Click with Millennials Through Multiple Channels

Last Updated Nov 1, 2008 5:24 PM EDT

The campaign: Obama

The tactics: "Camp Obama" volunteer
organization; slick outreach to iPhone and Twitter crowds.

The business takeaway: The Millennials market is
motivated and has money, but offering them genuinely valuable services is key
to winning their advocacy.


Senator Barack Obama’s campaign successfully
tapped into one of today’s fickle markets — Gen Y. Today’s
so-called Millennials have
been raised on Facebook
, are 80 million strong, spend an estimated
$200 billion a year, and are civic-minded to boot.


One of the campaign’s most effective efforts,
launched in 2007, was Camp Obama, a four-day program to train young volunteers,
state by state, on the fundamentals of campaigning. “We go through
everything from canvassing, phone banking, volunteer recruitment, our campaign
message, how to develop an organization locally,” Camp Obama director
Jocelyn Woodards
told National Public Radio
.


The campaign sought to avoid the mistake Howard Dean made in
2004, when he recruited an estimated 1,200 young volunteers to Iowa before the
state’s caucuses — and came in third. Hans Riemer, national
youth vote director for Obama, told NPR that the key has been to keep in touch
with the volunteers as plans roll out. “Winning an election is just a
matter of breaking it down into manageable pieces,” he said. “So
we show them what those pieces are, and then turn them loose.”


Another youth marketing coup for Obama: marketing through
tech-based channels that Millennials can’t live without. The Obama ‘08
iPhone application, for instance, organizes the phone numbers in the user’s
address book into a call list, sorted by Obama battleground states, and taps
the iPhone’s GPS to pinpoint the nearest campaign office from
wherever you are.


His campaign also href="http://www.bnet.com/2346-11452_23-245589-9.html">understood the power of social
networking tools — such as Facebook, MySpace, and
microblog service Twitter — early on. By the end of February 2007, href="http://opensourcemarketer.com/blog/marketing-tools/obama-and-hillary-use-twitter-for-social-networking/">Obama had signed
more than 6,700 followers on his Twitter account. The numbers
steadily climbed; less than one week before the election, he now has roughly 115,000
followers on Twitter and follows 110,000.


By contrast, Senator Hillary Clinton had 1,200 Twitter
followers at the end of February but didn’t follow any of them —
an obvious and costly blunder. Said one user last April: “I thought
it was bad PR on Hillary’s part. Like Obama, she should probably
pretend she’s listening to all those people.”


So what is the private-sector takeaway from Obama’s
successful connection to Gen Y? “Obama has a great multichannel
approach to reach Millennials,” says David Erickson, director of
e-strategy for Tunheim Partners of Minneapolis. “Marketers need to
talk to people in their own language and meet people where they are, like
Facebook.” He adds, “Millennials are engaged through
projects, and Obama has given them a project using the tools they use.”


The trick to reaching Millennials is to make marketing feel
like more of a genuine service than an ad message, says Tammy Erickson, author
of the Harvard Business School Publishing blog, href="http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/erickson/">Across the Ages. “Millennials
want to hear, ‘Tell me about your running problems so I can design a
better running shoe,’” she says. They will tune out traditional
pitches, for example, news about a new running shoe design. “Many of
them want to do something more independent and entrepreneurial, they want to be
involved, and Obama’s done a good job getting that,” she
says.


Additional reporting by John Maas.