Consultants are constantly looking for technological innovations to incorporate into their campaign plans. These so-called bells and whistles are great for making you seem forward thinking and bleeding edge to your clients. But frequently down-ballot campaigns lack the resources to implement them effectively as standalone outreach methods, even if they go all in budget-wise.
There will always be some new tech that’s the industry trend (Snapchat could be this year’s) but the real opportunity lies in using digital to improve voter outreach through existing channels. For instance, online advertising is an area where some campaigns – especially at the state and local level – have struggled to properly adapt.
Here are four traditional campaign tools where digital ads can provide a boost:
Targeting voters via direct mail has been popular for decades, and predictions of its demise are overstated cycle after cycle. But production and mailing costs make it much more expensive per impression than online advertising. A campaign on a budget might be tempted to ditch a mail program altogether in favor of trying out online ads, but a better strategy is to blend the two and let them build on each other. When voters see your message over multiple channels, it makes each more effective.
Targeting individuals using online ads has been common campaign practice for multiple election cycles, but more recent capabilities allow for targeting IP addresses based on matching corresponding home addresses. This allows for targeting everyone in the household instead of a single individual. Seeing your message online days before makes a mail piece really pop when it’s delivered. We’ve successfully deployed the same tactic for clients to boost the efficacy of direct mail fundraising programs as well.
The major weakness of radio advertising in campaigns is the inability to target individuals in the same way other mediums allow. One way to bulk up your radio buy is to put some of your content over on a platform like Pandora, which allows the same sort of audio content delivery, but with added targeting features and the ability to redirect listeners to an opt-in form or donation page. Also, while not strictly digital, using SMS-opt-in messages in your radio ad is a good way to build your supporter file, engage with otherwise passive listeners, and find out who’s listening and responding to your ad.
Like direct mail, phones remain popular because of their ability to target specific individuals or households. For this reason, a digital ad campaign is an excellent companion to a robust phone program. Now, large-scale data aggregation via automated and live phones allows informed digital targeting in ways not possible or utilized until the most recent campaign cycles, especially when combined with social media platform APIs.
For messaging, digital ads should mirror the message delivered by robo-calls or live persuasion calls, and vise versa. Ads can also be used to promote digital survey panels to blend with live or IVR survey results, particularly among demographics more difficult to reach by phone.
Generally speaking, the more targeted your ad campaign, the less money you’ll spend, even if your CPM (cost per impression) creeps up as your audience gets more refined. For this reason, campaigns with smaller budgets need to pay special attention to geographic targeting capabilities so they’re not wasting a message on individuals who aren’t interested or who cannot vote for them. Whether it’s promoting your own event within a tight radius or neighborhood or bracketing your opponent’s events with contrast ads, geo-targeted ads in the vicinity of campaign events is a cost-effective way to get your message out and take advantage of the attention surrounding the event.
Every election cycle brings new tools and tactics that we all must master to be successful. The challenge for modern campaigns of all sizes is to incorporate new capabilities without overreacting and ditching tactics that still add value.
Blake Harris is a partner at Vertical Strategies, which has operations in Michigan, Alabama, and Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.