The Inside Game

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 10, 2015

On one side of the political aisle the storm clouds are finally starting to clear. On the other side the backslapping and celebratory events are complete. The skirmishes ahead of the 2016 primaries — and the declarations of war that will follow — will be calling political marketers back once again to up their digital game. 

For the most part, the digital tools are all in place. Web and social presence for any candidate has become a polished paint by numbers process. Email pleas are hourly and on demand, and thanks to some well-designed and well-executed efforts from technologists, the GOTV process has successfully become fully enabled on both sides.  

We should expect an inside game of incremental advancements for the 2016 cycle. Of course, geo-fencing of cafes and event centers will get more intrusive and Facebook may fully morph into the new political conscience of moms and Millennial voters. We could also see a continuation of the flirtation with cable and satellite targeting, but at this moment in time, the digital roadmap of politicking isn’t showing many unexpected routes or detours. 

That isn’t to say there won’t be anything new or noteworthy in 2016. For my money, the upcoming election cycle is going to be all about digital resource management: How these digital tools get applied more effectively, and through their use, how successful they will be in engaging a larger portion of the electorate.

First, expect this election to be about digital voter reach. In order to dent the consciousness of the voter, you first have to reach them. One hundred twenty-nine million people voted in the last presidential election. Roughly 85% of those people were online. Digital real-time bid advertising in politics has grown as well-tuned voter blocks continue to be on-boarded with political cookies. The challenge this time, as in the past, is that the active cookie is at best a 50/50 proposition. At least 50% of users block cookies or are using browsers or devices that don’t support third-party cookies in the first place. According to comScore, there are an average of 5.1 duplicate cookies for every unique user; and within a week, 15% of the cookie pool will have expired.  

Political digital marketers are very good at numbers and they see which way the wind is blowing. If you (like them) accept the fact that more voters will be accessing information on their tablets than on television, then now is the time to take steps to move beyond the limits of cookies. Location- and IP-targeting allow marketers to link the voter data and attitudes of any audience to any device without invading their privacy and with as much as three times the reach.

Second, in this cycle I expect more attention to be paid to programmatically linking voters to the right online media. Tools have been developed that allow audiences to be matched to the website content that is best suited to them in a programmatic way. The challenge, and why these tools exist, is that there are hundreds of millions of websites to choose from at any given moment. Determining even the best 100,000 sites that will be relevant to the voter in the bid stream can deliver dramatic lift.

Finally, there is an obvious need in the political universe — as in all digital marketing — for better attribution. In the frenetic pace of a campaign, where millions are being spent on email, social media, key words, display and pre-roll advertising, wouldn’t it be nice to have access to metrics that confirm that campaign messages and advertising spend are reaching the right voters? Wouldn’t it be nice to know which visitors to your website were actually crossover voters and not opposition research from the other campaign? Attribution in commercial multi-channel marketing can be involved and expensive. For the political world, however, there are nearly cost-free options emerging that will report on all outreach to the candidate’s web presence.  

Effective use of the existing digital toolbox may be as important as the next break through in campaign technology for 2016. Playing the inside game of digital resource management and focusing on ways to deliver full voter reach, smarter media buying and taking full advantage of attribution tools could make all the difference.

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