Game Changers: Lessons Learned From the Election

The 2008 Presidential election will go down as one of the most dynamic elections in U.S. history. I have lived in my neighborhood for 10 years and have never seen an election that brought more diverse signage dotting the lawns around my home. The most interesting representation of this: A nearby house displayed signs for both candidates. The McCain sign was posted by the parents, the Obama sign was posted by their late teen/early 20’s children.
As of this writing, our election remains days away, but by the time you read this we will have elected a new President. Regardless of the outcome, this campaign and election represent a new era in campaigning and voting. The 2008 election has changed the way candidates will campaign moving forward. Some have referred to the current use of communicating with young Americans—like my neighbors—as “Election 2.0.” A fitting moniker.
The Internet, cell phones, PDA’s and more have enabled candidates to connect on a personal level through the channel of their choice: Facebook, YouTube, e-mail, blogs, text messages and more. Candidates (one in particular) have reached this influential age group in a way never seen before, but clearly in a way that will be seen again.
Some numbers to chew on:
• More than 159 million people have MySpace profiles.
• Approximately 300,000 people create a MySpace account each day.
• Facebook ranks as the No. 6 most commonly visited Web site on the Internet.
• Two-thirds of young people ages 18 to 29 say they use social networking sites. Another 27% say they’ve gotten information about candidates and campaigns from these sites. This is an age group retailers know well, as it represents the largest consumer base in the convenience channel.
• Text messages sent on Election Day that urged recipients to vote may have increased turnout by 4.6%, according to CREDO Mobile.
• Obama’s Web site traffic was running at a 2-to-1 margin over McCain’s at press time.
Business Lesson
The candidates used these tools to help raise funds, motivate volunteers and target voters. You can choose to ignore these trends and their impact on this historic election, or you can embrace them to help grow your business. 
I’ve met with several operators who use these tools to promote their stores, recruit prospective employees and more. They’ve realized that target marketing this generation via electronic mediums can attract and retain a coveted group of customers.
Earlier this year, we wrote about Generation Y (July 2008, p. 52), the 10- to 25-year-old generation. This generation represents the first humans native to the digital landscape. They’ve never known a world that didn’t include the Internet, cell phones or instant communications. 
All who came before Gen Y are no more than digital tourists. Gen Y is as comfortable in the digital world as in the physical. When it comes to hiring or selling to this age group, retailers must understand who they’re dealing with. 
The candidates in this election certainly targeted the upper end of this generation. It was anticipated that this election would see unprecedented turnout of young voters. 
The take-away: Regardless of your comfort level with these new tools, today’s customers—and clearly tomorrow’s customers—expect to be reached via these tools. If you’re not using these tools, you can bet that a competitor is. 
New young voters will likely be credited for changing an election. Can they also transform your business? Perhaps, but only if you change the way you speak to them.

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