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What the Election Taught Us About Leadership and Marketing

Barack Obama’s historic landslide victory provides many lessons about leadership–and about successful marketing. To name some of them: A transformative, emotion-based, positive campaign will trump a narrow,negative, issues-based campaign. Obama inspired hope, and gave millions of people a voice and interest in presidential politics that they hadn’t had before. The last two party nominees to try this were also successful: John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan (remember “It’s morning in America”?)

Barack Obama’s historic landslide
victory provides many lessons about leadership–and about successful marketing. To name some of them:

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A transformative, emotion-based, positive campaign will trump a
narrow,negative, issues-based campaign. Obama inspired hope, and gave
millions of people a voice and interest in presidential politics that
they hadn’t had before. The last two party nominees to try this were
also successful: John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan (remember “It’s morning
in America”?)

McCain’s campaign claimed to put “country first”–but Obama was the one who walked the talk. His speeches were you-focused, his message was of unity and soidarity.

Stay on message. Obama was so good at this that even when he shifted
the message (for example, embracing offshore drilling after opposing
it), he wasn’t called on the flip-flop. Of course, this may be because
McCain flip-flopped on all sorts of issues, and was pretty vulnerable.

Don’t apologize for your beliefs. Three out of the four most recent
prior Democratic nominees–Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry–all crawled on their
bellies with messages that basically said, “umm, I’m not really a
liberal, I didn’t mean it, I’m soooo sorry!” And all three lost because
doing that took the wind right out of their sails. Bill Clinton, who is
not a liberal, didn’t play that game. Not surprisingly, he won. Obama
never apologized, ignored the L-word, and didn’t even flinch when in
the closing days, McCain revved it up and actually called him a
socialist (traditionally, the kiss of death in US politics).

When you attack, don’t sling mud at your opponent’s character, but at the specific actions or positions: “You…sung a song about bombing Iran.” “That endorsement didn’t come easy. Senator McCain had to vote 90 percent of the time with George Bush and Dick Cheney to get it.

Stay clean, tell the truth, and don’t do the things you attack your
opponent for. After 21 months of intense scrutiny, neither Hillary
Clinton nor John McCain could find much negativity of substance. The
man apparently has no scandals. He’s in a strong relationship with his
wonderful family, hasn’t been caught with his fingers in the till or
with his pants down, and hasn’t shaken anyone down for money or votes.
So the attcks were based on ridiculous stuff that didn’t stick:

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  • He’s an elitist (and McCain, the son of an admiral who owns
    numerous houses and thinks $5 million income is middle class, isn’t?)
  • He goes (or went) to the wrong church (and we just won’t talk about
    the right-wing extremist demagogues like John Hagee that McCain was so
    cozy with
  • He’s a Muslim (and even if it were true, what’s so horrible about that?)
  • He’s not really a US citizen
  • He “pals around with terrorists”
  • He’s a socialist
  • All these vicious lies came back to bite McCain, and to draw huge turnout among Obama’s base.

    The one accusation that stuck was about his lack of
    experience. Hillary’s “3 a.m.” ad was extremely effective, and swung
    Ohio and Texas into her camp. But McCain absolutely threw that argument
    away when he selected the even-less-experienced, ethically challenged,
    and totally clueless Sarah Palin.

    Perhaps the most important lesson of all: When you really want
    something, work your butt off for it, be the kind of ieader that
    inspires others to help, and take nothing for granted. Obama’s
    on-the-ground organiation has been awesome since the get-go, and that
    was a decisive factor.

    Finally, when the universe hands you a blessing, accept it. The
    economic meltdown was perfectly timed to provide enormous advantage to
    Obama, and he was wiling and able to run with it.

    In fairness to McCain, I think a lot of the errors in judgment he
    showed were the result of his handlers. They apparently let him write
    his own concession speech, and this gracious, conciliatory, and
    beautiful message was not only his best speech of the campaign, it may
    have been the best of his career.

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