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Winning at Retail With Obama's Campaign Playbook

Winning at Retail With Obama's Campaign Playbook

Raise your hand if you've ever heard a political speaker at a business conference. Raise it again if that person talked about anything other than government or politics.

I'll bet if your hand went up the first time, it went down the second time. That's because it's rare for anyone in politics to be able to translate their message into a form usable by a business audience. It almost never happens.

A notable exception took place this month at Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando. President Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, delivered a highly pertinent speech about how retailers can leverage the lessons of Obama's stunning 2008 victory. He provided solid lessons on how to energize a core audience, whether of voters, employees or shoppers.

Plouffe became known for his deft use of an army of some 4 million volunteers, which made its mark in the all-important battle for the Democratic nomination. Volunteers were kept in the loop largely through digital communications.

The Obama campaign built “a network of people to be our sermonizers to convert people,” he told food industry executives, emphasizing that these supporters were kept informed at every stage. “For you, whether it's your employees or customers, they must understand they are the core, they truly matter.”

His point is well taken. Retail associates and even retirees are living carriers of a brand's message. “If everyone can't answer in one sentence why a company or brand is going to be successful, then you've got a big problem,” he observed.

The Obama team succeeded partly by insuring its messages reached people directly from the campaign. There's a parallel here for business.

“Consumers want you to text them if a product goes on sale,” he said. “But it's about more than just one-way communication. Consumers, for example, should be encouraged to send in videos to comment on your products.”

Another thing politicians and retailers have in common is the need to draw young people. Plouffe observed that people under 25 are attracted to social media, and “use email only with their parents and bosses.”

So how does a brand avoid being out of touch with this group? In addition to using the right kinds of communications, it needs to make sure the core message has a values-oriented component because that's what draws many younger consumers, he said.

“The way they view Wal-Mart has changed, given its initiatives around sustainability, for example.”

Plouffe's playbook is just as relevant today as in 2008. In fact, the White House just brought him back to help Democrats with the challenging midterm congressional elections.

This political expert is onto something very basic about what motivates people. Retailers, regardless of their political leanings, should pay attention.

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