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A victory for Obama, a victory for mobile

How much satisfaction should mobile marketers have today that the man elected to become the 44th president of the United States proved beyond doubt the ability of mobile marketing to effect sweeping change?

For when President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office on that cold January morning, he will have proved to the nation and the world that the combination of mobile and the Internet with door-to-door canvassing can elect an intelligent person to the highest office without regard to color, experience or heritage.

All it required was hope and optimism in the face of daunting challenges ahead, and a willingness to take risk -- with an atypical message and powerful platforms such as mobile and the Internet.

The Obama campaign's excellent use of text messaging and the Obama Mobile Web site at http://obamamobile.mobi or http://m.barackobama.com should encourage not just politicians.

Marketers have a lot to learn from the way the young senator's campaign harnessed the imagination and stirred the emotions of millions of Americans through mobile. They should study how this campaign aroused passion and anticipation through 160 characters sent at the right time to the right audience.

Voters young and old willingly donated small and not-so-small sums via the Internet to fuel the movement for change and willingly parted with their mobile phone numbers as a show-of-hands for the grassroots effort that the "Yes, We Can" movement required.

Textbook campaign
This publication regularly followed the Obama campaign's use of mobile. For those who signed up, the text alerts from short code 62262 (OBAMA) were friendly and earnest. It didn't look like a senator was messaging from on up high, but someone that you would know sending a friendly message asking for your support.

The SMS texts proved that the Obama campaign didn't take the candidate's growing popularity for granted. Every opted-in mobile consumer counted, every text endeared with an appealing call to action.

The texts came with familiar regularity: Just before a local appearance, before the debates, before the final primary contest between Senators Hillary Clinton and Obama (please type Obama in the www.mobilemarketer.com search box for all Obama campaign stories).

In what will be remembered as a turning point in mobile marketing history -- and it is marketing, because that is what politics is, the marketing of ideals personified by the candidate -- the announcement of Senator Joe Biden as Mr. Obama's vice presidential pick set the standard for the excitement that a text message can create.

More than 2.9 million text messages were said to have been sent out on that particular occasion. The Obama campaign has never really released the size of its mobile database, but the Biden announcement goes down in history as the largest mobile marketing push by text, at least to date.

The Obama campaign sits on millions of names in its opted-in mobile database. Many more names lie in its Internet database, accounting for a large chunk of the $650 million in funds that the campaign raised to elect an eloquent and inspiring man to the White House.

Know the code
This publication does not lean Democratic or Republican. It leans ethical marketing and mobile. The praise for President-elect Obama comes not from a plank, but for his understanding that consumers -- voters, in this case -- want to be part of the story. Mobile is their lifeline to the outside world.

The Republican campaign, for some strange reason, didn't get that. The Republican Party is known for its grassroots efforts. Its strategists are adept at mining the electoral database to a point of perfection. But they failed to enlist the enthusiasm of consumers through the most powerful medium of communication today -- mobile.

In fact, when penning stories on the Obama mobile efforts, this publication tried each time to be fair and see if the McCain campaign changed its attitude to mobile marketing. It never happened. For example, the McCain short code for SMS signups was hard to find on www.johnmccain.com.

The world only became aware of the McCain short code at the party's convention in St. Paul, MN. And that SMS appeal was directed to donating to the American Red Cross via text for victims of the hurricanes brewing in the South. Even the Obama campaign pitched the same $5 text donations to the Red Cross, so there wasn't a point of differentiation.

Take the run-up to the elections. Here's what short code 62262 had to say in a text message at 2:53 p.m. EDT on Oct. 30:

"Less than a week until Election Day on Nov. 4th! Barack needs your help. REPLY to this msg with your 5 digit ZIP CODE for local Obama news and voting info."

Four days later, this writer received another text message at 3:15 p.m. EST on Nov. 3 from short code 46708:

"Put your country first and vote on Tuesday! To find your polling location visit Gop.com/ElectionDay. Forward to your friends."

That message didn't even mention the Republican presidential candidate John McCain by name. Where was the emotional appeal? Why wasn't there a stronger call-to-action?

Exactly 24 hours later, another text message pops into the box, this time from short code 62262 on Nov. 4 at 3:28 p.m. EST:

"People who love their country can change it! Make sure everyone you know votes for Barack today. For voting info call 877-874-6226 or VoteForChange.com."

Bite the bullet
Long story short, there is a lesson here in the Obama victory for marketers gun-shy of using mobile for customer outreach.

Yes, the economy is slowing. Yes, budgets need to be cut. Yes, Wall Street's demands for sterling quarterly performance have to be met. But you don't walk away from the future. You don't trade tomorrow for yesterday. And mobile is the future, and the future is here.

The enthusiasm for mobile was palpable Nov. 3-4 at the ad:tech New York conference for interactive marketing technology professionals (see story).

The GoMobile! Zone was busy on both days. Visitors were researching the many ways they could include mobile in their multichannel plans. They sought advice from the pavilion's 16 exhibitors -- those smart souls who evangelized mobile to an audience of online and brand marketers because they saw the connection between the many interactive channels.

Many exhibitors plan to return to the next ad:tech in San Francisco. Why? They see the value in being spokespeople for an industry whose time has come, slowing economy or not. Consumers have spoken for mobile, just as they have for the first mobile president of the United States.

Inspiring by example
The Obama victory must inspire not just the African-Americans or minorities, but people of all backgrounds. People indeed have high expectations of Mr. Obama and here's hoping he lives up to them.

Mr. Obama's election should inspire marketers to take risks and include mobile and the Internet in their media and marketing plans.

There is absolutely no reason why the Fortune 500 brands or even small business should not embrace mobile advertising and marketing, text messaging and the mobile Internet.

The numbers of mobile subscribers is growing nationwide and across the world. Mobile phones are getting more sophisticated. Data plans are more consumer-friendly. Above all, the consumer is ready to dialogue on mobile.

An opted-in mobile database of consumers is gold for marketers and can do for them what it did for a bold man seeking to solve this nation's problems.

At 12:16 a.m. EDT this morning, a text message popped into this writer's inbox. The sender was short code 62262.

"We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. All of this happened because of you. Thanks, Barack."