Since 2014 NGP VAN has been building out its innovation platform, which serves as a developer toolkit for third-party vendor integrations. The platform has allowed new classes of political campaigns to activate its voter database, said NGP VAN president and CEO Stuart Trevelyan.
DemocraticAds.com takes three lists – a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) audience, a persuasion audience and likely voters – and lets candidates advertise to those lists in their districts, segmented by age, gender, voting history or previous campaign outreach.
The audience-targeting ability lets candidates atomize the “household,” an advertising unit that was once the most precise available.
“When we’re doing our field work it’s pretty easy to see that there are tons of split households,” Jacobs said. “We’ll see ‘Republican households’ but then lots of individual women or there’s a person in their early twenties who’s living there you want to pick out.”
Republicans have similar CRM-style data players, but haven’t yet replicated NGP VAN’s counterpart within its campaign ecosystem.
“Because RNC tools are pretty poor and unconsolidated, you see a lot of candidates splintering off to use other solutions,” Trevelyan said.
Some of the most prominent conservative technology firms, like the i360 data firm within the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partner super PAC, aren’t working with the presidential campaign this year. The conservative ecosystem generally is more fragmented and competitive where Democrats are cooperative.
Having a shared Democratic CRM “opens this technology up to so many campaigns and advocacy groups that aren’t working with an analytics shop or building their own models,” said DSPolitical CTO Mark Jablonowski.
It underscores how Democrats have differentiated from Republicans by fostering a system that is both idealistic and profitable, Jablonowski said.
“It makes it worth our while to take a $500 campaign because we don’t have to spend any time on the nuts and bolts of it,” he said.
Facebook has successfully pitched itself as a kind of agnostic, one-stop shop for efficient political targeting. But Facebook targeting is based on interest so it’s less precise than political data, Jacobs said. Facebook also relies on general engagement, which can be trollish.
“If you post something about gun control or some women’s issues you’re going to get flooded with responses, but let’s just say they’ll be unpositive,” Jacobs said, bursting into laughter.
Candidates can make sophisticated targeting lists within NGP VAN, but it’s historically been applied only through addressable channels, such as direct mail, canvassing and phone-banking.
“The innovation platform makes that kind of precision available in new channels we don’t own solutions for,” Trevelyan said.
For example, NGP VAN doesn’t offer its own tech in text messaging and mobile chat applications so it uses a third party called Hustle. The venture-backed, nonpartisan startup helps advocacy groups, event companies and political campaigns manage their mobile communications.
“Since organizing is our core competency, it’s really no surprise that most of our clients are on the liberal and Dem side,” said Hustle CEO Roddy Lindsay. “They’re just a lot more interested in this.”