It was the election of online networking, robocalls, and the presidential Blackberry.
The 2008 election has forever changed political campaign management, but the implications go far beyond politics. There are important lessons that the Fortune 500 marketing manager and the small business owner can use to generate customers in a tough economy.
Lesson No. 1: Digital, social, and mobile media are coming of age.
Anyone who hasn't taken new media seriously just got a rude wake up call. Obama's campaign used new media as a major tool to recruit and activate volunteers, raise millions of dollars, and respond to attacks from opponents.
Meanwhile, many businesses have become adept at using new media to advertise their products and services, but many aren't keeping pace - especially small businesses, who often struggle to grasp search engine basics, much less social networking.
But in 2009, a growing number of consumers will have access to information right in their pockets. And small businesses cannot overlook digital media if they want to be competitive with larger chains and national brands.
Lesson No. 2: Digital's cool, but it doesn't rule.
While digital played its biggest role ever in a political campaign, no single medium was most effective at shaping opinions about the candidates.
Some may be forecasting the imminent death of print and broadcast media, but they aren't disappearing anytime soon. The political campaigns did not shy away from the tried and true; the 30-second television ad, the direct mail flyer, yard signs, bumper stickers are alive and well.
In the future of advertising, traditional media and new media will work together. Those that envision the demise of newspapers, Yellow Pages, and broadcast TV and radio don't get it - it's not a question of either/or but of which combination of tactics can best serve a business or product.
Lesson No. 3: Focus on local.
Political campaigns have always used local operations to get the word out. But Obama's roots as a "community organizer" took the idea of local to next level. His national campaign was supported by a fleet of feet on the street with strong community ties. They knew the demographics and mindset, and used that knowledge to launch effective local campaigns.
Businesses should take a page from that playbook. They should ask, how will local consumers find and learn about you?
"Local search" has become a hot buzz word in the marketing community - and for good reason. Today it's all about making sure those consumers on the ground who are "ready-to-buy" hear good things about you and can find you.
With those lessons in mind, you'll see the advertising industry innovate new tools to take advantage of digital while sharpening traditional tactics that still work.
In my industry, we're diversifying and improving our Web and mobile applications, especially to help our small business clients who need to compete better here. We're also working our network of local sales teams to tap into the community knowledge.
And we'll continue to learn from the marketplace. When Obama takes office on Jan. 20, a new age marketing machine moves into the White House - and that should provide for more valuable lessons in the years ahead.
Neg Norton is the president of the Yellow Pages Association.
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