How Political Campaigns Are Putting People Data To Work

chrisoharapolitics"AdExchanger Politics" is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.

Today’s column is written by Chris O’Hara, vice president of strategic accounts at Krux.

We have all heard about the Democratic Party’s skill with data, and there is no doubt the Obama campaign’s masterful use of first-party registration data to drive online engagement, raise funds and influence political newbies helped put him over the line.

Four years later, the dynamics are mostly similar, but we have moved into a world where mobile is dominant, more young new voters are highly engaged and the standard segmentation – at least on the Republican side – might as well be thrown out the window.

In other words, everyone is getting influenced on their mobile phone, especially through news and social channels. There are a ton more mobile-first, new voters out there, and nobody is really sure which voters make up this weird new Trump segment.

To get a handle on this, political advertisers need to properly onboard and analyze their data to identify who they should target, where they live and what they like.

Understand Voter Identity

In politics, a strong “ground game” is key. That means real, old-school retail politics, such as knocking on doors and getting voters in specific precincts out on Election Day. All campaigns have the voter rolls and can do their fill of direct mail, robocalls and door knocking.

But how to influence voters well before Election Day who are tethered to their devices all day and night? It requires a digital strategy that can reach voters across the addressable channels they are on, including display, video, mobile and email. This strategy should leverage an identity graph to ensure the right messaging is hitting the same voter – at the right cadence.

Maybe “Joe the Firefighter,” a disaffected moderate Democrat who has had it with the Clintons, visited the Donald’s website and is ready to “Make America great again.” Before cross-device capabilities were strong, you could only retarget Joe the next time you saw his cookie online.

Today, Joe can get an equity message reinforced on display (“Make America great again!”), a mobile “nudge” to take action when we see Joe on his tablet at night (“Donate now!”) and follow up with an email a few days before the big rally (“Come see the Donald at the Civic Center!”).

Beyond this capability is the incredibly important task of laddering up individual identity into householding, so we can understand the composition of Joe’s family, since households often vote together and contain more than one registered voter.

Nail Geographic Targeting by County and District

Since “all politics is local,” it follows that all digital advertising should be locally targeted. This is table stakes for digital providers that work with campaigns, and targeting down to the ZIP+4 level has brought a level of precision to district-level outreach that approaches direct mail.

But direct mail (household targeting) is the crown jewel and digital is still trying to cross that divide, but is held back by a fragmented ecosystem of identity and, more importantly, privacy considerations.

This has always been a key consideration, given the fact that a small percentage of key districts can flip the presidency to one party or another.

Affiliation Modeling Through Behavior

Sometimes getting an understanding of someone’s party affiliation is super obvious, such as “liking” a specific candidate on social media. But, sometimes, a user’s affinity has to be derived through attributes derived through his or her behavior and the context of content consumed over time.

Data management platforms are bringing more precision to this type of modeling. Functionality, such as algorithmic segmentation, is helping digital analysts go beyond the basics. It’s fairly easy to correlate two or three attributes, such as income and gender, to estimate party affiliation. In this cycle, for example, we have seen a strong bias toward Trump from lower-income males with less than a college degree.

However, it’s hard for humans to correlate eight or more distinct attributes. Maybe those lower-education, low-income, rural males who love NASCAR actually lean toward Bernie Sanders in certain districts. Letting the machines crunch the numbers can give digital campaign managers an unseen advantage, and that capability has just now become available at scale.

"In 2016, relying on TV advertising to sway voters is no longer a solid campaign tactic,” JC Medici, Rocket Fuel's national director of politics and advocacy, told me via email. "To secure the White House in November, candidates must now add a strong digital media strategy by utilizing best-in-class AI, correlated with strong voter and propensity data assets to ensure they are delivering ads to the right voter, on the right screen, at the right time."

Social Affinity

One of the hot new areas for political campaign targeting is social affinity, the idea that there is a mutual affinity that can be measured between interests.

Yes, when someone “likes” Hillary, you have an obvious target. But, how about those folks who haven’t stated an obvious choice? Maybe 80% of Hillary fans also liked cat shelters, yellow dresses and Chris Rock.

When strong correlations between deterministic social behavior are shown, it becomes fairly easy to leverage that data for targeting – and make informed choices regarding media. People who liked Hillary also like certain TV shows, actors, causes and websites. Campaign managers can leverage data from Affinity Answers, Affinio and other companies to understand these relationships and exploit them to build support for candidates, while leveraging the ability to geotarget at very granular levels on Facebook.

The Free State Project, an organization committed to getting 20,000 “liberty-loving” people to move to New Hampshire and work toward limited government, just reached its goal – talk about a tough conversion. President Carla Gericke credits the use of data-driven targeting on Facebook for the achievement.

Speaking of social, it is also highly important to get the context right.

“Programmatic has introduced two new challenges: bots (who don’t vote) and brand safety,” Trust Metrics CRO Marc Goldberg told me. “In the age of immediate and shocking news, it has become more important that a political ad does not end up next to porn, hate or issues that are contradictory to the politician’s beliefs. One screen shot and bam, you are on Twitter.”

Onboarding And Offboarding 

Perhaps the most critical functionality for digital political campaigns continues to be the ability to “onboard” offline data, such as phone numbers, email addresses and party affiliation, and match it to an online ID for targeting purposes. This is essentially table stakes, considering the years of political investment in collecting offline records for phone banks and direct mail campaigns.

Previously, the onboarding of such data was limited to associating it with an active cookie for retargeting use. But with the emergence of real cross-channel device graphs, this data can now be tied to a universal consumer ID that is persistent and collects attributes over time.

Simply put, that onboarded email – now a UID – can be mapped to a number of identities, including Apple and Android mobile identifiers, third-party IDs from Experian and the like and device IDs from Roku and other OTT devices. In other words, the device graph enables that email to be associated with the voter’s omnichannel footprint, giving campaigns the ability to sequentially target messages, map creative to execution channels and truly understand attribution.

What’s even more exciting is the idea of offboarding some digital data back into the CRM. How valuable would it be to know that a potential voter watched an entire YouTube video on a candidate after being reached by the phone bank? Certain types of behavioral data, depending on compliance with privacy policies, can be brought back into the CRM to impact the effectiveness of offline voter outreach.

It is fair to say that 2016 is the most exciting campaign season we’ve had in a generation – and it’s only the primary season. As data-driven marketers, we will see campaigns push the limit in applying big marketing dollars to digital channels, trying to unlock new, mobile-first millennial voters, while persuading independents through more addressable advertising then ever.

It’s a great time to be a data-driven marketer.

Follow Chris O'Hara (@chrisohara) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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