For decades, political campaigns have relied on data to help them achieve victories. Direct mail agencies have always reached out to lists of previous donors to help them fund their next win or to deliver a crucial turnout message. Telemarketing companies use autodialers to reach supporters to remind them how important their vote will be. And door-to-door canvassers consult walk lists to find those homes in a given neighborhood that could mean the difference between a narrow win and a heartbreaking loss.
The source of all this data? In the case of fundraising, commercial list brokers rent lists of proven political donors to like-minded campaigns to help them build a donor base. In the case of persuasion or turnout campaigns, lists are often developed from publicly available voter files that usually contain name, address, race, age, and in many cases, party affiliation.
Until recently, only the most sophisticated and well-funded (usually presidential) campaigns had access to data beyond what I have just described. These campaigns consult with micro-targeting firms that combine commercially available data with voter files to eke out the names and addresses of those voters who can get a given campaign to the magical “50% plus one” margin of victory.
And until now, the major branding efforts of campaigns – broadcast and cable television and, to a lesser extent, radio – were purchased not based on voter history or micro-targeting but rather on simple geography and broad ratings information. In many cases, less than 30% of a given TV audience purchased by campaigns reflected the intended target audience – meaning 70% of a given buy was wasted on voters the campaign didn’t want to reach. To make matters worse, DVR usage meant many commercials were skipped, forcing many campaigns to “double up” on placements during local news – one of the few programs that are rarely recorded.
At the same time, phone and mail programs have also started to become less effective. The advent of caller ID over the last 10 years means that many calls go unanswered. And direct mail campaigns are getting more expensive every day, and less relevant as the news cycle shortens.
Meanwhile, digital advertising has started playing a larger role in political campaigns at all levels from local elections all the way to the presidential ones. And many of the technologies that enable audience targeting are a perfect fit for political campaigns. Today’s data management platforms (DMP) can combine offline voter and consumer information with tens of thousands of online signals to enable political marketers to finely target and reach key voting segments in a cost-effective manner.
But unified databases and DMPs do more than just enable political campaigns to serve targeted display ads. Today’s technologies allow political campaigns to augment audience data with set-top box data from companies like Rentrak. By combining this real-time data set with consumer and voter data, political marketers can reach the same audience online that saw a TV commercial. This approach has been proven to result in significant increases in message recall. It also allows political marketers to learn about an online audience’s TV viewing habits to enable media buyers to increase the efficiency of traditional buys.
Today – and certainly by Nov. 4 – political marketers will have more choices than ever before when it comes to selecting addressable media to persuade and turn out the voters they need to win. Of course, different campaigns will adopt these technologies at different rates. And tactics alone don’t win campaigns. But smart political marketers who want to win will centralize their data far in advance of Election Day, and evaluate their media mix based on how effectively each vehicle reaches its specific audience.