Discover Your Base of Influencers — and Put Them to Work

The campaign: Ron Paul

The tactic: Outsourcing critical roles to grassroots

The business takeaway: Connecting to the right
influencers can quickly boost your brand, saving you time and marketing

The quirky campaign of Texas Congressman Ron Paul gave this
election cycle a clever marketing ploy when supporters launched a Web-based,
transparent “Money Bomb” fundraising strategy in late 2007. An affiliated advocacy site, href="">, posted donor names and
hometowns, published an array of demographic analytics, and downloaded
minute-by-minute donation totals.

This gave the self-styled Libertarian candidate href="">a breadth of
information on his core supporters: Men made up 83 percent of his
donors in October 2007. His core donor was four times more likely to live in
Nevada than Mississippi, for example, and Alaskans and Hawaiians were bigger
donors than anyone in the Bible Belt.

But this group’s ability to mobilize and raise
money for Paul was even more impressive. Paul announced that he wanted to raise
$12 million in Q4 ’07, challenging Web visitors to help him reach
that goal. In December, a grassroots money bomb
donation event
raised an astonishing $6 million in one day, besting
the one-day record of $5.7 million set by 2004 presidential hopeful John Kerry.

“Ron Paul’s campaign and its supporters
were given free reign to experiment with how to define the campaign across the
country with his money bomb,” says Ari Melber, who covers the 2008
election for The Nation. Fellow Nation contributor Micah Sifry
noted that, like Howard Dean in 2004, “Paul is running a
loosely-controlled campaign that freely shares attention with its base, and
thus benefits from all kinds of self-organizing energies.”

Walter J. Carl, an assistant professor in Northeastern
University’s Department of Communications Studies, estimates that
today’s average consumer sees 30,000 ad messages a week —
but acts on just four. Carl also notes that most people act on one in three
recommendations from friends they trust — in other words, “influence”
sells. “It’s really a distributed
marketing model,” says Sara Holoubek, an independent marketing strategist. “You make the most fervent supporters, who create
their own social networks. You find the influencers and let them run with it.”

Kerry Lange, vice president of operations and managing
director of San Francisco’s Ammo Marketing, says that the secret to harnessing
influencers for a brand’s success lies in understanding the customer,
whether they are choosing a president or a pilsner. For example, Ammo’s
work for Miller High Life included sending teams into bars to figure out who
was drinking the beer and who those customers respected. Miller drinkers’
influencers, it turned out, are tattooed bartenders and independent musicians.
So Ammo recruited local bar-scene rockers to be Miller ambassadors and marketed
to them. The result? Beer drinkers who saw Miller in the hands of favorite rock
stars joined the party with a bottle of their own.

Obama has capitalized on the influencer model, adds Tammy
Erickson. “He’s done a great job of allowing people at low
levels of his organization to spread the word. He also really tried to leverage
word of mouth. At the end of the campaign, his emphasis is on, ‘Would
you call a couple of people and talk to them?’ The old model was that
the guy at the top tells people what’s happening. Now, people at the
bottom tell everyone else.”

Additional reporting by John Maas.