Startups and new entrants to the campaign industry face a marketing dilemma. Talk up their suite of products and services looking for clients to make a full embrace of their offerings, or go with a targeted pitch and accept a smaller, shorter-run contract.
While there’s less campaign spending to target during a midterm, entrepreneurs view this cycle as a opportunity to test new products or possibly get their foot in the door. No small feat, even for startups led by practitioners with industry experience.
Michael Sabat, a nine-year industry veteran who recently founded @Mssg, has been making a targeted pitch to new clients around voter registration.
“It’s harder to pitch people in hurried campaigns,” said Sabat, whose platform exploits Facebook Messenger and chat bots.
“Instead of explaining how big this channel can be, I can talk about a solution that every campaign can use.”
The pitch for his services isn’t as narrow as it sounds. Once the campaign starts the conversation with a supporter about voter registration on Facebook, it can restart it later for GOTV. “The reception has been great,” Sabat told C&E after making the rounds at industry conferences.
Once a client is sold on the registration-GOTV combination, Sabat can talk to them about how Messenger chat bot can get supporters to sign up to volunteer, or for the campaign’s email list.
Other technologists say they’ve also had success with pitching their services as a way to harness another online tool like, say, Big Data.
While President Trump might think Big Data “overrated,” or did before he won the White House, every campaign is now preoccupied with data, modeling and micro targeting. With that in mind, the sales team at Polis started pitching their canvassing app as a way to harness this new stream of targeting information.
“We have found that smaller campaigns with fewer resources, we do have to pitch them differently,” said Brett Nielsen, business development VP at the canvassing technology company.
“We’re still very proud of our technology,” said Nielsen. “But in today’s day and age, it’s just simply the fact that data will continue to [be a key component] to running smart campaign.”
Now, the failure of so many in the digital space in 2016 to capture a sustaining share of campaigns’ online spending shows just how tough it is to land clients and maintain them. Still, Justin Gargiulo, founder of Voter Trove, said he’s seeing more and more technologists building niche products and finding willing “guinea pigs” to test them out.
Still, he warned: if you go after too targeted niche, you can be viewed as a fringe player.
“It’s difficult to built a product that does everything, but if you’re a newer player who hasn’t been involved in campaigns, if it’s your only thing, they may see it as a gimmick when you’re pitching them,” said Gargiulo. “It’s definitely a challenge.”