a database of mobile numbers it can text in the future and use this communication medium to mobilize people on Election Day, or even before and after. Obama can now speak to a huge, engaged audience wherever they may be, right on their cell phones.

That’s thinking beyond the short term. Score.

Staying Customer Focused on the Micro Level

On the well-executed site, there are sign-up forms for several types of visitor conversions: events, e-mail lists, volunteer lists, and even a network that is a MySpace/Facebook type application for Obama supporters to connect.

Each form is presented clearly, is easy to fill out, and are among some of the best forms I’ve seen online. The Obama Web design team has done everything it can to get the site out of the way and let people sign up easily for anything they might be interested in.

Call-to-action buttons on the site are clear, large, easy to see, and generally worded well. You know exactly what you are doing when you click them.

Leveraging Technology, Not Just Using It

The Obama camp clearly understands what people do online. And it seems to be using social media technology well. Obama has a presence on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and every other relevant 2.0 site.

You simply cannot ignore this presence.

For example, the Flickr account sports a slew of albums updated daily with pics from behind the scenes, all with descriptive captions. Again you get the sense that you can get inside the campaign.

Heck, Sen. Obama has overtaken Kevin Rose on Twitter.

Obama has even launched a site to address all the negative rumors and e-mail messages floating around the Internet about him.

The effectiveness of how the campaign uses the e-mail medium is impressive and probably worth a column all by itself.

Maintaining Consistency

This is easy in concept but hard for a large organization to execute.

Logos, fonts, and color palettes are consistent everywhere you look. Even the podium at the Democratic National Convention sports Obama’s font and colors. The consistent look and feel of the campaign touch points is impressive, and you get the sense that the campaign is a well-oiled machine. What kind of confidence do you believe that instills in visitors and supporters?


If you can ignore the politics and imagine the Obama campaign as a business like any other, you can’t help but admire its execution of a well thought-out plan to reach and engage people in the campaign. Ask yourself: how can you deploy these principles in your online marketing effort to better result? These are the same principle we use when we deploy persuasion architecture in companies.

Whether Obama can translate this into an election win is yet to be seen. The other question that remains: can you take this type of online grass-roots machine into a political office and use it influence change while you are in office? As a marketer, not a political animal, it will be interesting to watch.

And for the record, I am officially endorsing this man for president of the United States.

*Cross-posted on ClickZ.

Add Your Comments

Comments (14)

  1. Straight up, this guy and his camp have been ON POINT with all of their online efforts — which is a good reason why he’s so successful.

  2. Great post Bryan.

    Turns out that Obama’s not only doing everything right, but John McCain is doing everything wrong on the internet. Take a look at the profiles on StumbleUpon, Digg, and Twitter for the user “JohnMcCain.” I wrote a post about it that’s linked to from my name, but you can get the gist if you visit the profiles.

    JohnMcCain’s last tweet: ‘I’m going to the bathroom before my next speech! Coffee ran right through me!”

  3. I have to agree and disagree. I agree he is doing the participation thing right, I disagree it helps him.

    He is doing well getting people like me to respond to him, because I and my wife both have. BUT then the responses we get back are meaningless. In the end it probably hurts him far more than helps him if you are actively seeking to get real info about Obama and his views.

    They romance you then send you a form letter with a link to a page that is not even relevant to the question or inquiry…


  4. I think the real take-away is the increased participation in the political process. The 1-to-1 relationship potential of our new Web 2.0 world is evolving in amazing ways. The large number of small contributors to the Obama campaign will be noticed by all future political operatives.

    I don’t necessarily equate this brilliant marketing effort to a candidate’s qualifications for our nations highest office. Unless we are suggesting Obama did the design and architecture?

    This should be an interesting election. I admire Obama’s intellect but am voting for McCain’s policies. I also want to see a woman in the white house.

  5. I believe Obabma is being scrutinized not because he lacks the experience as everyone seems to be alluding to but simply because he is a black man that has dared to go after what we all and this is including blacks felt were off limits to Blacks in America.

    I can smell the hate coming from so many yet through it all, he has not wavered. No he is no emperor. He is no King. He is Barack Obama born of this world and pursued a life less traveled and deserves to be here just like any John McCain or George Bush. It is sad but his skin color plays a strong role in the bashing he currently gets whether people want to admit it or not. This is America.

    This is America.

  6. Absolute innovative thinking, planning and solid execution like no other presidential campaign prior.

    Considering the Internet’s pure power and its ability to be used to communicate a message to the masses, its interesting that no one else has been able to harness its power for a political campaign until now.

    It will be interesting to see how he will us the Internet after Obama is elected the next President of the US.

  7. In employing Web 2.0 strategies so effectively, Obama has created an analogy between he and McCain.

    Obama is young, with it, understands today’s world. McCain is old school, seemingly confused by today’s technology and issues, and in so many ways, just doesn’t get it.

    I guess it’s pretty clear who I’m voting for.

  8. I don’t think it’s necessarily helping candidates as much as people assume to market their campaigns online. I think that one effective TV campaign trumps any online effort of 10 websites promoting a candidate. It’s the same disease that happens when people try to use Twitter to promote their product. People watch, and engage, but they don’t care.

  9. [...] Grokdotcom holds up Obama’s campaign as an example of online marketing done well – you can learn from his efforts regardless of your personal political [...]

  10. [...] marketing campaign was planned and executed. If you haven’t heard, check out here, here, here, here, here and [...]

  11. [...] The Stats on McCain vs. Obama Online and the Buzz as reflected in Google Trends showed just how wide the gap was between the two campaigns.    This had been apparent for some time as Bryan Eisenberg pointed out in August.  He saw Obama as someone who was doing online marketing extremely well. [...]

  12. Thank you for the insightful information. And well it’s clear that the Obama campaign did a few things right. =)

  13. back are meaningless. the same disease that happens then the responses we get when people try to been apparent for some time as Twitter to In the end it probably Bryan Eisenberg pointed out use

  14. In my opinion Obama did the right thing. He is still doing the right thing. Because he is young, he has another view about the internet, and that’s helping him out.

    But let’s see how he continues what he started. I’m very curious about that.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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