Ah, to live in a swing state. Needless to say, many of the Search Mojo’ers who live in Virginia have been barraged with mailers, emails, phone calls and TV ads over the past year for today’s election. And we didn’t nearly have it as bad in Virginia as they did in Ohio! NBC News reports that nearly $200 Million was spent on campaign ads in Ohio ALONE. This election will have the highest ad spend in the history of our country, with an estimated total advertising spend of well over $700 million.
As marketers (especially in a swing state), we wondered if that advertising investment couldn’t have been better spent. But perhaps marketing automation (and a few digital marketing tactics) could solve many problems for political campaigns.
The Challenge of Identifying Voter Party Preference
Why identify party preference? That may seem like a silly question, but, in essence, most campaigns are aimed at swaying the independents — the swing voters — to support one party over another. The messages, too, targeted towards the base versus the undecided segment.
In Virginia we don’t register with a particular party, making it a bit more difficult for campaigns to easily identify party preference. But if the campaigns knew the individuals with a strong enough party preference to actually declare that preference, the marketing message to that group would be different than to the independent group.
The Challenge of Frequency and Polling
So if you lived in a swing state during this election, it wasn’t uncommon to receive four or more “robo-calls” per day. Now while the price per call might be small for robo-calls, the frequency of calls can lead to frustration among the very group you’re trying to sway — the independents — who might sway the other way if they are irritated enough. In fact, one of my fellow friends in Virginia claimed today on Facebook: “Based in the volume of calls over the past 90 days, I had to go for Obama the incumbent, since Romney the challenger interrupted my day 87 times to Obama’s 5.”
But Romney wasn’t the only one with a frequency problem. If you did, by chance, follow the Obama campaign, you might have received as many as 2-3 emails per day encouraging you to vote for Obama or donate. Dear Obama campaign: I have a job! I don’t have time to read all of those emails — stop spamming me! Even Jon Stewart joked with the President at his Daily Show appearance about the issue of too many emails. After giving support to a candidate, it’s clearly frustrating to continue to be spammed daily.
Marketing automation can help campaigns track the efficiency of email, perform A|B tests and send different messages to different groups. If I’m emailing a college student for a donation, my message might be that I’m asking him/her to donate tonight’s pizza money to help elect Obama and preserve college tuition aide. If I’m targeting a senior, also on a fixed budget, the message would instead focus on issues that resonate with seniors.
However, I did appreciate the Obama email opt-out page, shown below, which allowed me as a supporter to indicate that I was indeed a supporter. However, this didn’t stop other material from being sent to me in other ways (such as mailings).
The Challenge of Targeting Voters by Age
While there are certain ways to target potential voters by age (visit a college versus a retirement community), it can be difficult to consistently market to a voter by his/her individual preferences and issues. Older voters are often concerned with the status of entitlement programs, such as social security and Medicare, while younger voters such as college students may be concerned about the rising cost of tuition, student loans and funding the Pell Grant. By coupling the Facebook advertising that the candidates have been issuing with retargeting, campaigns can then continue to market to particular groups with messages that resonate with them. Are you a parent? Maybe you care about our National Debt and what it means for your children. Are you a woman? Maybe reproductive rights are important to you. By capturing this data about site visitors, campaigns could focus and speak more clearly to issues that are personal to an individual voter, regardless of the medium used to continue that conversation.
The Challenge of Targeted Mailings
Unlike calls with volunteers or machines, mailings have a very real cost associated with them. In addition to the multiple postcard mailers I received, I also received a 20-page glossy plan from Obama, detailing his plan for the economy. Only one problem: Obama didn’t need to convince me. I was a decided voter already — and decided in his camp. Think of the production and mailing costs associated with a 20-page glossy mailer — not inexpensive. Obama’s time and money would have been better focused on undecided voters who still didn’t understand his plan.
Since I’d already opted in as a supporter (see the email opt out above), there was no need to send me a glossy guide.
Most Important: The Challenge of the “Get Out the Vote” Movement and Identifying Volunteers
It upsets me that many Americans don’t vote. But many don’t vote because they have trouble reaching the polls. In the past, I worked on political campaigns and called seniors and drove them to the polls myself. It’s a common problem for seniors.
If the campaigns can readily identify the senior set through demographic targeting, they know how to reach them faster to offer rides on election day. Democrats in particular often benefit from the “Get Out the Vote” movement.
Additionally, where would campaigns be if they didn’t recruit an army of volunteers to aid in these efforts? Recently, Bruce Springsteen played a free acoustic set to support the Obama campaign at the pavilion near our office. When Tad, a die-hard Springsteen fan, went to pick up a free ticket at the Obama campaign office, he was asked to sign up to volunteer for the campaign in order to receive a ticket. It seemed a little like bribery to me — receive a free ticket to this concert if you help the campaign. But regardless, those records are often paper — often lost or misplaced. Those records, of who offers to volunteer and who does not, are not combined with other records about these potential volunteers and potential supporters.
There’s still much to be done, as I think we’ll all agree, when it comes to campaign finance. But perhaps in the future, if we worked smarter, not harder, and more efficiently instead of pumping money at the problem, we could put that money towards other important initiatives… maybe like this one: