Reaching Voters: What the Pols Can Learn From Online Marketers

As the presidential race switches into high gear, both candidates would do well to use some online marketing techniques to effectively reach highly coveted Hispanic voters.

  The presidential candidates need Hispanic voters. Both Barack Obama and John McCain are racing to boost their popularity among the much talked-about "Latino vote" -- and this year promises to draw Hispanics to the polls in record numbers. Both candidates have recently launched a slew of television and online ads targeting Hispanic voters.

But as someone who spends most of my time advising big brands about how to create effective online and multi-channel marketing campaigns that really engage Hispanics, I noticed that many of the candidates' recent ads targeting Hispanic voters make the same mistakes that marketers have been making for years: namely, that they rely on stereotypes and don't speak to the real needs and desires of the diverse U.S. Hispanic population.

For example, many of the candidates' recent Spanish-language ads talk about their stances on immigration -- and while it is an important issue, that is simply not an issue at the forefront of most U.S. Hispanics' lives. The Pew Hispanic Center poll found that 50% of Latino adults believe that the economic and social situation is worse for Latinos in the U.S. today than it was one year ago.



The study went on to report that the majority of Hispanics, like most other Americans, are worried about the economy, jobs, housing, and healthcare. So why are the candidates turning out ads in Spanish about immigration? For the same reason that many brand marketers continue to blanket the Internet and airwaves with ads of a Mexican family sitting around the dinner table: because they think these stereotypical messages will work to engage Hispanics. But they don't.

In fact, when marketers take the time to test, analyze, and optimize their online Hispanic-focused marketing campaigns, they often find the ads they never thought would work end up getting the most Hispanics to convert into buyers. Sometimes, instead of a Spanish-language ad, the more effective choice would be ad in English that makes a cultural reference. But you don't know that until you test both options with your target audience.

So, with that in mind, I offer Sens. McCain and Obama a few helpful tips on reaching Hispanic voters -- and if you're a marketer trying to reach the same segment, these can be useful for you, too.

Leverage Search
The campaigns of both candidates have spent millions on keywords, and have done a decent job of courting general voters with paid-search ads. But what about reaching out specifically to Hispanics via search ads? Spanish- and English-language search ad campaigns are a great way to connect with Hispanics. To get the most out of Hispanic-focused search ads, it's important to buy both Spanish and English keywords, target search campaigns geographically based on the diverse Hispanic populations in different parts of the U.S., and craft sharp, focused ad text.

Know Your Audience
Hispanics are a diverse, widely dispersed audience. An English-dominant, young Hispanic man in Los Angeles does not have the same political concerns as an older Hispanic homeowner in Chicago who speaks little English. Instead of blasting out blanket online and TV campaigns in Spanish, assuming all Hispanics are the same, it's important to target individual messages to individual groups. Each sub-group of the Hispanic population has unique concerns about our country, so break up your Hispanic outreach campaigns into several different smaller targeted campaigns, and send specific messages to these particular audiences.

Stay on Message
Whether a search ad, an online banner, or a video ad leads Hispanic voters to your site, make sure you send the voter into a tight action funnel. You just spent a lot of money to get them there, why then make them go through five pages of steps before you lead them to the action you desire. Also be clear about exactly what you want the visitor to do. Register? Volunteer? Donate money? Finally, the site should speak to them once they get there. Customizing landing pages in Spanish or English, depending on the target audience, and hitting on the same issues you spoke about in your ads, will go a long way to engaging Hispanic voters in a relevant, thoughtful conversation about the real issues that matter to them.

Test and Retest
The real secret sauce to making sure your Hispanic outreach campaigns are working is testing. You don't know which messages and ads will work best to engage Hispanic audiences until you try them and test them. You might think a Spanish-language ad on a political website will work the best to lead Hispanics to your site, but then find out that a Spanish-language ad with the same message on an entertainment website receives more clicks. Test ad creatives and landing page language and design. Then, do analysis of click-through rates on all of your marketing campaigns to see which are performing best among certain target groups.

This year's presidential election is one of the most exciting in history -- and Hispanic voters will play a pivotal role in deciding who the next U.S. president will be. I only hope that the candidates will get a bit savvier about "marketing" themselves to Latino voters.

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