Calling all channels: The multi-channel race for the presidency in 2016
Which channels should candidates use to succeed in this year's election? Columnist Lewis Gersh explains why direct mail targeted based upon digital signals could be a win for both political campaign managers and marketers.
The 2016 presidential election is the first time since the explosion of social media that there is no incumbent. Both major parties are fielding a fresh slate of candidates. This, in turn, has led to enormous investment in data-driven digital and social media marketing.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, a strong contender, as we all know, is a big proponent of this new form of outreach. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in just 12 months, the country has collectively spent more than 1,284 years reading about “The Donald” on social media, equivalent to $380 million in ad spend. It’s a long way from Howard Dean being lauded as the first national candidate to successfully leverage the web and email for small contributors.
In contrast, robocalls and direct mail are used to target voter roll databases and annoy and trick potential voters, and political TV ad spending will top $4.4 billion for federal races this year, up from $3.8 billion in 2012, Kantar’s Campaign Media and Analysis Group told NPR.
But relative to the amount of money spent on traditional channels, many voters feel that the TV ads are not quite hitting the mark in comparison to digital advertising, which begs the question — what should candidates do to succeed in such a digitally focused election?
The social candidate (by the numbers)
Social media’s influence in this presidential election is stronger than it has ever been, with a third of 18- to 29-year-olds using social channels to learn new things about politics. With the explosion of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, more and more people are turning to their mobile devices to get their “news” soundbites, rather than traditional media like newspapers and magazines.
Because of this, candidates have discovered the quickest way to make news is to put out a statement or comment in a social media post. The goal is to drive a stronger shift in a person’s belief, and their activity, to which they can retarget.
Facebook boasts 1.65 billion monthly active users, up more than 60 percent from 2012, the year of the last election. And in 2008, that number was only 100 million. In the US alone, half of the population will actively visit the site via mobile and desktop this year.
As for Twitter, the company has 320 million monthly active users, up from 185 million in 2012, further showcasing the power behind this platform. Remember, Twitter launched in 2006, and it had only four million users the year Barack Obama won the White House.
Instagram — a fast-growing, image-centric network — is a major source of visibility for Sen. Bernie Sanders. He saw the greatest overall gain in Instagram followers of the candidates, adding 85,580 new followers, according to a Politico article from March. The story also points out that he is the most followed Democratic candidate, with 927,240 followers, compared with Hillary Clinton’s 896,980, and second overall to Trump’s 1.1 million followers. For the record, Instagram launched in 2010.
Compare these numbers to the audiences watching Fox News or CNN. These TV networks averaged 349,000 and 243,000 viewers, respectively, in December 2015. They spiked to 1.8 million and 730,000 views, respectively, during prime-time hours. Keep in mind, this is an audience they have to earn every day.
Mobile users scroll through candidate messages on Instagram and Facebook feeds every day, reinforcing the message of the moment, without the “perspective” of the media. And often, the media is used as a tool to propagate what is seeded on digital.
Coming to a mailbox near you: Direct mail with a digital twist
Now, let’s take a step back and dig into the specifications of campaigns. In order to establish a foundation, a campaign’s first priority is to economically identify potential donors so they can raise money. A second is to raise awareness about the candidate: What issues do they believe in? What changes are they looking to enforce?
And third is getting people out to vote. How can a campaign ensure the right messages are targeting the right people at the right time? It truly comes down to targeting constituents with timely information.
What social and digital media create is a lot of data — for targeting consumers with follow-up messages, trend analysis and issue identification. Now, imagine cutting through the banner ad clutter and TV-centric attack ads, to deliver messages that resonate with the contributor or voter. Direct mail has a strong advantage.
We’ve found that direct mail is a medium with consistently high response rates. It also provides candidates with a way to follow up with potential voters solely on matters they care about.
Did you click on an ad or content about your candidates’ views on foreign policy? If so, you might have a piece of mail show up to your doorstep, detailing more information about that issue from your candidate. In return, your response might be to contribute some money to the cause.
And though email can provide this same call to action, it has been so abused its response rates are greatly diminished. Let’s also not forget how mass mailings are often ignored by the recipient.
Digitally reactive direct mail — sent using insight from online activity that shows intent in real time — makes sure each person sees what they want to see.
Creating the war chest: Tying in social to direct mail
This is the first time that political campaign managers and marketers can send digitally reactive direct mail and track the results to make sure it hits the mark each time.
By analyzing how users interact in social and digital channels, political or marketing campaigns can truly understand what people are most interested in and what they will take action on.
By combining real-time intent data, marketers have the opportunity to exponentially increase response and conversion rates, allowing for a more significant relationship between constituent and candidate. It’s also easier for marketers to manage results and tie back attribution.
Marketing campaigns are driven more by issues than by candidates. Marketers need to determine the return on the money spent within issues — drilling down on the topics a voter cares about (consistently and in real time) vs. the one-time click on an ad.
By focusing on specific ads and issues, voters are subsequently telling marketers which issues are most important to them. It helps sharpen the message and make ad spend more effective.
There is no crystal ball showing who will win this year’s race for the White House. But as we saw with the Obama team’s use of data to persuade undecided voters in 2012, using data to drive messages does change the course of a campaign. Digitally reactive direct mail will get its first test in 2016 — and it’s already proving itself as the obvious winner in this year’s (marketing) election.