With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, political campaigns in the United States are heating up. With control of both the presidency and Congress at stake, all parties are using new-to-politics techniques to reach more voters. Most of these strategies are old hat to marketers, who have been gradually incorporating them for the last few years. But since the political cycle only really heats up every four years, campaigns must learn all new technologies quickly – and when the stakes are high.
Here are five new trends these campaigns have faced:
- Always-on marketing. The 2008 campaigns relied heavily on social media, and the 2012 presidential campaigns have gone further to adopt real-time marketing. Both Romney and Obama have jumped on “flash” messaging opportunities when the other has had a slip-up. Romney’s staff capitalized on Obama’s “You didn’t build that” statement by quickly flooding the networks and digital channels with ads showing Romney’s support for small businesses, and Obama followed suit with ads attacking Romney’s statement that he would cut funding for PBS. This always-on marketing approach allows campaigns to benefit from these short-lived opportunities to shift public opinion in their favor.
- Advanced analytics. Since the last presidential election, there have been major advances in data mining and analytics. Cloud computing allows marketers to gather, store, and analyze more data to better target (and even microtarget) communications and offers to their customers. Political groups are taking advantage of this new opportunity to deliver more targeted ads. The campaigns collect data ranging from past voting records to home ownership to web site visits (from browser cookies) to determine which ads will be most likely to swing your vote. These analytics efforts allow campaigns to reach very specific demographics, sending the most resonant messages to each voter.
- New social platforms. Social media was big in the ’08 election – there’s no debate about that. But since then, many new social platforms have emerged, such as Pinterest. And since Pinterest is populated by women (who are highly sought-after by both Republicans and Democrats), it presents new opportunities to engage at a more personal level with this group. Both the First Lady and Ann Romney have engaged tens of thousands of Pinterest users by pinning recipes, patriotic pictures, and family pictures. Fortunately for both campaigns, these campaign-endorsed Pinterest boards have far more followers than the tongue-in-cheek FakeMittRomney and Fake Michelle Obama, which include such gems as “A Good Starter Yacht” (under fake Mitt Romney’s Great Deals board, of course) and “Twinsies with Jill!” (one of fake Michelle Obama’s boards, featuring pictures of the First Lady and Jill Biden in coordinating outfits).
- Streaming video. While marketers have been adapting to the shift from traditional television to online streaming services like Hulu Plus and Netflix, this is only the second election to see this trend. But both the Democrats and Republicans are using this platform heavily; as a coveted female voter in a swing state, almost half of my ads on Hulu Plus are now political. However, it’s occasionally made clear just how new these new streaming platforms are, and how campaigns still have room to improve their streaming strategies: I’ll sometimes get ads urging me to “Click Here” while watching shows through my TV.
- Fighting stronger third-party challengers. Marketers have recently faced more competition from small, nimble upstarts that offer a few products to a relatively niche community. While Republicans and Democrats have long faced third-party candidates, this year’s third-party candidates are arguably stronger than they have been in several election cycles. They may not be featured much (if at all) in the debates or the media, but some of these candidates may influence the outcome of the election. Just as legacy companies have had to adapt to fight these upstarts, Republicans and Democrats are being forced to address the concerns of voters who are deciding between a third-party candidate and a more mainstream choice.
Marketers, what marketing techniques have you seen in the presidential campaigns? Have they been mostly well-executed, or have you seen major misses? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.