As a cavalry scout in the Army for many years, my tradecraft was reconnaissance. It was my team’s job to keep our commanders informed so they could make the best decisions to keep troops alive and win the fight. Since transitioning from fighting on faraway battlefields to stateside campaign warfare, I’ve seen how the fundamentals for effective reconnaissance can help candidates and issue groups win races.
Effective survey research is like properly conducted reconnaissance. Here are seven ways cost-effective survey research can help you win, complete with quotes from U.S. Army Field Manual 3-90:
Ensure continuous reconnaissance.
“Effective reconnaissance is continuous. The commander conducts reconnaissance before, during, and after all operations.”
The “commander” – in this case a candidate, IE group, or association – needs a steady stream of actionable information to make reliable, effective decisions. Definitely don’t let one poll at the start of a campaign influence decisions months later when voters have changed their minds. Use tracking polls, which our firm and others offer at attractive price points. The environment around a campaign is constantly changing and you need to be measuring this and evolve your communications and strategy to keep up.
Do not keep reconnaissance assets in reserve.
“When committed, reconnaissance assets use all of their resources to accomplish the mission.”
Your mission is to win. In order to achieve this, you must utilize all your assets and I guarantee you have more at your disposal than you think. The key is finding these hidden assets and creating new ones that can be leveraged and measure to give additional insights to find the right voters and move them into our camp. Your efforts should be to gather every piece of valuable information available, whether it’s through creative survey research or your own ground efforts. This is the cornerstone needed to win the fight.
Orient on the reconnaissance objective.
“The commander uses the reconnaissance objective to focus his unit’s reconnaissance efforts.”
You have to focus on the objective, and in the case of campaigns, that involves reaching the right people and persuading them to take the desired action. If you’re not gathering the right insights, you could be all over the map, or worse, not on the map at all in terms of gauging your effort’s effectiveness. With the right research you will know where you stand, what you should be saying and what effect it’s having on the target audience.
Report information rapidly and accurately.
“Reconnaissance assets must acquire and report accurate and timely information over which operations are to be conducted. Information may quickly lose its value.”
Any pollster worth her salt will tell you that a campaign relying solely on assumptions will most than likely fail. Assumptions are wrong more times than any of us would like to admit. The right research can provide the insights necessary to alleviate the risk of wrong assumptions. As things change in a campaign — and they always do — it is critical to gather new information that is reliable and timely.
Maintain freedom of maneuver.
“Reconnaissance assets must retain battlefield mobility to successfully complete their missions.”
Every facet of a campaign has its own goals that lead to a win. Measuring the effectiveness of traditional media, the digital effort and the ground game is a necessity. If you aren’t able to tell if something is working, how can you change strategy to ensure it is? Today’s smart campaigns realize the need to measure a return on investment on everything and survey research is an effective tool to collect this information.
Gain and maintain enemy contact.
“Once a unit conducting reconnaissance gains contact with the enemy, it maintains that contact unless the commander directing the reconnaissance orders otherwise or the survival of the unit is at risk.”
A campaign message is in constant evolution, or should be. Once mail starts hitting, commercials start airing and volunteers are beating the streets and burning up the phone lines, it’s imperative that a campaign continually evaluates its message and the effect it’s having on the audience. You have to be flexible in creative, ready to switch strategies all the time. This should also involve measuring the impact of your opponent’s message and actions.
Develop the situation rapidly.
“When a reconnaissance asset encounters an enemy force or an obstacle, it must quickly determine the threat it faces.”
How will you deal with a crisis? Would you shoot from the hip and hope it works? Or would you rather have a response based on what the audience is most receptive to? Survey research can be a quick, insightful way to gain the answers you need to respond before a situation goes south. When something goes wrong or needs to be capitalized on to keep up the momentum or stop an attack in its tracks, be ready in advance.
Most campaigns are not blessed with more resources than they need. They’re essentially a startup, although some have budgets in the millions. Measuring ROI is crucial for any business, so campaigns need to take the same steps to protect their investments of money, time and people. Survey research can help you ensure you are getting the best bang for your buck.
Cory Brown is vice president of data and strategy for Cygnal, which provides polling, data management, targeting and integrated communications for candidates, groups and businesses. He served his country in the US Army both stateside and overseas in reconnaissance and combat engineer units.