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Friday, 19 June 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Lessons from Obama

by Phil Lewis, Director of Winning Pitch TV

There’s a formula for traditional advertising and marketing, and consumers are getting rather tired of it. Pick a campaign, any campaign, and the chances are you’ll spot one or more of the following… A tendency by the brand owner to preach, boast, instruct? Check. The use of a ‘God-like’ tone? Check. A solutions-based language? Check. A – yawn – seductive lifestyle proposition?Check check check.

That isn’t to say that advertising and marketing is always badly done, or that some or all of the above techniques don’t have their place. But it’s no surprise that consumers have got wise to how brand owners’ minds often seem to work and are switching off in their droves.

Not all businesses have propositions that can be conveniently boiled down to a USP. Markets are crowded, and in the information age staying ahead of the competition is often a matter of subtle differentiation. For brands with complex value propositions not only does the ‘KISS’ principle often sell them short, it also lacks credibility as it doesn’t reflect the brand’s true nature. It’s OK to be complex; consumers can cope.

These trends are being driven not by advertisers or marketers, and not by brands, but by consumer demand and the endless tsunami of technological change that the internet has done so much to drive. I don’t believe that we can look at the iPhone, for example, and not see a game-changing piece of equipment. Much has been written about convergence – the idea that a range of services will increasingly be delivered through a single provider – and the iPhone is the most obvious example of this principle in action. The mobile telcos will win the convergence battle, too; look at 3, the first mobile provider to, in effect, have completely abandoned the idea of making money directly from telephone calls through its partnership with Skype.

It is no surprise that businesses or individuals who demonstrate a willingness and ability to ride the wave of technological change, and engage consumers where they are already in conversation, rather than standing on the side-lines communicating via the medium of yelling, are beginning to enjoy a significant degree of success.

Much has been written about BarackObama’s campaign last year; as a defining moment in all of our lifetimes and a genuinely amazing story, there is a great deal to be learned from his campaign. Advertising practitioners, for example, often talk about how his vast TV spend in the run-up to the election gave him a much greater share of voice than his rival and paved the way for victory. This is true, but as a social media marketer I was fascinated by the way in which Obama grew the war-chest that made that spend possible in the first place.

In using social media and embracing the idea that a simple idea like ‘change’ has profoundly complex implications for many different kinds of people, Obama was able to engage long-forgotten corners of the electorate in conversation, initially giving the mainstream media the slip. He worked out how to play an innovative volume-game in fundraising terms – creating genuine ‘people power’ and a sense that the election didn’t belong to him, but to his supporters. And he seemed to be genuinely concerned about transparency, honesty, and integrity – translating these values into a campaign where how he communicated with people seemed to say as much as his words and body language. Propositions don’t get much more complex than America; the answer, it seems, was to put the tired old marketing formula in the bin.

Next week, Phil Lewis and his colleagues at Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) will be hosting a business conference and giving Manchester companies an insight into the inspirational success story that is BarackObama, demonstrating how the methods he employed to reach his position are directly relevant to Manchester businesses today.

The conference, ‘Business Growth in the Information Age’, will take place in Manchester on 24th June 2009 at 8.00am at The Winning Business Academy, One Central Park, Manchester, M40 5BP.

There will also be a conference in Blackpool on 30th June 2009, 8.00am, at FYCreatives, 154-158 Church Street, Blackpool, FY1 3PS.

To receive a copy of the invitation, please contact Anna Targett on 0161 918 6785 or For more information on Winning Pitch TV, visit

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