In this context, president-elect Obama's campaign provided a few lessons for communicators reaching out to multicultural audiences.
To start, the nation is not a bifurcated market of “mainstream” (read “native-born Caucasian”) on one side of the plate and “ethnics” (all the other races and nationalities) on the other. Instead, it's a stew, made of many ingredients; a new, richer version of America the Beautiful.
Obama the candidate and Obama the brand had multi-faceted appeal to a number of age-, race-, and economic-based groups. Like a brand leader, the campaign understood its core constituencies (African-Americans and educated, progressive Whites) and then reached out to the groups it needed with 21st century communications tools and channels, such as television advertising for undecided Hillary supporters in Pennsylvania, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to reach young Hispanic voters, and endorsements from leaders in key communities to reach Asian Americans in swing states. Texting, Twittering, and strategic use of his Web site were also critical campaign tools.
In addition, Obama's people linked communications to strategy and strategy to votes. His team understood, both in the primaries and general elections, where the tipping points were in key counties, districts and wards. How did they know this? Research, research and more research.
Finally, the President-elect relied on the oldest technique in the book – organizing at the grassroots level, something that many marketers forget in this high-tech age. The power of the coffee klatch, the evening get-together, or more formal gatherings remain the most reliable way of micro-targeting the audiences you want. As important, Obama's big events emphasized celebration – something particularly important to many cultures and one of the most effective ways of cementing loyalty.
In a nation as diverse as the US, Team Obama understood the many dimensions, niches, and preferences of the American people, and fit its message to the right medium for the right audience. How he will use the communications techniques of his campaign to govern remains to be seen. But, in a rare turnaround, the communications industry can learn from his efforts rather than vice versa.
Esther Novak is the founder and CEO of New Brunswick, NJ-based VanguardComm, a multicultural marketing communications firm. She currently serves on the New Jersey Governor's Council for Economic Growth and the Board of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.