Saturday, March 01, 2008

Clinton vs Obama, iPod vs Zune - the hidden similarities

Have you been following the race for the Democratic candidate for the upcoming elections? Back in December, Clinton was the clear front-runner; she seemed like the only choice, the incumbent even. It's March now, and we all know how that has changed - Obama has outmaneuvered, out-thought, out-campaigned, and out-fundraised Clinton (my condolences if you are her supporter, like myself!)

There is something to learn from this, something to even derive hope from - the tides can turn, a leader can become the follower, a winner today can be a loser tomorrow. But it takes work, a concerted effort on all fronts, and a desire to win for such a change to be affected. Here is how I think Obama did it (and willing to listen to your thoughts on the same):

A. He appealed to the younger generation, to the masses by following the principles of viral, fast, easy, simple, accessible. Here are the cornerstones of his public outreach:

1. A Viral Marketing Campaign
2. Facebook, MySpace, did I mention Facebook?
3. A Visually appealing website, with a minimalist design and an emphasis on negative space
4. An enviable Advertising campaign
5. The Message of "Change"
6. Celebrity endorsements, especially from the ones that have captured the imagination of today's generation

You must wonder where I am going with this list. The key to the campaign according to me lay in correctly identifying the target audience for the marketing blitz. My father once told me, "Manoj, you can't teach an old dog new tricks", and used that as motivation to make me change my behavior (apparently, me being a young pup made me malleable). By a similar token, the older generation of Americans aren't as easy to sway as the flippant and undecided younger generation. Obama's campaign got the attention of the 75 million odd voters in the age group 18 - 35, and in the process, turned the tables in the race. I doff my hat to the foresight and chutzpah of Obama's "shrewd" campaign manager in recognizing this fact.

B. He tapped the potential of a class of voters I like to call "discretionary" and "impulsive"
There is a distinct population of voters that don't mind parting with $25-50 to support a candidate or a cause, because the paltry donation can be easily justified and gives the supporter a sense of purpose. This is the same person that would guy a new pair of jeans, make a pledge to a local NPR station or C89.5FM, buy a round of drinks at a bar for friends, etc. on a whim - your average middle class Joe.

These two classes of voters, together comprising the younger generations (X and Y), didn't really care for politicians. Why - because they reek of corruption and are renowned for their shady, even murky, practices. By reducing the barrier of entry, by speaking to causes that are close to their hearts, by making himself accessible and creating a perception of openness, Obama has won their support. My analysis reveals that it is this voter bank that is spearheading Obama's rise to the top.

I could go on, but I think I have made my point. I know it's a stretch, but if you see this as I do, this story is analogous to Zune's fight against the iPod. Our approach is fresher and more youthful, the team has the talent to build a great end-to-end solution, and the product is finally garnering underground support. It's a matter of selling the story better now, which like the artist Kenna, we are having great difficulty with. Maybe it's time to start at the core of the problem - MIND-SHARE. A potential first step in achieving this would be to revamp our advertising campaign; one idea - hire the agency that came up with Obama's campaign. How about the agency that had the Pepsi account in the 80s, when Coke was the dominant cola in the market.

Pepsi pulled a rabbit out of its hat with its campaign in 1982 (I think it was) that showed how in a blind taste test, customers preferred Pepsi to Coke every time. The results (and the ensuing loss in market share) sent shivers down Coke's spine. Their response - reinvent the "COKE" formula - was doomed for failure since its inception, and we know how that played out. Coca-Cola miraculously pulled off a coup de etat by releasing Coke "Classic" and saved itself from certain defeat, but the point remains. Pepsi's campaign almost upstaged the incumbent Cola leader, Coke.

You've read this post, and if you're still wondering what a Zune is, I've proved my point. Q.E.D.

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