Traditional top-down messages don't often work in an ecosystem, like the Web, where the masses are in charge. Marketers must cede a certain degree of control over their brands. And that can be terrifying. (Remember that "I got a crush on . . . Obama" lip synched YouTube tribute? When people can affect a brand, they become attached to it.)

Brack Obama's campaign has been successful at converting online clicks into real-world currency: rallies in the heartland, videos on YouTube, and most important, donations and votes. BarackObama.com features constant updates, videos, photos, ringtones, widgets, and events to give supporters a reason to come back to the site. On mybarackobama.com, the campaign's quasi-social network, Obamaniacs can create their own blogs around platform issues, send policy recommendations directly to the campaign, set up their own mini fund-raising site, organize an event, even use a phone-bank widget to get call lists and scripts to tele-canvass from home.

The Obama crew also tapped into other online communities. A member of blackplanet.com, one of Community Connect Inc's suite of niche demographic Web sites (including asianave.com, migente.com, GLEE.com, and faithbase.com) excerpted a portion of a Vibe magazine profile of Obama. A flurry of discussion drove traffic to BarackObama.com, drawing the attention of Scott Goodstein, who runs the campaign's external Web strategy. An exec at CCI invited all the candidates to create profiles for each of the company's targeted communities. Only the Obama people created credible presences, updating them everyday or so.. It worked. The Obama profile on Black-Planet has more than 450,000 "friends."

Obama's campaign also took advantage of messages created by others. The "Yes We Can" mashup by the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, starring a handful of his famous friends, cost the campaign nothing and became a viral hit. By comparison, a Clinton mockumentary called "Hillary's Leaving the Band" -- young rockers, clearly actors, lament the loss of their favorite guitar player -- fell flat. It seemed ad-agency slick and forced. And if it doesn't resonate in the offline world, it won't resonate in the online world. The Web has created authoritative consumers empowered by the Web and they can smell a fake.

"OPEN brand," an acronym for on-demand, personal, engaging, and networks, is a framework for companies to think about distributing brand messages in new ways. Being an OPEN brand can be daunting, but you don't have to cede all control, just some. Obama has been made available to the press in strictly controlled doses. And while the Web site may have set the bar high in terms of openness, the campaign still keeps an eye on the imagery and messaging associated with the movement. Obama's e-mails urging supporters to take action -- "Tell the superdelegates what's on your mind," a recent blast implored -- are often signed simply "Barack," implying intimacy without risking exposure.

Obama is seen as a leader rather than a boss. He gets people to do things on their own, through inspiration, respect, and trust -- rather than doing it because it's part of a contract. Having a vision and inspiring or instructing others to follow that vision have long been hallmarks of business and politics. But Obama epitomizes a new way of thinking called "adaptive leadership." While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together. Obama has tapped into this adaptive-leadership vein by inviting voters in with his "Yes we can" slogan.

Fast Company

How to Build a Brand Like Obama

Traditional top-down messages don't often work in an ecosystem, like the Web, where the masses are in charge. Marketers must cede a certain degree of control over their brands. And that can be terrifying. (Remember that "I got a crush on . . . Obama" lip synched YouTube tribute? When people can affect a brand, they become attached to it.)

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