Since its inception, political communication has revolved around one key question: How do I get my message out to the largest number of people possible?
There is hardly consensus as to what the first piece of political communication technology looked like, but one thing is certain: It was simple.
Once upon a time, leaders would stand on rocks so crowds could hear them yelling above the fray; then communication evolved with the invention of the printing press and later the radio and television. Regardless of the innovations in the changing technologies of the day, the objective remained—reaching as many voters as possible.
Today, thanks to the Internet, the objective is far different, and far more sophisticated.
Communicating in politics is no longer about reaching the most people—it’s about reaching not only the right people but also those who you know will take action on your message.
As Jay Friedman and Geoff Halsema illustrate, the bass fisherman who catches one record-size fish will beat the one who reels in 26 smaller ones every time, assuming the contest aims to see who can catch the largest bass.
The same is true in politics. Candidates who target voters most likely to act will beat those who don’t deploy a targeting method. Many candidates waste money reaching out to people who demonstrate low levels of political activism.
At CRAFT, we make calculated decisions based on data. CRAFT partner Matthew Dybwad says, “the question now is not ‘how do I get my ads in front of my core demographics,’ it’s ‘what do my supporters look like?’”
“It starts with getting a real understanding of the environment, which means going out to your entire constituency with a variety of messages and creative approaches, seeing who responds and how, and understanding what those people look like, what they believe, and how they act.
“Based on that, you can then identify current supporters as opposed to persuadables and craft strategies to talk to both, based on what you know motivates both groups. At that point, armed with accurate models of your targets, you can make smart decisions about where to run ads, what sites, what kind of creative, the balance of site targeted vs. device targeted spend, and how best to use digital advertising to complement communication in other channels like broadcast and mail.”
So what does this look like in action?
Let’s use the example of a hypothetical candidate running for a congressional seat in Nebraska. After going into the field and testing multiple messages with a number of different groups, she finds that her message resonates particularly well with middle-income, Hispanic women between the ages of 25-45. These women are most likely to both donate to the campaign and volunteer. Moreover, they have proven to loyally watch Spanish-language television networks as well as visit Hispanic online news sites.
If our candidate were to solely place TV ads in every designated market area (DMA) across the state, her efforts would prove far more expensive and far less effective than running ads on a nightly Spanish newscast in the market with the majority of the state’s Hispanic population. However, balance is crucial, which is why supplementing broadcast exposure with digital ads on MSN Latino, for example, will provide the most comprehensive result.
At CRAFT, we live by this integrated approach by marrying TV and mail advertising with digital, giving candidates the ability to bring a micro-targeting approach to a number of different screens. Combining these methods allows political hopefuls to maximize the impact of their message, not just its reach.
Beware of narrowing your target characteristics so much that you end up reaching only a few hundred people for a statewide race. While this may mobilize certain voters, it won’t move numbers. Expanding your target slightly may also allow you to find new audiences that your model failed to identify.
It’s a new game these days. We’re not just yelling from a rock anymore. We’re stepping down, honing in, and reaching out.