As we wrap up 2016, let’s review some of the cool trends that updated and upgraded campaigns across the country this year.
Every one of these is applicable to the entire industry of political consulting and we hope they continue:
1. BRANDS MATTER(ING)
Trump v. Clinton was ultimately a battle of competing brands and superior positioning played a huge role in President-Elect Trump’s win. We don’t really talk tons about branding in campaigns, but we should and this election opens the door a crack to specialist firms like Deb Gabor’s Sol Marketing, for instance, to help campaigns develop sophisticated Brand Bibles and then police those brands, during the course of a campaign – helping teams avoid intellectual inconsistencies that confuse voters and interrupt momentum.
2. FLAT(ISH) ORG STRUCTURES
A second lesson from Team Trump is that he created a flatter organization and it helped him avoid internal gridlock. We heard all year that his staff levels paled in comparison to Clinton’s and they did – and it worked better. We’ve all read about Clinton’s bureaucracy actually hurting her campaign in Michigan and elsewhere by failing to capitalize on offers of help. Trump, by contrast, pivoted resources where needed and when. It’s been decades since the basic structure of the campaign organization has been challenged. While corporate America has bypassed old top down, triangle graphic-centered, hierarchies, political campaigns have been stuck in the mud—until now. Trump knows flatter is better.
3. PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT
Team Ted Cruz, led by campaign manager Jeff Roe of Axiom Strategies really pushed the benefits of being sensitive to individual personality types. Internally, Team Cruz was built with the help of Kansas City-based Culture Index Inc., a personality assessment tool that helps companies create high functioning teams. Externally, Roe leveraged Cambridge Analytica to model voters’ temperaments and leveraged that knowledge by delivering appeals, mostly in the written word, built to fit personality archetypes. It’s not just what voters feel, it’s how they feel it and not just what you say, but how you say it that matters.
What’s next? Weaponizing those data and bringing them to bear across all ad channels, including in every one-on-one conversation with voters. Every canvasser will be able leverage knowledge, not just through script changes read off a screen, but through training.
4. A (NEAR) DEATH EXPERIENCE FOR POLLING
Not really for polling per se, but certainly the traditional “benchmark” survey that precedes most legit, big budget campaigns. The trend is away from expensive, one-time surveys and toward many smaller, “in the field, all the time” surveys. Analytics are slowly replacing benchmarks in delivering issue preference predictions by voter. The private sector made this move some time ago, shifting resources away from one-and-done market research and huge product roll-outs. Companies like GE have hired new-production-line gurus like Jay Rogers, CEO at Local Motors, to produce small lots in response to demand from Kickstarter. They’re listening to their customers all the time and focusing resources where the market demands. The political world is headed that way now too.
5. MORE AUTHENTIC AUTHENTICITY
Sophisticated consumers are driving the need for greater authenticity in campaign communications. Voters are calling “bullshit” on veneered social media content, created by teams in cities far, far away. Digital and field firms are now working together to create highly localized, 100% genuine content, created within a locality for a locality. Field teams are more highly trained and are becoming great social media content generators as they also gather data for other campaign uses and build relationships with voters.
6. FARM FIRST & WIN
It’s an old saying adapted for politics, but the era of “she (or he) who farms first wins” is upon us. Data capture teams made up of highly sophisticated face-to-face and phone interviewers and analytics crews are joining campaign teams earlier because they’re providing the critical insights required for modern campaigns to plan and budget.
7. MOVIES & MUSICALS
Political consultants came to grips with the fact that 1. we’re living in an “attention economy,” and 2. we’re competing against private sector heavy weights for eye balls. This has forced campaigners to think broadly about how to gain attention; whether it’s yuge rallies, serious investment in longer format videos that can rock public opinion like the film Clinton Cash that got over three million views. Or in leveraging a cultural phenom like “Hamilton: The Musical,” to give its creator and actors a global stage from which to propel their political message, political consultants have had to think creatively this year.
8. ALIGNING EFFORT & OUTCOME
Entrepreneur David Burrell at Revily.com talks a lot about this. In the private sector, we’ve more successfully linked advertising and marketing investment with predictable, desired behaviors among target customer populations. Not so much in politics. Until now. Burrell’s firm is taking the desired predictability we enjoy from campaigns in the digital space and expanding that “If we spend X dollars on Y channel, then these opinions change to Z” certainty into all channels of political communication.
9. TECH THAT WORKS
It’s typical of scrutiny that it’s generally only applied to shit that breaks and not to shit that doesn’t. This year, one of the best trends is that the tech worked. We worked a ton with walk apps i360 and Bridgetree and both performed in crunch time.
10. IE GROUPS DO GROUND GAME
As grassroots nerds, one trend we loved was the expanded role paid field operations played as IE groups added it to their campaign repertoires. Frankly, paid ground had a bad name on the GOP side coming into 2016. But massive improvements in management and accountability and our own firm’s demonstrated ability to identify fraud in near-real time and delete bad actors in fewer than 45 minutes changed the game. Fraud in our own biggest program was kept below .15%. That’s standard-setting.
Those are ten trends we saw. What about you? Email Chris@StampedeConsulting.com or hit me up on Twitter @ChrisTurnerCEO and share what you think was cool and cutting edge.
Chris Turner serves as CEO of StampedeConsulting.com, a Republican grassroots firm best known for its military veteran workforce and for running highly advanced door-to-door voter ID, GOTV, Persuasion, or other specialized programs.