If the onslaught of new digital consultants is any indication, online advertising for campaigns is a booming sector.
But it’s a rare example of where the political world is catching up to businesses. Over the past five years, big brands and companies have been pumping significant resources into banner ads, pre-roll video ads, search engine marketing (SEM), social ads, and native ads.
Why? Because dollars follow eyeballs, and consumers, or voters in our case, are spending more and more time each year on computers, connected TVs, tablets, and smartphones. Yet the average political campaign devotes less than 10 percent to its digital operation and advertising, based on anecdotal evidence and FEC reports.
Now, take Bernie Sanders. He invested heavily in a digital operation and is now giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the fundraising arena. To wit, Sanders raised $6.4 million in the 24 hours that followed his New Hampshire victory.
While most campaigns aren’t going to raise millions online or build a seven-digit following, you can still reach voters online for branding, persuasion, and action, if you follow these four steps to transform your digital and social advertising effort.
1. Target exact audiences and individuals.
Data available to the modern political campaign – at least in the United States – is beyond fathomable. Characteristics about your demographics, online and offline behavior, and voting history are just a few of the options that can be used to target audiences. List matches are available to reach specific individuals on almost any online platform, website, and app. Regardless of the approached used, it’s imperative to speak directly to your known audience instead of shooting in the dark.
Working with an experienced digital firm with data expertise will also automatically yield stronger results for your ads. I encourage you to do your research and interview a few. Some questions to ask include: what third-party data do they have access to? How much does it cost? And what success have they had using those segments? Also find out if they have direct access to ad exchanges, or if they’re using another ad tech firm to reach your target audience, which is basically a middle man who drives your cost higher.
2. Test digital creatives and run with high performers.
It actually costs you more to do digital and social advertising if you have creative that doesn’t generate the desired action KPI (key performance indicator). As the cost to design different versions of the ad is low, come up with three to four variations, test them for several days, and then start your full-scale campaign with the set that best achieves your KPIs.
Headline, call-to-action (CTA), colors, and background images are all different facets of the ad you can tweak for your test. When generating your creatives, make sure to ask yourself: “Does this ad speak in an understandable way to my target audience?”
3. Continually optimize for advertising KPIs.
No digital consultant can design an online advertising campaign, activate it, never look at it again, and still reach your goals. Though this is the easiest route to take, it’s a disservice to you, the client. Every single digital campaign requires constant tweaking regardless of the DSP, technology, ad networks, or other “secret sauce.”
Powerful algorithms exist to do much of the heavy lifting, but data audiences, site lists (black: stop using, white: specifically target), age, gender, creatives, and many other factors can be tweaked to better achieve KPIs. Having a firm that makes this a priority helps you reach more people with higher frequency without spending more dollars.
4. Don’t just check a box.
All too often “digital” is just a box to check on the road to spending 80 percent of the total budget on TV, mail, and radio. While each of those mediums plays an important role in the mix, signing an insertion order for your online ad buy and forgetting about it doesn’t advance your cause.
Stay engaged with your digital consultant. Ask for weekly reports that show your KPIs by campaign, creative, and perhaps by audience. Review those reports as if you were pouring over a TV log to ensure what you paid for wasn’t bumped or missed. The level of attention you give your agency will determine the level of attention they give your digital campaign.
So before you go hire someone or some firm to help you with digital and social advertising, be sure you have a strong grasp on what you want to accomplish. Be informed of what questions to ask. Taking these four steps after hiring a digital firm could determine the difference between a successful or a failed campaign.
Brent Buchanan is a managing partner at Cygnal, a GOP communication, digital, and data/research firm.