Today’s column is written by Will Margiloff, CEO at IgnitionOne.
Whether you’re “with her” or want to “make America great again,” it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the 2016 presidential race is a game-changer.
Not only in the nature of the candidates – one a political outsider, the other the first woman to clinch the nomination of a major party – but also in manner by which those candidates are reaching their audiences.
Where people once sported political buttons and plastered posters on buildings to show their support, today’s social sharing is digital and virtual, not material. Polling is becoming increasingly complicated and expensive, with contact rates on surveys decreasing from 90% in 1997 to 62% in 2012.
That leaves political strategists and marketers with very different avenues for information gathering, and while digital is hardly a new frontier, it is increasingly the most important one.
The Data Behind The Targeting
The “new” rules of political marketing are the same as with all marketing: Do everything you can to deliver the right message to the right person or don’t bother at all.
But these rules are very different than the spray-and-pray mass-market approach of the past. The increased availability and usability of data makes user segmentation into “markets of one” a reality, not a theory.
Data collection to drive one-to-one targeting of potential voters takes into account five main areas of information: voter data, consumer data, geographic data, specialty data and civic transactions. This data is analyzed to understand a target’s turnout propensity and support level, which informs political strategy.
For example, if targeted users display a high propensity to vote – based on voting frequency and consistency in relevant elections – but do not show support for a specific candidate or issue, they’re counted out by the relevant strategists. Likewise, a target who has shown high support but has a sparse voting record also falls short of being considered high-value.
The strategy, based on the propensity-plus-support equation, is then applied to the four basic stages of a campaign: obtaining list registration, persuading, fundraising and inciting action. Action is the most valuable stage; the most passionate, highly qualified target is of no use if they do not turn out to vote.
This is also where geographic data comes into play. Out of the 160 million registered voters in the United States, only 50 million are “consequential,” largely due to location. A voter with a high propensity to turn out, with strong opinions on certain issues in a swing state, is more valuable than a voter with the same propensity and passion in a “safe” state.
However, knowledge of a voter’s state alone is not enough to presume value. Strategists go into more detail through geofencing and mobile targeting to determine specific location down to the county, city and street to determine messaging and voter value.
In swing state Ohio, for example, certain counties and cities vote consistently Republican or Democrat. A voter could initially appear to be high-value due to high turnout propensity, interest in the issues and residence in a swing state.
But geofencing may reveal that he or she lives in a county that overwhelmingly supports one party, so that voter’s support would be drowned out, despite the seemingly “consequential” status. That may translate into targeting to ensure their loyalty, without investing extra time or campaign dollars.
How It’s Playing Out On The 2016 Stage
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are exceptional examples of political targeting at work, in part because they display radically different strategies to reach their intended audiences. Trump has publicly disavowed political audience data, calling it “overrated.”
Clinton, on the other hand, has proceeded with a campaign heavily rooted in data-driven thinking, first- and third-party data and analytics, and even hiring several of Obama’s data and analytics professionals from 2012.
Despite his wariness of data, Trump is highly successful in his marketing because of his talent with earned media. A March report pegged Trump’s free earned media at $2 billion, with no signs of slowing down.
He understands how to capture an audience’s attention. Although not everyone in that audience is his target, he casts a wide enough net in news coverage that those who are highly likely to support him are also highly likely to hear his message. He’s also an extremely active and effective social media presence, with 9.4 million Twitter followers – compared to Clinton’s 7.2 million – and 8.5 million Facebook fans.
Conversely, Clinton’s campaign, like Obama’s places high importance on data. Clinton may not have Trump’s owned-and-earned media aptitude, but she is more deliberate with who she reaches and how, raising the question of whether this more targeted, intentional approach will beat Trump’s broader strokes.
This election will no doubt be one for the ages, partly because the political system is finally redrawing the lines around how to reach audiences and the use of audience segmentation and targeting. All of this leads to an election that will shake up an institution that hasn’t changed much for 200 years.