“Big Data” Lessons from Obama’s Playbook


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This year’s Loyalty Maker® Award goes to the Obama campaign. Here’s why:

Stunningly smart use of voter data helped the Obama campaign win undecided voters and keep past supporters in the tent. Here’s a brief look inside the campaign’s playbook.

  • Unified Database. Beginning 18 months before the election, the campaign hired data scientists to build a single massive system that merged the information collected from fund raisers, pollsters, field workers, consumer data bases and social media with the main Democratic voter files.
  • Cookie Trail. Since the 2008 election, the campaign used cookies to track Obama supporters on line, factoring in 80 pieces of information about each person from age, sex, race to voting history.
  • Insight. The campaign’s chief data scientist, Rayid Ghani, gained recognition at Accenture for his ability to filter large amounts of transaction data through algorithms to “understand” why customers buy. He applied this same approach to massive voter data to discern what messages appealed to what voters.
  • Persuasion. Multivariate tests identified issues and positions that could shift undecided voters. Using “persuasion scores” the campaign focused its volunteer calls and other outreach efforts on those voters likely to change their minds as a result. Likewise, these tests also guided the choice on which policy messages individual voters should be exposed to.

Data In Action:

A $40,000-a-ticket email inviting Obama supporters to dinner in June at the New York home of Sarah Jessica Parker had seven versions: some mentioning another fund-raiser that night—a concert by Mariah Carey; others mention Ms. Parker was a mother, and still others that Anna Wintour, Vogue editor, would be at the dinner. Who got which email? Information about each fundraising prospect and their probable reaction to different messages drove the decision.

Loyalty Maker® Lesson:

Whether wooing voters or customers, data matters. It’s the new frontier for creating customized experiences and winning deep-seated loyalty.

Start now to think carefully about what customer data you need and how to get it. It’s a lesson the Romney campaign learned the hard way.

Jill Griffin
Griffin Group
Jill Griffin is a "Harvard Working Knowledge" author of three books on customer loyalty. She serves as public board director for Luby's Cafeterias, Fuddruckers and Jimmy Buffets' Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurants. Microsoft, Dell, Marriott Hotels, Ford, Toyota, Wells Fargo, IBM, Subaru are a few of the clients served since she hung out her "Loyalty Maker" shingle in 1988. Jill delivers customized keynotes worldwide. Sign up for her monthly loyalty tip at www.loyaltysolutions.com.


  1. …from a really practical and pragmatic, yet non-commercial, application of big data and analytics. As you note, any b2b or b2c enterprise could identify some signficant values and benefits of a more out-of-the-box customer profiling/motivation insight and actionability approach simply by following the details and accomplishments of the Obama campaign. Marketing scientists will be studying the nuances of this for years – and Republican strategists should. too!

  2. Michael, thanks for the post.

    In my mind, the new question is “what’s next” for this powerful data? We all know data can go stale fast and needs routine updating to stay useful. No doubt, smart minds are plotting “next moves” already!


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