With potential record-breaking voter turnout in this year’s presidential election, campaigns are likely to look for innovative and proven ways to reach new and returning voters. This election cycle is also likely to see the most political mail in USPS history, according to our data, continuing a trend of year over year increases.
With this in mind, I interviewed two seasoned direct mail professionals: Joe Goetz, Direct Response Director with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and Emma Dillon, Senior Strategist with Democratic mail firm Mission Control, to get a sense of how campaigns can best prepare for and innovate in 2020 using political mail.
Don Nichols: What makes a winning mail campaign?
Joe Goetz: A strong central campaign narrative is key. Every ad you send out to voters should build on a common theme that helps you develop your brand. Really take the time to get to know your constituency – what’s important to them and what makes them tick? What issues most impact voters in your district?
Consistency in the narrative is also important. If you’re inconsistent, you lose effectiveness. Messages should be simple, clear and authentic. Keep these messages on point with other communications channels and make sure you get the segmentation right.
Emma Dillon: Strong messaging and strategic targeting is critical. In fact, mail is by far the most effective medium for targeting. Last cycle, we were involved in a local race that played out entirely in the mail, with six candidates running for mayor in a nonpartisan election. We divided our mail universe into three groups and spoke to them uniquely – aligning to progressive values or demonstrating fiscal responsibility, depending on audience. We used polling to understand the issues that resonated strongest with each group. We won this race by harnessing targeting and messaging to ensure we were speaking to the right audience with exactly the right message.
Nichols: How is 2020 different than past elections?
Goetz: Get-out-the-vote (GOTV) will extend stronger and longer in 2020. Voters are making their minds up earlier. If campaigns can’t get their voters to the polls, they can’t win their election. Additionally, I predict early voting and absentee voting will expand nationally, which means campaigns can start their marketing months earlier than they traditionally would.
Dillon: Voters will be bombarded with ads in 2020, so breaking through the political noise will be key. A technique we’ve used is to really personalize and localize the mail campaign. For one campaign, we had four pieces of mail with a common cover on one side and highly customized, micro-targeted and localized covers on the other. The localized covers made reference to specific towns in the district, shared local memories and showed the candidate interacting with local businesses, restaurants, and landmarks. This enabled the candidate to demonstrate strong personal connections. The candidate was humanized, not just another politician, but someone who cares about local citizens and their concerns. The campaign was so successful it inspired a campaign TV ad!
Nichols: How have tools and the role of data evolved in political mail campaigns?
Goetz: Campaigns have access to huge amounts of data they never had in the past. Data-driven print (e.g. programmatic print, triggered direct mail) exploded the past year and enabled campaigns to generate mailings based on things like voter online behavior. Campaigns can print specific mailers based off voters’ actions, like signing up for an e-newsletter or volunteering. Some campaigns may be using geo-fencing to send mail to specific churches, bars or establishments. Also, digital printing is making customized mailings possible and small, targeted mailings more efficient. It has enabled campaigns to be more nimble and create new mailings on the fly in reaction to breaking news.
Dillon: For campaigns doing voter registration and vote by mail, check out Share Mail®. We’ve been using it since 2012 and it’s incredibly useful because it enables campaigns to pre-pay for postage and track application returns. The invoice comes at the end of the month and we only pay return postage for applications that are sent back – as opposed to having to fund an account based on a guess on the number of returns. Tracking tells us exactly who returned the application as well, which is incredibly valuable.
Nichols: A special thanks to Emma and Joe for their insights.
Whether it is direct mail insights, consulting on direct mail design or navigating operational support, the U.S. Postal Service™ is committed to helping campaigns Deliver The Win®. If you would like to talk to a direct mail specialist, please contact us directly or visit us at www.deliverthewin.com.