I can hear you saying, "Hold on, Showalter, this is America, we can be anything we want to be!"
I'm sorry to tell you this – but when it comes to grassroots movements, you can't. Please allow me to explain.
You see, government relations teams tell me that they are being pressured by their executives to create a Barack Obama like movement around their issue. Experts like Dr. Rhoads are hearing the same thing from their product-marketing clients. They want to create the exact same kind of buzz, but this time for their product.
Remember, if we know one thing, it's never one thing that creates persuasion. Just because the media honed in on the technology tactics of the Obama campaign does not mean that's all you need to succeed.
Here are our seven reasons why your organization can't duplicate the fervor of Obama's grassroots campaign:
1. You have to lose control of the people who are carrying your message, and to some extent the message. When is that last time you knew of a corporation that wasn't a bit nervous about message anarchy?
2. You have to train the grassroots army and keep them accountable. In my eleven years of training PAC and grassroots influencers, I can count on one foot the number who engage in robust accountability with their volunteers. Many just put their head under the covers and hope for the best.
3. It's helpful to have a frustrated audience who feels they only have one of two choices:
McCain or Obama. This doesn't resemble the marketplace at all. There are tons of available options if I choose not to drink Coke. There are tons of other associations I can join, and lots of other political causes I can give to, as well.
4. You have to 'go negative' on all your opposition, and have the majority of people cheering you as you do so. While Obama was able to do this easily, you on the other hand may have a constituency that would revolt if you blamed the state of affairs on your rivals.
5. Can you leverage a sense of embarrassment among your opponents that keeps them from resisting your onslaught? Probably not! Are drinkers of Coke embarrassed when Pepsi launches a new campaign?
6. Are you able to offer your herd a sense of moral purity if they follow you? Some grassroots campaigns can achieve this, but not every message can be swept along with ideological fervor. Can you build an ideological movement around your product? If so, do you know how to build it? (And we aren't referring to online tactics)
7. You're not Barack Obama. You may not even want to be. He has a difficult journey ahead as his campaign greatly elevated expectations. And, even if he doesn't meet expectations, it's hard to kick him out before his term is up. You on the other hand, who has to answer to the public on a day-to-day basis, can get booted at any time. Any IOUs you write in the morning are due that same evening... not in four years.
So before, you plan an Obama-like grassroots campaign to create movement and buzz for your cause, issue or even your product, first answer these questions:
1. Is it feasible?
2. Does it make sense for our organization or company?