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The New Imperatives of Marketing

Understanding customers as individuals. Creating a system of engagement. Designing brand and culture so they are authentically one. 

These are the new imperatives of marketing—driven by the expectations of empowered consumers, fueled by data, and made possible by technology. Organizations that embrace this change are outperforming their peers. We’re seeing it in business; and, as the inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term in the White House shows, we’re seeing analytics become a reality in presidential politics.

Regardless of your political leanings, it’s clear that the success of the Obama campaign was about understanding and exploiting those new imperatives. The data-driven Obama team understood that we now require deep knowledge of individual human beings, not just their demographics—from their preferences, to their likes and dislikes, to what prompts them to open their wallets. And then, the tricky part: turning that knowledge into a system of engagement.

It’s something we’re seeing take place in the new marketing world. Marketers aren’t just having one-way conversations; they’re listening to their customers’ digital body language to understand their passions, opinions, and sentiments. Combining social data, behavioral data, location data, and transaction data not only enables immediate response, but also generates predictive insight into a person’s preferences and predispositions. That creates a sustainable competitive advantage. Today, marketers must know the data they need, confirm its veracity, integrate it for impact—and then operate in real time and at scale.

 It’s a tough trick, but the Obama campaign managed to do it. After a victory in 2008 due in no small part to their success in reaching out to individual voters, the Obama team continued to build and refine their data and analytics team, never shutting down after the 2008 election. Through robust and connected analytics, the team was able to micro-target its “customers” and then use feedback to precisely hone its message. This approach was applied to activate donors and adjusted to identify the individual voters to whom outreach would have the greatest impact, such as likely supporters who were considering not going to the polls. The extended community became a system by combining social insights with behavioral data to activate these voters, substantially reducing the risk of wasted efforts like contacting voters who had already decided which candidate they supported. In a nutshell, it’s a lot like the challenges faced by modern CMOs.

 While previous campaigns (including Obama’s in 2008) have devoted sizeable resources to data and analytics, it is the Obama’s team’s ability to identify voters on an individual and not demographic level—and to build that analysis into a system of engagement, tuned to a world of complete and immediate transparency—that explains the significant impact of their voter outreach efforts on the 2012 election. The Obama team cultivated brand authenticity by identifying the relevant issues that motivated their target audience and maintaining focus throughout the campaign.

In the end, the 2012 Obama campaign represented a watershed migration of the new rules of marketing into the political arena—and provided a dramatic demonstration of how all organizations, communities, and individuals must now think about communications and collaboration. By understanding voters as individuals, creating a system of engagement that reached and motivated the target audience, and by harnessing the power of transparency, the Obama campaign was able to influence behavior where, and when, it mattered.

The inauguration of a president is a new beginning, but it is the culmination of a long sales cycle. Authenticity is going to rule the day in all that we do—marketing, politics, and relationships in general. By understanding your customer, and using analytics to understand what motivates him to act and interact with a particular brand, a CMO or candidate can earn the public’s support, and vote, and money.

Katharyn White is vice president of marketing for IBM Global Business Services.

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