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Plouffe On Obama’s Tech-Savvy ’08 Campaign

A politician who can not only talk about technology but understand new media is a rarity. That he can also give advice to CE execs on how they can use his tactics to get more engaged with customers and employees is almost unheard of at the many Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) meetings I’ve attended over the years.

But that’s what I just witnessed at lunch today at the CEA Washington Forum where David Plouffe, campaign

manager of President Obama’s successful election campaign, outlined how he used the Internet and new technology to get his candidate elected.

CEA’s Michael Petricone called the Obama campaign, “the biggest technology start-up of last year,” in introducing Plouffe, so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the depth of the campaign manager’s comments.

Plouffe said that in the early stages of the campaign, “we started from scratch, with nothing,” and it was quickly decided they needed to start a grassroots campaign to give Obama a chance to succeed.

The advantage his candidate gave him was that, “Our message and election strategy remained the same. We were able to focus on execution.” Plouffe said the same wasn’t true with the president’s main competitors, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain.

To go with a grassroots campaign, Plouffe said, “we needed a state-of-the-art Internet presence,” and that’s what they developed. The campaign used technology to find, attract and inspire volunteers because “technology is where people live.”

During the primary season the Obama campaign organized states online, which was vital on Super Tuesday when delegates were up for grabs practically nationwide. “By the time we send our staff to those states we were already organized,” thanks to the Obama Web site, interactive e-mails that not only asked potential voters to go out and voted, but to explain campaign positions on issues, what the election strategy was, how do to local fundraisers, how to respond to attack ads, many featuring then Senator Obama talking directly to these volunteers.

“We created a home for our volunteers online,” Plouffe said, which was vital in voter registration campaigns, where to vote in local districts, how to vote early for the general election and how to get first-time voters or to inspire citizens who haven’t voted in a long time to get to the polls.

He commented that videos of Obama during the campaign were sent to 20 million people, “the same number who watch CBS and NBC [weekday news programs] combined each night. It was very impactful. In this case a text e-mail was not as good as a video.”

He said that text messages, emails, its Web site, online ads all made the Obama volunteers and voters “message ambassadors” for the campaign to explain issues to neighbors and friends.

Plouffe noted, “Small businesses can communicate the same way talking to employees, shareholders and customers” about company products and strategies to keep them informed and “empowered.”

He said text messaging in political campaigns to “convince voters to back a candidate” didn’t work this time around but by the 2012 or 2016 election it will, and “messages to PCs will eventually be looked at as a prehistoric act … and that won’t be in 50 years.”

All of this communication created a data base that was detailed and explained who the voters were in local areas and states, why they would or would not vote for Obama, and many other factors, he noted.

“Based on the same people who voted in the 2004 presidential election, we were tied with Senator McCain,” Plouffe said the campaign data showed. “We won by attracting Republicans and Independents. They were 25 percent of our voters.”

And, by the way, the campaign raised $500 million in campaign donations, all online.

Not that this audience needed much convincing but Plouffe reminded the CEA audience, “People now live through technology. In politics, like business, you have to find people where they live and what they value in their lives. The live through technology and value it.”