Some have already dubbed this cycle the mobile election on account of the influence smartphones will have over campaign strategy. But which 2016 campaigns are using mobile well in the early stages of the race?
I recently got out my phone and visited each of the White House candidates’ mobile websites and signed up to receive campaign alerts. I also attempted to endorse, volunteer, and explore donation opportunities for each. Through my research, I encountered a range of tactics, strategies, and some mistakes that down-ballot candidates can learn from.
One revelation—the oldest candidate in the field—Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders—is utilizing mobile quite effectively. His campaign site is well designed and his SEO is optimized. Search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns direct traffic to subject-specific landing pages, and he’s the only one offering to send mobile alerts directly from the home page.
He already has active SMS keyword campaigns as well, which is a great way to engage with current voter bases. I left my cell number and received a mobile alert within seconds. This is the only site from which I received a mobile alert without offering to be a volunteer or to donate, and it’s the only time I’ve heard back from the campaign on my mobile device.
In the GOP field, Marco Rubio’s strategy is also effective. He has a well-designed, responsive website that offers prospective voters numerous social media channels with which to connect. Rubio is also able to reach voters via mobile from his online survey, which solicited my cell number upon completion (though I have not received any communications yet).
Jeb Bush’s site on the other hand isn’t optimized for reaching constituents via mobile, and his SEO needs some major improvement. In fact, when I first began my research several weeks ago, I was unable to find his site on the first page of Google when searching “Jeb Bush for President.” The first organic site that appeared belongs to a couple who has owned the URL since 1996 and uses it for gay-rights awareness.
There’s little indication that Bush is yet using any SMS keyword campaigns to capture a mobile audience. Still, he does show indications that he knows the importance of targeting younger voters with newer strategies. Moreover, his site is the best for Spanish speakers and he should really optimize for mobile as this demographic has the highest mobile usage.
Rand Paul’s team, meanwhile, is using some key tactics: his website is responsive, his SEO is optimized, and he’s using a SEM campaign with specific landing pages for fundraising. But there are no opportunities for mobile interaction except for donating or endorsing. I endorsed Paul, but I haven’t received a mobile alert. His use of SMS keyword campaigns is minimal up to this point as he is capturing mobile numbers on his site, but it’s not yet clear whether he plans to target them.
Given the amount of money these candidates are spending on digital, they undoubtedly are being told they need to incorporate mobile elements into their campaign. So what about down-ballot candidates?
Here’s something to think about when trying to gain traction on mobile: Creating a mobile audience is an innovative tactic that would likely have impressive results at low cost, especially when considering that down-ballot audiences are often limited to a district or a state. That allows far greater interaction and brand development. It also makes targeting easier for a candidate. Most voters may never visit down-ballot candidates' websites or even know their name before entering the voting booth.
Down-ballot candidates can successfully harness the power of mobile to target voter bases, just as presidential ones do, albeit with different goals and tactics. Aligning with specific cues that are desirable to a target voter base or being able to create and grow a mobile audience are accomplishments that can give lesser-known candidates a strong competitive advantage against their opponents.
So if you aren’t plotting out a mobile strategy as part of your overall digital effort, you’re certain to be behind the curve in 2016.
Sean Gera is a strategic marketing analyst at CallFire, a cloud telephone services provider based in Santa Monica, Calif.