How the Obama 2012 Campaign was a Well Executed Lean Startup

We have talked a lot about the Lean Startup methodology introduced by Eric Reis on this blog, our readers will have known by now how much we appreciate this philosophy. Guess what who else takes it seriously? The President of the United States, Barack Obama himself.

The lean startup methodology was an integral part of Obama’s grassroots campaign strategy during the 2012 Presidential elections, when the Obama campaign was forced to use guerilla marketing tactics to compete against the much better funded Mitt Romney campaign. What the Obama campaign lacked in terms of firepower, they made up through a viral marketing campaign, run with the Lean Startup philosophy at its core.

Here’s what the Obama campaign did. They converted everything related to the campaign to raw data. The entire campaign was “metric driven,” according to Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Here’s how succinctly he explains the Lean Startup methodology: "If something’s working, we’re going to go do a bunch of it. If it’s not working, we’re going to go throw it out. If we just run that same (2008) campaign, we stand a good chance of losing. We’ve got to run a new campaign."

And that’s what they did, ran a brand new campaign that involved massive data organization, using sophisticated databases, hiring statisticians and mathematicians and creating a world class analytics department.

What the Obama campaign also did was follow Eric Reis’s idea of “split tests” – running small iterative tests on select groups of voters, finding what works and what doesn’t. For instance, an e-mail asking for support from Michelle Obama found more support than a similar e-mail from Vice President Joe Biden. So, Vice President Biden’s e-mail was chucked and Mrs. Obama’s e-mails were used to spread the message across to millions more people.

The Obama campaign used behavioral targeting - studying voter behavior in such exact terms that they not only figured out if a particular voter, based on his age, sex, income group, race, neighborhood and so on, was likely to donate to the Obama campaign or not, but also what would compel him to donate more. Such as, would it excite him or her to be offered a chance to have dinner with the First Lady, or would it be enough to get his or her support by just sending a personalized e-mail from the President.

The Obama campaign also introduced a donation site named QuickDonate.com, which did not ask for personal or financial details from those making donations to the campaign. This was based on a study of voter behavior which found that voters were likely to donate more freely if they were not asked for their personal and financial details. And QuickDonate.com turned out to be a massive financial success, gathering valuable funding for the Obama campaign just when it needed it most.

Another important thing done by the Obama campaign was to look for unconventional marketing tactics, based on voter behavior. After a meticulous collection of data, it was surmised, for instance, that involving celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker would excite female over the age of 40 about the campaign. And so, invitations were sent to 40+ females for a tea party with Ms. Parker, who is a well known Obama supporter and took active part in his campaign for Presidency.

Social media marketing was integral to the Obama campaign as well. Twitter and Facebook were used extensively by campaign staff to reach out to the youth and undecided voters. Indeed, Obama’s biggest strength came from support received from young men and women in their twenties, who are the first generation of social media users. By focusing on the social media, Obama won over first-time voters and got them excited about his Presidency.

This blog post is a part of our series on the book “The Lean Startup - How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Reis. We believe that reading this book would help you a great deal not only in your business, but also at identifying the right business partners. As always, we look forward to your comments and suggestions, so keep them coming. Ciao!

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