Capital Ideas Blog

What business can learn from Obama

By Emily Lambert

From: Blog

The geeks won the U.S. presidential election. That’s according to Richard Thaler, Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at Chicago Booth, in his latest column in the New York Times. Thaler, who advised the campaign, lauded the data-driven pollsters, as well as the number-crunchers working for President Barack Obama’s re-election who identified potential voters and got them to the polls. Here’s Thaler on “geek power”: 

“There should be something reassuring about this Obama campaign efficiency to all Americans, even those who supported Mr. Romney based on his success in business. When it came to the business of running a campaign, it was the former professor and community organizer who had the more technologically savvy organization and made more effective use of its resources, including geek power.”

And here’s another thought on the topic: regardless of politics, the efficiency of the Obama campaign could be a model for business.

Obama’s first campaign was recognized for its ability to harness social media to communicate with prospective voters and donors. In 2008, the campaign jumped on and exploited Facebook, and it raked in small donations, many of which arrived via the internet.

In the latest campaign, it exploited data. In the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal profiled the technology team that powered the campaign, many of them talent borrowed from businesses including Twitter, Google, and Facebook. Moreover, he pointed out that a campaign is a familiar place for any entrepreneur:
“Think of them as a weird kind of niche startup and you can see why. You have very little time, maybe a year, really. You can't afford to pay very much. The job security, by design, is nonexistent.”

Having run two successful startups, Obama’s a serial entrepreneur, of sorts. In this campaign, social media met data-driven research, plus the kind of behavioral science that Thaler and his colleagues contributed, as described in this New York Times story

Alternatively, Obama’s win could be seen as the product of an extremely well-run marketing department. Marketing is both increasingly social and increasingly data-driven, as researchers associated with Booth’s Kilts Center for Marketing know, especially those mining the data supplied to the center by Nielsen.

How the 2012 race was won will continue to be a talking point for years to come. Most business leaders might have voted for Mitt Romney, but they could find they have something to learn by studying how Obama won the White House. 


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