Technology has the power to dramatically alter the shape and substance of campaigns by helping organizers gain insight into voters’ minds, enabling them to organize and leverage that intelligence into other platforms, maximizing its benefit.
Understanding what will resonate, motivate, and activate individual voters is the constant mission of any campaign, and technological innovation makes that increasingly possible.
At the same time, it’s important for campaigns to not overlook the value of the human connection. Technology gives us a granular view of voters and their intentions, and these insights must be constantly leveraged to tell stories that resonate with individuals and cement emotional connections.
In 2014, understanding the complexity of the individual, while keeping a constant pulse on the campaign environment, should be a top priority for political professionals. Here are some of the trends campaigns need to consider over the coming year:
The Targeting Revolution
While traditional polling and research data was agnostic and conducted solely to define message and direction, that same research done online—using large data sets and sample pools—now provides a very real targeting benefit.
Campaigns are no longer limited by interest and behavioral categories; they can now target direct segments of the population to the nth degree via cookie targeting. By combining research data and matching it directly to campaign data sets, campaigns can market to the individual level on hundreds of different data points. This increases efficiency and relevancy, resulting in more impactful outreach.
Research and Micropolling
Campaigns must engage in online micropolling. Opinion strategists and polling experts might say that data quality is too low or may not be consistent across mediums, but our view is that when phone surveys in excess of 10 minutes receive a response rate of less than 10 percent, there is already a built-in bias.
Phone surveying will continue to play an integral role in any campaign, but it shouldn’t be the only polling mechanism in use. Even if your campaign includes mobile phones in surveys, you’re still missing large segments of the population. Until traditional polling catches up with the data online surveying provides via “profiles” of the respondents, then we think the reliability of the poll is in question.
Offline Data Integration
Research suggests that in-person conversations—be it the candidate talking to a group of people outside a post office or a volunteer who knocks on a voter’s door—still bring the most powerful messages home to likely voters. The problem lies in incorporating that offline data into complex and massive Hadoop or Mango databases on cloud servers. Without this data, a campaign could waste valuable dollars on voters who are either 100 percent in their corner or who ran the volunteer at the door of with a broom.
Voter ID is one of the hardest things to get right on campaigns, but seemingly the most important, because without knowing who you are talking to, delivering the correct message is a guess at best.
Context and Delivery of Messages
Gone are the days of running a single TV spot across all channels. Gone are the days of message testing to find the perfect two-sentence talking point to use across direct mail, TV and on the stump. A voter who bases their voting habits on a candidate’s position on gun control might also care about tax reform. Both of those messages may resonate with the voter, but gun control could be the issue they are truly actionable on.
Getting the correct message through the correct channel is increasingly important, and data collected from microtargeting, polling and measurement will make this process easier. Context and relevancy is key, so campaigns must speak to voters in a granular way through mediums that allow for specific action.
Personalized and relevant content is without a doubt the next step in campaign outreach, and other than shaking hands, no medium fits that personal touch better than video. Many campaigns nailed this concept in the last cycle, but many more failed. Some say the 30-second TV spot is dead, but only when you look at the content does it make sense. Viewers are happy to interact with content that’s engaging, has a real story and delivers a personal message to make an emotional connection.
Campaigns and vendors alike are aiming to keep up with Organizing for Action’s leap in tech implementation as they bring their own grassroots advocacy platforms to market. Platforms that provide easy to use, commonplace tools that volunteers and campaign staff can employ, in or out of the campaign office, will be the ones to win over the market.
Look for tools that are connected to the overall “campaign management” database—tools that match data points from the field with data points from other sources to give a clear picture of how each voter views the candidate and election, all while making the job of collecting that data easier. Grassroots is also a key part of fundraising. Campaigns need to leverage tools that allow individuals to engage and contribute in an easier and more frequent way.
Dashboards for Data Organization
No campaign manager has time to write hundreds of SQL queries to determine the overall opinion of voters in Fayette County on a balanced budget amendment—not to mention the fact that most campaign managers don’t even know how to write SQL queries. Enter the so called “dashboard.”
There are several systems on the market that organize data effectively. Campaign managers will need to be able to see how a debate, online campaign, or a TV spot is affecting that campaign’s overall strategy in comparison to other efforts. Those snapshots lead to more efficient and actionable data, thereby more effective campaigns.
There are great tools that do nearly everything your campaign will need while saving on development costs and implementation. But sometimes a campaign must invest in something more specific that will work better than the of-the-shelf tool. Sometimes that additional cost to develop a unique, streamlined, efficient tool your campaign or organization needs is a worthwhile investment. Developers and development shops are commonplace these days, and some campaigns are even bringing a developer in-house to help create the most customized tools for the task.
Shannon Chatlos is a managing partner at SalientMG. Jack Barger is digital practice lead at SalientMG.