Following the 2012 election, “big data and digital” was the post mortem no one could avoid.
Pundits and strategists still refer to the ability of Obama’s digital team to outmaneuver the GOP and win the election. According to Business Insider, digital comprised 8 percent of the Obama’s campaign’s media mix. On its face, it seems like a decent portion of the budget, until you consider that consumer brand advertisers spend an average of 25 percent of their budgets on digital.
Since digital was a proven winner in both of President Obama’s victories, what’s holding political campaigns back from increasing budget allocation to be more in line with consumer advertisers? Political strategists spend their careers finding the perfect balance of TV, direct mail and grassroots efforts to get their candidates elected. They aren’t paid to experiment. And despite its success, digital is sometimes still viewed as somewhat experimental.
From my perspective, there are three main reasons why political campaigns stick with the status quo. Let’s debunk them.
Brands need big data. We have voter files.
First, let’s look at what’s in the voter file. It’s a list of registered voters in an area, their address, birthdates, party affiliation (if it’s a party registration state), and voting history. Assuming you know how they voted (and that’s a big assumption), you don’t know how they will vote next time.
And there’s little additional insight. Why is he a registered Democrat? Why is she a sporadic voter? It’s the “why” that matters. And it’s the “why” that big data delivers. Campaigns can spend millions trying to persuade swing voters. Because for swing voters, it’s the issues that matter, not party affiliation. No voter file in the world can tell you that.
The best way to understand how a swing voter is likely to vote in the next election is based on the individual’s current issue positions, values and beliefs. Once you understand these, you can identify the issues that matter most to him and his likelihood to support a candidate based on these issues, regardless of party affiliation.
But all is not lost with voter files. Technological advances allow campaigns to bring their offline lists online. And this is where big data really shines, because big data lives in the now. By itself, it’s hard to gauge the quality or the recency of the data found in that file. Unless a voter moves or makes a concerted effort to update the local board of elections, the data he registered with (sometimes at the age of 18) is the same data that lives with him forever.
Offline files, including these voter files, donor lists and volunteer databases, are enhanced when matched with thousands of additional data points to shed light on the issues most important to voters. These insights, and the ability to engage with voters on what matters most, invariably has a significant impact on the results. The reality is that digital is the most precise way to target these individuals, without the waste.
Brands don’t work within the same short timeframes and specific geographic constraints as political campaigns.
This is exactly the reason political campaigns should continue their expansion into digital. It’s the only medium that provides flexibility, real-time feedback, and access to voters. Unlike their direct mail, print, and television ad counterparts, the ability to change creative and messaging is nearly instant.
The online space is the ideal testing ground to perfect messaging before committing to the larger print and] production dollars. Digital’s value also shows itself in the ability to learn, in real time, about the electorate. Analytics platforms are churning out insights at record pace. It’s the ability to act on these insights quickly that showcases digital’s agility.
With the messaging and creative refined, digital’s value comes full circle when campaigns leverage various online channels to reinforce the messaging voters see on the air and in their mailboxes. And the cycle continues—more learnings translate into more relevant messaging. A Pew Research study found that 36 percent of registered voters watched online political ads during the 2012 election.
But it’s more than just repurposing television assets online. Campaigns can transform their one-dimensional TV ad into interactive videos that engage voters, expand reach, and strengthen awareness for their candidate’s message.
Video ads are extremely effective when trying to educate and persuade voters. Display and social ads tend to drive action. All of this can be done in geo-targeted areas.
Voters rely on traditional media to get their campaign news and updates.
This simply isn’t the case anymore. In fact, according to a Pew Research study, 2012 was the year that online/mobile sites surpassed radio and newspapers as the main source of news consumption.
Data from my firm, Resonate, shows that 33 percent of registered voters consider themselves moderate to heavy consumers of television political news. Nearly the same percentage—29 percent—consider themselves moderate to heavy consumers of online political news.
Another Pew study found that Facebook was on par with National Public Radio and newspapers as their campaign news source. And 55 percent of them watched online political videos. So while TV remains relevant, it’s clear the TV and digital worlds are converging. It’s not about picking one or the other, but creating an integrated campaign strategy that accounts for both.
The bottom line: Political campaigns need to be everywhere the voters are. To do that, political campaigns need to embrace the opportunity that digital provides. Digital media gives campaigns the ability to learn about their voters. It gives them the ability to reach them with precision. And most importantly, it can be done quickly and at scale.
Voters are increasingly tech savvy, relying on smartphones, tablets and desktops to watch traditional programming. They’re on social media sharing articles, videos, and their own thoughts on issues that are important to them.
Voters have varied interests and are compelled to act for different reasons. When you can engage with a voter, one at a time, based on how and why they’re likely to vote, why would you ever lump them together on a list? Quite simply, you wouldn’t. And today, you don’t have to.
Bryan Gernert is the CEO of Resonate.