Friday, November 21, 2008

Lessons Learned From The Obama Campaign In Online Marketing

By Raquel Hirsch, WiderFunnel Marketing Inc.

Regardless of what you think about the outcome of the American election on November 4, from a marketer’s perspective there is one sure conclusion: the campaign marketing team did a phenomenal job marketing their “product”: they hit a cord that resonated with their base and energized younger voters; plus, they were able to use social media successfully.

In one particular area of interest to marketers concerned with eCommerce and web marketing did the Obama campaign truly shine: Fundraising.

Barack Obama raised more than $650 million dollars in all. That almost equals the combined total raised by President Bush and John Kerry in the two 2004 elections. In September alone, Obama's staggering $150 million in donations more than doubled his previous record. According to Bloomberg, the campaign “obliterated every political fundraising and spending record in U.S. history.”

How did they accomplish this?

Figure 1: shows a view of what the Obama team were testing. The red dashed line shows the placement of the SwapBox (i.e. the Google Website Optimizer section script) on the webpage. Find more image variations like this here.

The answer is of course complex and multifaceted – but from a marketing perspective, very straightforward and with strategies and tactics all marketers can learn from.

First, the campaign went for the broadest possible customer base as it’s easier to get $1 out of 100,000 people than to get $100,000 out of one person.

As early as February 2008, their campaign reported on their official website that more than 280,000 people had created accounts on and from those online accounts, 6,500 grassroots volunteer groups had been created and more than 13,000 off-line events have been organized through the site. At that point, already over 370,000 individual online donations had been made, more than half of which were less than $25 donations. All in all, the campaign brought in more than $650 million from some 3 million donors.

To build the base, at every opportunity Obama volunteers fanned through the crowd, gathering the names and e- mail addresses of people who could be asked for small donations again and again.

Then, the campaign focused on Frequency marketing

Once it accomplished a broad base of web-engaged supporters, the Obama campaign went after the small donors early and returned to them often. They took in $8 million online in the first quarter of 2007, quadruple the campaign's goal of $2 million. Almost half of Obama's money came from people giving $200 or less, compared with 34 percent for Arizona Senator McCain.

The “secret sauce”: Obama Campaign Uses Conversion Rate Optimization
All the considerable effort and money spent driving traffic to the site generated a given online donations rate. We are positive that campaign management saw as their next challenge getting more actions (i.e., more donations and higher average donations) from the traffic already on the website.

So, in an amazing bit of sleuthing, my business partner Chris Goward“discovered” how the Obama campaign successfully used a Conversion Rate Optimization strategy to maximize online donations.

In order to optimize this online donations rate, or “conversions”, the team deployed a Conversion Rate Optimization strategy where they ran experiments and determined with scientific certainty what web visitors consider to be the most relevant and timely content. In other words, by running statistically valid experiments, the Obama team made data-driven decisions and progressively redesigned key web pages.

As Chris discovered, Obama's web team used Google Website Optimizer to run multivariate tests on various pages of their site ( Tests were run on the Home Page, the Donation page (still running at the time of writing this article!) and others. To learn more about the different variations offered and how they were tested and measured, we encourage you to see the full posting on our blog at

The learning here is that all web marketers, just like the Obama team, can in fact make data-driven decisions (instead of hope-driven leaps of faith) and progressively redesign key web pages - or the entire site.

In our experience at WiderFunnel , where we focus on running ongoing Conversion Rate Experiments for clients in a wide variety of industries and with a wide variety of business goals, we have learned one thing: testing always pays off in improved conversions.

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