Digital Parity, What's Next?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 11, 2014

The 2014 mid-term elections will be remembered for a lot of things: the GOP’s winning control of the Senate, the apparent repudiation of all-things-Obama and the fact that this cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history. The final tally won’t be complete for a while but hundreds of millions of dollars (or more) were spent over the past several months across multiple media channels. 

That influx of media dollars — and the strategies they fueled — are going to be sidelined for a few months, much to the chagrin of the advertising ecosystem but certainly to the relief of anyone whose email was flooded, telephone dialed, doorbell rung or digital experience was tainted by political campaigns. While the dollars may be dormant the minds that direct the spend will not be.

You can expect that the next several months will be devoted to analyzing and parsing the results of all that spend. Understanding which ad dollars performed well against which audiences isn’t just academic: it will determine the winners and losers of elections in the future.

We’ve seen campaigns evolve from the Facebook friends and likes of 2008, to the email eureka moment of 2012. In 2014 it was the digital enhancement of the ground game and an intensive audience targeting push into display and video. Some tactics that have grown stale or run their course (like email) desperately need to be reinvented. Others, like precise audience targeting, will need to move to the next level if they are going to have a decisive impact in 2016.

In this cycle we learned that both parties are capable of learning the lessons of past elections when it comes to their digital strategies. Copycat catchup efforts in the digital strategies of both parties have gotten us to a place where all easy questions have been answered —  more or less we have digital parity (even if the outcome tells a different story). The question is what is next?  In the next year will either party be able to leapfrog the other to achieve digital dominance? 

At the moment it may be hard to imagine anyone taking the current digital efforts to a new level, yet it will happen. Here are a few possibilities, as well as issues campaigns will need to consider as the 2016 campaigns kick off:

  • Increased personalization: One of the lessons of 2014 may be about how effective a candidate was at connecting with the voter. Today the digital toolbox is largely viewed by campaigns as an ancillary component of the media plan where information flows in one direction. Aside from the ability to like, share or retweet campaign content, voters have few ways to actively engage with a candidate or campaign online. One can image this changing during the next cycle, with new tools giving voters more access to the candidate and providing them with more ways to offer opinions and feedback. Enhanced with analytics, flash polls and digital town halls, for example, could reach out to voters making it possible for a campaign to engage in a conversation that directly addresses the concerns of specific voters segments with contextually relevant messaging.
  • A minority majority: In many states these voters decide elections. For many of these voters their digital connection is their primary means for getting access to news and information. They will be engaged and they will be looking for answers to their questions though digital devices. Candidates with a robust - and culturally appropriate - plan for communicating with these voters will have a major advantage. 
  • Avoiding digital abuse: When a voting decision can be based on whether voters feel a candidate “seems like a nice person” it would seem wise for the candidate not to badger, insult, or scare the electorate twenty to thirty times a day. Email was abused in this cycle and its application for the next elections needs to be reinvented to add value rather than drive voters away.
  • A new generation of voters: younger voters — ones that are digital natives — have profoundly different media behaviors than their parents (or grandparents). They aren’t watching television, don’t have landlines and want information packaged into easily consumable formats. They are also acutely aware of inappropriate digital behavior. Candidates that hope to have a chance with this audience need to think hard about the tools and tactics they bring to bear.

The digital landscape will continue to change between now and 2016. As campaigns enter the pre-planning phase over the next couple of months they would do well to take stock and recognize that the digital experience of 2014 was not always a good one for the voter. Addressing the next wave of voters with a thoughtful digital platform will make a huge difference in who holds office come January 2017.

Next story loading loading..