BRANDING

Published on June 18th, 2014 | by drkkr

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THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL MARKETING

Barack Obama, President of the United States, was awarded the Marketer of the Year award soon after he won the election in 2008. The award came from the heavyweight Advertising Age publication, who cited his election team’s “blend of grass-roots appeal and big media-budget know-how” which “converted the American electorate”. You can bring your eyebrows down now, because they are going to shoot up again when you hear who lost the first position to Obama. Apple. So what did Obama’s marketing have that the fabulous Apple marketing machine did not?

The agreement was that Obama had employed the new social and digital spaces with an unprecedented effectiveness. A case in point was Obama’s announcement of Joe Biden as his running mate, by sms. This is usually made at a press conference but Obama arranged for it to appear at the break of dawn, timed with the time difference between the West and East Coast, giving what had always been a public event an intensely private flavour. You’d think that Obama would hesitate to accept a ‘Marketer Of The Year’ award? Conventional wisdom should presume that a newly-minted President would want to be seen as having arrived at the White House on the strength of mandate, not by marketing. Happily President Obama accepted his award with delight and I daresay he had every reason to be congratulated. And proud. Because President Obama accomplished what even the most seasoned marketers are still trying to do: master social or digital marketing. In every sense of the word, it was a classic and exquisite American triumph.

It is USA that birthed the full socialscape, it is the USA that is the home of free enterprise, it is USA that demonstrated the mobilising power of the socialscape in a brand new way. It is befitting that the US demonstrates its full state-of-the-art power by having it employed in its elections for its President. Or to look at it in another way, the most powerful country on Earth distinguished its elections for the most important job in the country largely in the marketing forum that it invented. This time around, as Governor Romney and President Obama debate, the significance of the parry and thrust between the two candidates is also being measured ‘digitally’ … by the velocity of the commentary in terms of number of tweets per second. For example, the third debate overall was the topic of 6.5 million tweets — fewer than those of the first two president debates or the vice presidential debate. This is considered an important indicator of the significance and weight of the debate. Oh yes, the old yardsticks still hold: viewerships, rankings etc but the new yardstick has taken its own place with effortless ease. But there is an important academic question to be considered here.

What is this phenomenon all about? It most certainly is n’t a matter of the usual political marketing just shoved into the digital space. The digital space has proved to be a tough taskmaster: it does not easily accommodate the traditional marketing bag of tricks. The web 2.0 to 3.0 challenge has also to be the monetising of the web. To quote the example of the Obama campaign again, the fact is that the Obama reelection campaign has surpassed its collection of finances over last time, thanks in large part to its superior grasp of the reach and personal intensity social platform. This is openly admired and congratulated all around, and it is not a stretch to say that in the challenge of monetising the web this is one of the most fabulous examples to quote. Congratulations to President Obama, and indeed, congratulations to the United States for pulling it off.

I daresay this is one of the most elegant and graceful and electrifying examples of the American dimension of enterprise, innovation and history-making. I have always pointed out that the web has given consumers the power to back answer brands. Consumers no longer have to grin and bare it, they have the freedom to have an opinion and they now have the stage to express it. The net still has the air of the free space and people are more than willing to give each other a hand and a voice.Which gives ‘word-of-mouth’ a completely new meaning!

To illustrate the strength with which consumers can push back at marketing, take the case of the clothing giant GAP. It created a sensation by concentrating its marketing presence to just a Facebook page, then capitalised on its awesome Facebook presence and took the boldest step and crowdsourced a new global logo. One week after it chose a logo, the netscape revolted against it, passing a resounding thumbs down judgement on the logo. GAP is now one of the few companies in the world to have been required to weather such an embarrassment and as the wags say, every single day the company must look at its logo and remind itself not to mess with its customers.

As Occupy Wall Street demonstrated, it was opined, it means that the 99% has the power to take the 1% to task, because the entire Occupy sentiment that ended up travelling the world began with ONE email from Canada. Yes, ONE email. But Occupy had its limitations, being surpassed by the phenomenon now known across the world as the Arab Spring. In short order, beginning December 2010, multiple countries in the Arab World ousted their ruling dictatorships, dictatorships that had held power for decades and that too against the might of the Western World. Less than 5 million people in total, all tweeting, posting and sharing from their mobile phones mobilised themselves in a giant geographic tidal wave and cleared their capitals of the political dirt. As Wikipedia records, “to date, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria, major protests have broken out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan and minor protests have occurred in Lebanon, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Western Sahara.” The sheer role that mobile phones play in this phenomenon can be seen from the fact that the Arab Spring, or Occupy, was not the first example. In 2001, the people of Philippines ousted their President, Josef Estrada, on the strength of 70 million smses sent across the country in one evening, summoning the entire nation to Manila, the capital, to demonstrate against Estrada. This was 11 years ago, BEFORE the full power of the Internet was realised. This phenomenon, of course, is human, and humans on their mobile phones, not just ‘social’ or ;digital’. Note that Twitter, handmaiden of the Arab Spring, (and accessible on smartphones as well as desktops and laptops) started in 2006, 5 years AFTER the Phillipine incident, and the Arab Spring itself took place a full 4 years AFTER tweeting had made itself known. So the interesting observation to make is that this space, call it digital, cyberspace or social, has a set of codes and mores that are unique to it. Cultures are reflected but not necessarily obeyed. Strictures are noted but not necessarily followed. Liberties are taken, by individuals, and taken back too, by entire peoples, with a vengeance. It augurs well. This is the new ‘blood circulatory system’ of the human race. The mobile phone almost plays the role of the heart.

In marketing, brute marketing must retreat and make way for conversation. Marketing is no longer a ‘to’ phenomenon, it is a ‘with’ phenomenon. And consumers with mobile phones are as powerful as a trained soldier with a gun in hand. Marketers have to learn to say please and thank you. And above all, marketers must learn to say sorry. Welcome to third millennium marketing.Take a good look at the phone in your hand. Yes, it has more computing power than the Lunar Module that landed on the Moon, but remember it has more transforming power than all the armies of the world put together.

( Dr K.K.Ramachandran, Director – GRD Institute of Management and Author of’ ‘From Campus To Corporate’)

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