What Small Business Owner's Can Learn from Obama's Campaign

Monday, February 25, 2008

Don't worry, this isn't a political post! We're not going to go there. I just wanted to share a few observations on some things Obama's campaign does really well and how small business owners can learn from those.

One area that Obama's campaign has been head and shoulders above every other candidate in is marketing. The New York Times recently ran an article comparing Obama to a Mac and Hillary to a PC. To be fair, it tried to balance out the style issues by pointing out that Macs are a niche market. The wedding industry however is also a niche market and a creative market as well. So, this begs the question - which are you? How does everything you present - from tangible materials to your intangible personality - come across?

The next aspect I observed was how Obama and his campaign team treat supporters. All of the social networks that Obama is a part of are listed on his website. Hillary's are listed on hers as well. In a little experiment, I added Obama to the Blue Orchid Designs contact lists on Twitter and Flickr - two sites where you can add someone without them ever having to add you in return (unlike Myspace or Facebook). Within a matter of hours, Obama had added me to his contact list as well. Granted, it wasn't actually him who added me, but one of the staffers who works for his campaign. Regardless, this is super smart marketing on their part because they are actively letting people know that they value them in return. They are validating their importance as people.

In contrast, Hillary's flickr page has zero contacts added. Yes, she is a high-profile politician running for president of the United States. Yes, one could argue that she has better things to do than have her campaign volunteers keep their social networking lists updated with the people who have added her. But, whether she intends to or not, that is also exactly what she is portraying - that she has better things to do and that the people who support her aren't worth 60 seconds (less actually) of her campaign's time. I don't know if silly little things like a Twitter list are going to make a difference in who gets the nod for the democratic nomination, but in general, it is the way we handle the little things in life that reflect who we are and what we value.

So how does this relate to you? Well, the wedding industry is primarily a service industry. A lot of what vendors offer, especially wedding planners, is intangible. This industry is also all about people. How good are you at letting people know they are important and that they matter? When people comment on your blog do you comment in reply? If they fave you on Technorati, do you return the favor? When you meet with them do you take a break from checking your blackberry and give them your full attention? Or are you, unwittingly perhaps, projecting the image that you are too important for them, but so awesome that they should still work with you and give you their time?

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect at this. I have unanswered emails from planners in my inbox with questions about different aspects of the business and I will be starting a FAQ's section here to answer them. I haven't made time to comment on everyone's blog who comments here, but it is on my list of goals for improvement.

I will also be the first to admit that when someone whom I greatly admire comments on my blog or emails me it is incredibly validating. Last year I received a personal email from a senior editor of a well-known, national wedding magazine who told me that she had spent way too much time at work reading my blog and that she was addicted. I won't lie - that email totally made my month. It probably only took her a few minutes to send that note, and she has probably since forgotten about it, but it has encouraged me so much to keep putting energy into this blog, especially since it is not the bread and butter portion of my business. I also want to point out that it wasn't an advertising ploy on her part - she didn't ask for anything from me and she didn't try to sell me on anything when I sent a note of thanks. Her sentiments were genuine, and as I am the type of person who is pretty astute at seeing through smoke and mirrors and who can't stand fake compliments, I really appreciated that.

So this brings us back to the main point: how good and/or consistent are you at encouraging and validating others? When people come in contact with your business, in any form, what attitude do they encounter? How can you make their experience more positive, even in small ways? There is a popular quote that says "it is lonely along the extra mile". In an over-saturated market it is important to differentiate your company from the masses - and caring for and about people is the best way to go the extra mile.

{originally posted on February 16, 2008}

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