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O-Bama, O-Bama, O-Bama

Wow. A Black guy wins the Iowa caucus. That is so 21rst Century. Whether he goes on to win the nomination and becomes president or not, the fact that Barack Obama won in Iowa, a 95% white state, says something about the ability of Americans, especially younger Americans, to put race aside. It gives one hope.

With my marketing hat on I see something else. I see a campaign that will be studied for years to come. As a former political consultant, I know that it is much easier to get people who you know are going to vote to vote for your candidate than to get new people to vote. In the past 20 years most of the efforts to get new people to vote in large numbers has been short on real results. Whether the focus has been on the young or the low income, the results have rarely equaled the resources expended.

The Obama campaign was able to use the internet to mobilize people and then turn that online juice into offline action. “The Iowa Democratic Party says at least 227,000 people took part in their caucuses, a much higher turnout than the 125,000 who cast their votes four years ago.” according to CNN. That is an amazing number. That is something all nonprofits should be looking at closely.

The implication is that Obama had a lot to do with this increase in turn-out. Some random thoughts on how this happened.

* People were excited about the product.
Marketing is great, but if the core message and the messenger aren’t compelling you will only get so far. Obama’s message, which include his words, his color, his life experience and his age, combined to become something people could rally around.

* Video
The Obama camp used more web video in more quantity and with more impact than the other campaigns. Coincidence? I think not. The videos were able to bring people to the events who couldn’t be there in person. The videos were able to give voice to real supporters. The videos were able to animate Obama’s words in a way text could not.

* Data and organization
Turing the excitement of people into action starts with good data. The Obama people — like the other candidates — invested heavily in being able to track and follow-up with everyone who took actions on their site and to marry that data with data about Iowans in order to mobile people precinct by precinct and household by household.

Nonprofits should be excited about the possibilities of their investment in online tools and offline organizing. They can take their real stories, the compelling work they do and use social networking and video to turn it into online excitement and activities. They can marry it to offline action and, like the Obama camp, see real results.

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