Our ability to affect perception lies in our ability to create an impression in that amount of time—generally less than 10 seconds. So how best to measure that impact? Increasingly, and particularly on the Democratic side, we rely on Experiment Informed Programs (EIPs). In EIPs we mail different treatments to a smaller, randomized sample of voters, create a control group that gets no mail and then survey the mail recipients and the control group to find out where we created the most movement. This approach allows us to identify both maximally effective targets and messages—we see what treatment works best with which voters. We can model the most responsive universe, match the appropriate message to that universe and then roll out the right creative to the right targets.
Voters don’t even realize they’ve been a part of a mail experiment, and we measure the reaction we care about the most: a change in vote preference. Sharp mail shops on both sides of the aisle will be offering testing this cycle and it will make great sense for appropriately sized races.
We anticipate more growth among web-based testing in upcoming cycles. In addition to showing mail in online focus groups, and incorporating the qualitative feedback we receive in that forum, firms are testing the potential for using clickthrough rates to measure the appeal of graphics. Online testing offers the potential for faster and less expensive feedback loops, allowing us to test and respond quickly to breaking events.
Innovation in printing technology has allowed for an explosion in personalized mail. Whether it’s lasering the voter’s name on a post-it on the cover of a mail piece, or generating targeted issue-specific content in letters, mail firms are moving away from one-size-fits-all pieces.
One of the most intriguing developments is using mail to drive voters to personalized URLs (PURLs). The Voter Participation Center tested a groundbreaking program, with mail encouraging voters to visit a web address that incorporated its name For example: EdPeavy@govote.com. The site welcomed them (Hello Ed!) and then gave them information on voting, including directions from their home to their polling place, links to candidate websites, rules on voting and even Election Day weather reports. PURLS give campaigns and organizations the opportunity to build web-based communication programs that target their universe one voter at a time.
Potentially, there’s even more to come. With Near Field Communication (NFC) features increasingly available in phones (thanks mainly to those cool commercials of people sharing music just by waving their phones) it is possible now to do mail that would allow NFC-enabled phones to wave over a mail piece and be directed to a website, see a video or donate to the campaign without ever being near a TV or computer. It is still a bit costly but improvements and economies of scale will make it viable for some campaigns in the near future if NFC adoption rates continue to rise.
The potential of individual communication does not obviate the absolute necessity of message discipline. Personalization is a fine way to draw voters into a piece, but the content of the piece must continue to drive a single message. In all forms of voter communication, what we struggle with most is the exploding range of information sources. Breaking through the clutter has never been more difficult or more important. Campaigns that use personalization as a gimmick, rather than a way of reinforcing the key message for that target universe are making a mistake.
The Postal Service
The doomsday prophets predicting the end of political mail inevitably point to the financial difficulties of the postal service as the likely nail in our coffin. But the bottom line is that short of a zombie apocalypse, we will always have mail delivery service in this country. The potential loss of Saturday delivery is a negligible threat: All mail programs rely on repetition, and it’s unlikely to matter if the final piece of a 10-piece program is delivered on the Friday or the Saturday before the election.
Of greater concern is the possibility of significant consolidation of shipping centers. Closing outlying shipping centers will potentially raise shipping rates for campaigns, without necessarily achieving the cost savings the postal service is looking for. While fixes clearly need to be made, nothing suggests the postal service will make changes that would dramatically interfere with the regular delivery of mail.
In sum, the challenges in communicating a message to voters have never been steeper. Shows are filtered through Hulu, DVRs and On- Demand programming. Radio comes across SiriusXM, Pandora and an endless number of other online stations. Caller ID and cell-only usage is limiting phone access.
Still, everyone has just one mailbox. And with better targeting and eye-catching creative, we’re still reaching them there.