Over the past few months, I attended both the Campaigns and Elections’ Reed Awards™ and the American Association of Political Consultants’ Pollie Awards™. At these two annual conferences, I spoke with numerous people, both informally and through a listening session, about what happened during the 2016 election cycle.
A recurring theme: the 2016 election cycle was unlike any other in modern campaign history, breaking rules left and right and turning conventional campaign wisdom on its head.
What didn’t change, however, is the value of mail. It was an integral part of the media mix for campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels.
As I look back, here are the five main takeaways that all campaigns should incorporate in their planning for the next cycle:
1. Targeted media reigns and is here to stay. In this digital age, the ability to reach a specific voter audience that might already have an interest in your candidate, campaign or issue rather than just blanketing your message to an unknown broad swath of voters allows you to be smarter and more adaptable in your spending.
According to Borrell Associates’ 2016 political advertising analysis, “What Happened to Political Advertising in 2016 (and Forever),” targetable media, including digital, cable and direct mail, “gained $1.7 billion over 2012 spending levels while radio, TV and newspapers lost nearly $1.3 billion”.
2. There’s no one-size-fits-all winning formula for voter contact. Pew Research Center released a report in February 2016, which found that about nine in ten Americans learned about the presidential election in a given week from at least one source type, and nearly half of the respondents learned about the race from 5 or more source types, ranging from cable and local television to social media to radio to campaign emails or websites.
There is no one-size-fits-all equation when it comes to a winning campaign media mix.
During this cycle, I saw campaigns experimenting with direct mail both to micro-target and test voter modeling. Also, to connect tangible direct mail to the digital world, campaigns used QR codes on direct mail, which drove voters to social media platforms and campaign websites where they could explore messages, specific issues and calls to action.
3. Voters with different demographics respond to mail differently — but agree that it’s important. In August of last year, the United States Postal Service® conducted a survey on the role of political mail. What we found out:
- Millennials: 82% of Millennials surveyed found political mail “important” for state elections and 80% for local ones, more so than with national races (76%).
- Swing voters: 58% of swing voters reported mail as “very or somewhat helpful” in informing compared with other political advertising such as television (55%), digital ads (48%) and email (46%).
- Generation X (ages 36 to 51): 45% of Generation Xers surveyed ranked mail as the most preferred political ad format (better than print, 32%, and online, 22%).
- Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 71): 46% of Baby Boomers surveyed ranked mail as the most preferred political ad format (compared with print ads, 39%, and online, 14%).
4. Creativity and innovation matter— now more than ever. Share Mail™, audio mail, video mail and unrippable paper were just some of the ways that direct mail pieces grabbed voters’ attention. Attention spans are declining, so being creative may be the key to holding someone’s attention long enough to get your message across and turn them into an advocate.
5. Mail is still the only campaign channel with 100 percent voter reach since you have to have a mailing address to register to vote. This cycle yet again reinforced political mail as a tangible way to educate and motivate voters. Unlike any other form of media or advertising, the “Mail Moment” is unique. Americans go to their mailboxes and engage with the pieces they hold in their hands. Unlike other media, which generally bring the message to the voter, direct mail brings the voter to your message.
At the Postal Service, we are listening and learning from your experiences during the last cycle to become an even stronger partner in the electoral process.