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  • Writer's pictureChris Bowler

Politics anyone?

Evaluating the 5 most effective digital marketing tactics

According to Kantar Media / CMAG, upwards of $900 million will be spent on digital marketing in the 2018 election cycle. That's a 260% increase from the last midterm election in 2014. And this is exclusive of the $3 billion plus that is being spent across TV and radio.

No doubt readers will already have been deluged with the advertising messages this spending has generated. But if you were a political operative, how would you allocate your digital marketing budget? Which channels would you use and how?

Let's dive in and evaluate some of the most effective digital marketing channels for political marketing.

1. Email and CRM efforts

This is the foundation of any political campaigns, and it starts with a highly sophisticated database. The backbone is first-party data collection, of course. Those voters who engaged directly with the campaign such as making a donation, attending an event, etc. From there, other data is overlaid to fill a complete picture of the voter, such as IP data, demographics, social behavior, etc.

All of this collected data gives the campaign a great tool for outreach efforts to 'prime the pump' for continous donation requests as well as 'get out the vote' efforts.

Unfortunately, email marketing, while effective, has multiple flaws. First, campaigns tend to over-saturate their users. In just the last several weeks, I've received no less than 10 political emails per day. No doubt some of this email deluge has come from list sharing between an individual campaign and the party apparatus, crisscrossing between state and national levels. A prime example of killing the golden goose, these emails are quickly deleted - or even worse - unsubscribed.

2. Text / SMS

One of the channels that is increasing in usage is text / SMS messaging. Arguably, this channel can be the most effective tactic for a campaign, because: 1) a guaranteed view (who doesn't look at their texts?); 2) an opportunity for highly personalized message ('Hey Chris, we need your help')' and 3) an immediacy / urgency that is conveyed by using this channel.

Of course, this channel can be misused and quickly become exhausted. Just yesterday, I received an urgent campaign text pleading with me to vote in the Georgia governor's race. I live in Illinois.

Done right, however, text/SMS can be highly effective. Expect this channel to grow even more in future election cycles.

3. Social Media and Word of Mouth

Ask me the single most effective tactic for political campaigns - or arguably for any campaign - and I'll tell you that it's endorsement from friends. Think about it - if your friends are asking you to vote one way or another - you're going to listen to them. That's why creating content that is shared across social media is a goal of campaigns. But this is hard. Like wanting to create 'viral' videos, any team will struggle with developing content that will take off. Emotional triggers such as surprise, humor, and fear are the ways in, and typically comprise what you may see today from video to snarky posts that drive social sharing.

4. Social Media Advertising

Or 'Paid Social' in some vernacular, is a underrated tool given the ability to hypertarget specific groups or individuals. A necessary first step to using paid social is to merge a campaign's database with the social behaviors to be able to target attributes? Is a voter concerned about illegal immigration - certain demographics, social behaviors and even attitudes (fear) can be targeted effectively. This gets into the murky area of privacy, which has burned Facebook of late, but it's no doubt a powerful lever to use.

Most of the paid social energy is around Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Surprisingly, some social channels are not as utilized as you might think. Snapchat represents an ideal channel to reach millenial voters, but the use of Snapchat advertising (ie in the Discover and Stories section) has been light. Watch for Snapchat, Instagram and even messaging platforms (ie WhatsApp) to become even more important in future election cycles.

5. Targeted Display Advertising

From banners to video, and programmatic to native, display media covers a huge spectrum of tactics a campaign can use. But the key to success here, like paid social, is targeting. To a large extent the role of targeted display performs a supporting role, such as a reminder across disparate sites of previous engagement, such as retargeting a visitor to a campaign website. Where this can get more interesting is more contextual and creative use of display advertising to narrow-target voters with unique and standout messages. Think how a campaign could use Tindr or Grindr to deliver something unexpected and interesting.

Overall, the tools which political campaigns use for outreach have never been more sophisticated. The challenge, I would argue, is to use them correctly to avoid media fatigue and disengagement - the opposite of a campaign's goals.

Have I missed other tactics? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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