The 2014 cycle will not represent a breakout year for any one specific new emerging tactic, tool, or technique in digital for political campaigns. Don’t be disappointed, but 2014 will not be adorned with a title like, “The Twitter Election” or “The Social Media Campaign.””
This next election will, and should, more accurately resemble the launch of a software upgrade rather than a flashy new phone.
Here’s why: The data exists, the advertising platforms exist, the social channels exist, and the creative drivers exist. But how these components work together, in harmony, to create more engaging and persuasive digital messaging, is still being developed.
There will definitely be new tools and tactics employed this cycle to carve out victories in the digital space. But much of what will give winning campaigns the edge will be drawn from tech-savvy consultants who know how to win through advertising and message delivery. Leading up to the next election, the leaders in the digital field will be honing and optimizing digital targeting through better methods of data integration.
Big data is the soup du jour; however, it’s still in its infancy with regard to mass use by either party. It more resembles the ingredients than the actual soup. The Obama team had more than 100 operatives working with their data to allow them to make more informed decisions. Still, by their own admission, they largely operated by the seat of their pants when it came to crunching, honing, and optimizing digital advertising.
The problem isn’t the ability to gather data, which is everywhere and accessible. The challenge for the major parties, large campaigns, and small, is the ability to maximize output from data input. The standard for data processing has not been truly established on either side, and less so on down-ballot races. This is the challenge for digital operatives heading into 2014.
What’s already underway is an intra and inter-party arms race to develop the most functional software made available to campaigns that can not only harness large volumes of varying data points, but more importantly, be able to provide persuadable voter target segments, or individual pools, for digital and media advertising. Related to the data arms race is the emerging power of digital advertising, targeting, and optimization.
In 2014, the top consultants will reward their clients with lower than ever costs per actions, clickthrough rates, and video views.
My firm, CRAFT, recently launched an edgy digital video campaign that garnered our client $.05 per view on YouTube. No one can argue that a guaranteed view at $.05 is a heck of a lot cheaper than a $.42 mail piece that guarantees no impression and contains no link to action.
Among other new developments, agencies are getting into online buying in a more direct way via programmatic buying. This is just taking control of your own buy through an online dashboard interface. It will differentiate campaigns in the online buying space against competitors.
Programmatic buying is also a key into several different buying tactics that don’t get much ink in politics, but are industry standard in retail and PR. Real Time Bidding (bidding for individual impressions to individual people across exchanges), buying against data segments (widely talked about, but poorly understood in political circles), and remarketing (more widely used, but usually not to good effect) are all tactics that become more accessible through programmatic buying.
Another area advertisers are beginning to exploit is what we call attribution. It’s the science of understanding all the different ways a person interacts with a campaign before they take an action. Politics has long been obsessed with last-click attribution, since no has ever bothered to look past the point of direct response. However, what the data shows and what big brands already know is that people see and interact with brands and messages many times before they actually make a purchase or take an action.
The rest of the advertising involved is vital to the process, but heretofore hasn’t been credited or effectively measured. The tools to measure this whole universe of interaction are now available. Optimizing campaigns across that engagement funnel is what’s really going to be defining success in the coming election for any race that can afford to sustain online advertising. Understanding which advertising tactics that live higher in the funnel help boost metrics for last click actions at the bottom of the funnel is the key.
Well-rounded campaigns should be running targeting with search, social, contextual, behavioral, attitudinal, voter data, and of course remarketing, both from site pixels and to existing supporter universes from online and offline lists.
Long gone are the days when the digital consultant was simply the guy who made your website. The age of high impact digital advertising practices is at hand. Aside from strong creative, these efforts require focused attention to performance metrics. Digital experts who understand how to deliver the return on investment for delivering messages to segmented, persuadable audiences will be at the top of the food chain after November of 2014.
Unfortunately, data crunching and digital advertising optimization isn’t as sexy as simply being better at social. It’s a silent practice, breeding swift currents below what appears to most as still water. Sometimes you really don’t need the flashy new iPhone or Galaxy. Sometimes an industry just needs a software upgrade.
Maybe 2014 will earn a moniker. Let’s call it the “Software Upgrade Election.””
Brian Donahue is a founder and partner at CRAFT Media Digital.