I teach marketing strategy at the Drucker School of Management, a graduate only School that offers MBAs and Executive MBAs. I witnessed first hand the passion many of my students showed toward Obama, his campaign and his election to President. Many of my students volunteered during the campaign and participated in the grass roots marketing approach used by Obama's team.
The day after the election of President Obama, I recall a heated discussion in one of my classes. I boldly walked into class and asked my students to link the concept of customer (dis)satisfaction to the election of Obama and tell me what is likely to be the greatest danger Obama faces going forward.
The discussion was heated mostly because of the celebratory mood among many of my students and perhaps because of a lack of willingness to accept that things might not go well for President Obama. After all, irrespective of your personal political affiliation, there was much to note about the election of President Obama. Aside from the historic significance of his election, as a marketer I was intrigued by the way in which Obama reached out to the people with the compelling message of hope, used social media to rally the masses, and urged people to mobilize and make a difference to the future of the United States. As President Obama stated in the opening lines of his Presidential acceptance speech:
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
But to me, the period within which President Obama was elected also represented a period of great contradiction: on the one hand Obama made people feel hopeful; on the other hand, the speed and severity with which the recession took hold and a fear of the unknown made people feel hopeless. So, we were left with an unusual situation in which hopefulness and hopelessness were finding a way to co-exist. (Incidentally, this is what motivated me to write by book, Marketing Through Turbulent Times to address the contradiction between hopefulness and hopelessness against the backdrop of Obama's election and the recession and think about what this means for business leaders and marketers.)
The answer to my question of what could go wrong is linked to the basic principles of customer satisfaction. Put simply, when there is a gap between expectations and delivery, people are dissatisfied. To minimize dissatisfaction means to close the gap by either lowering peoples' expectations or improving delivery.
Without even taking into account specific changes President Obama has made or is trying to make, the expectations placed on Obama were colossal. To illustrate, here are some quotes from the media at the time Obama was elected, ..."[although Obama] must tackle two wars, a calamitous recession and the unexpected ... [y]et by a three-to-one majority, American's are more optimistic with him in charge" (The Economist, January 24, 2009, p. 34). Or in a poll published in Newsweek on January 26, 2009 (p. 43), 66% said they were very/somewhat optimistic that the new administration would be able to improve the way things are going in the country and 71% were confident Obama would successfully turn the economy around.
With so much hope placed on what President Obama can achieve during his term as President, the chance of Obama living up to expectations will always be slim. The lessons of marketing apply to Obama just as they do to Procter & Gamble, Exxon Mobil, Mattel or Apple - if the goal is to get people to remain loyal, repurchase (i.e., vote again) and be advocates for your brand by recommending the brand to friends, then the perceived gap between expectations and delivery needs to be closed.
Jenny Darroch is on the faculty at the Drucker School at Claremont Graduate University. She is an expert on marketing strategies that generate growth. See www.MarketingThroughTurbulentTimes.com