On Tuesday, January 8, the giants of the presidential battle will knock heads in the always important New Hampshire primary, and far beneath the froth of issues and image is a fascinating difference between how two of the Democratic presidential candidates compete online: Hillary Clinton treats her supporters as "customers" and Barack Obama, as "members." When you give money to Clinton's campaign, you get a confirmation. When you give money to Obama's, they automatically create a personalized membership location for you which looks a lot like a Facebook page. Thereafter you log in at my.barackobama.com. Mass customization is not the new thing here - Joe Pine nailed that idea many years back. What Barack's online team understands and Hillary's does not, is that engagement - not just money - is how you win in this new peer-to-peer, attention-scarce, content-overloaded media melee of the Web - and money follows.
On this point, the two sites differ radically. On Obama's I received "points" for creating a profile, making my profile public, logging in, befriending a link in my social network - which all told, puts me at 96,044th place in the my.barackobama.com universe. I can "climb" by engaging more--hosting events, linking to others, raising money and many other forms of participation. To anyone in the MySpace/Facebook generation this type of functionality is expected. In contrast, the Clinton web site gave me an identification like TzQ$, so I could make sure that any donations were tracked back to me - sounding just like old style "frequent purchaser" numbers that everyone from CVS to American Airlines uses.
Why is engagement important? Well, the data on customers shows that the best measure of your brand is not satisfaction - but how many advocates you have. These advocates can sway buyers, or in the case of politics, voters. Firms like REI sports, who have deep involvement of members in their product design, service, and even instruction on use - understand this. The online retailers like Amazon and eBay utilize this natural propensity for involvement to provide everything from user-supplied customer service to new product/service design with eBay getting over sixty percent of its ideas for new products from customers.
In this world where customer attention is becoming more and more precious - as Tom Davenport so eloquently has pointed out - every firm needs to ask itself:
"¢ Am I willing to host an honest conversation about my products and services? "¢ Am I enabling my customer to become "members" ala Obama or am I just transacting, ala Clinton? "¢ Am I plugged into the social network which is already discussing my product or service or is the real conversation outside my view?
So where is your firm? Do you have customers or members?
(This post can also be found at http://conversationstarter.hbsp.com)