Trickle-down economics can sometimes be the perfect metaphor for political campaigns. The candidates and campaigns with the most money have the luxury of testing innovations and investing in technologies—failing, succeeding, and creating go-to targeting techniques that have the ability to transform.
Eventually the best ideas, strategies and tactics trickle their way down the ballot to smaller state and local races.
With the incredible use of digital media by the Obama 2008 and 2012 campaigns, and the Republican revamp in 2014, it is now imperative that lower-level campaigns align their budgets with the explosive growth in the industry. It’s even more important now, because the technology at our fingertips is incredibly precise.
So what does a full digital media budget entail? It can range from organic/paid social media content to a dynamic web presence to investments in hyper-targeted video and banner ads—all delivered directly to a voter on their laptop, smartphone, or tablet. And this isn’t just an advocacy tool. It can be a turnout and fundraising tool as well. The last of the three is the secret sauce Democrats still hold over the heads of Republicans heading into 2016.
My firm, Go BIG Media, recently brought together some of the industry’s top digital professionals for a discussion on the latest trends in this space. Annie Lewis, who serves as client partner for Facebook, pointed to a study the company did on digital fundraising that was eye opening. The study looked at those who received a Facebook ad after a fundraising email and those who didn’t. Those who received ads donated in larger amounts and at higher rates.
What makes this even more critical is that digital media technology is both precise and affordable when targeting a specific voter—two of the biggest hindrances for smaller campaigns.
Digital budgets have grown every election cycle since it was defined as a critical component for winning campaigns, and exploded on the scene after Barack Obama’s 2008 win. This trend will only see rapid growth going forward because it’s one of the more efficient expenditures to reach a voter when TV and/or radio isn’t an option in your budget (or is a limited option).
Yet we still see hesitation and skepticism from campaigns when it comes to increasing digital budgets—particularly from smaller campaigns who know that mail, phones and other traditional ads will usually work. The truth is that these tactics are slowly dying, and if state and local candidates don’t want to go the way of the dodo, their campaigns better adapt and find ways to communicate the same messages as old media, but with a new digital delivery.
Frankly, larger campaigns altered spending habits and some major players with influence down the ballot took notice. Take the approach from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a race in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District this past cycle. A poorly positioned DMA (designated market area) made spending money on television a huge waste of the Chamber’s resources. So it opted to use Facebook instead, and spoke directly to an audience of 27,000 voters they might otherwise have not—in a race the candidate they supported won by a mere 359 votes.
It speaks to the growing truth that campaigns of all shapes and sizes cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the real-time, target rich advantages of digital media. Campaigns that are willing to embrace digital and remain fluid and flexible with their budgets gain an unparalleled ability to speak to whom they want, when they want, and about what they want. Not only can smart digital budgeting save a campaign valuable dollars, it might also prove to be the difference between winning and losing on Election Day.
So what is the right digital budget for a down ballot race? Across the board in 2014, we saw larger campaigns allocate an average of 12 to 15 percent of their overall budgets on digital media. Heading into 2016, an even larger shift is occurring in the early planning stages, and the 12 to 15 percent range is proving to be the minimum larger campaigns will spend on digital. In fact, U.S. Senate and presidential campaigns are quietly moving into the 20 to 25 percent range.
Large budget campaigns have done the heavy lifting and proven the prowess of a well-run digital operation. It’s time smaller state and local campaigns take note, break the “trickle-down” pattern, and adapt now.
Phillip Stutts is the founder and CEO of Go BIG Media, Inc.