How To Win The 2016 Elections: 6 Cutting-Edge Digital Tactics

Guest post by Steve Johnston

January 8, 2015

Guest Contribution by Steve Johnston

The 2014 midterm elections demonstrated tremendous growth for digital campaigning, with digital ad spending jumping nearly 2,000% from the 2010 midterm spend. The 2016 elections will be won or lost on the digital battlefield, so it is more important than ever that political campaigns, party committees, and outside advocacy groups make use of the most cutting-edge strategies.

Based on my time inside the Beltway and in Silicon Valley, it’s quite clear that campaigns are startups of the political world, promoting politicians instead of products and acquiring voters instead of users. Campaigns looking to gain and maintain an edge over the competition should look to places like Silicon Valley for innovative approaches to digital marketing.

Some campaigns are already doing this, and they’re winning. Before he even started his job, the campaign manager for President Obama’s 2012 campaign met with executives from companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple in order to learn how the campaign could “exploit technology in ways that hadn’t been possible before.”

Having run digital for a winning campaign in one of the closest U.S. Senate elections of 2014, I believe that winning in 2016 will depend on whether or not campaigns adopt the following approaches to their digital marketing strategy:

  • 1. View Goals Through The Acquisition Marketing Lens:

Focus on what matters most: acquiring enough voters to win. Acquiring more voters will hinge in part on acquiring more volunteers to identify voters and turn them out to the polls. Both voter and volunteer acquisition are enabled by acquiring more donors who will provide larger amounts of capital. Fundamentally, acquisition marketing is what campaigns are all about. Message matters, too, but only insofar as it furthers these three acquisition goals.

  • 2. Approach Acquisition With An Emphasis On Customer Lifetime Value (CLV):

While not everything that matters can be measured, not everything that can be measured matters. Focus on measuring metrics in a meaningful way. Measure which type of donor provides the greatest CLV: those acquired through online search, email campaigns, or social media. Is a Facebook supporter more valuable than a Twitter follower? Measure and find out using a URL builder tool that tracks the origin of a donor, then monitor how much that donor gives over time. Remember that CLV can also be measured through volunteer activity metrics like door knocks or phone calls, too.

  • 3. Use Social Media With A Greater Emphasis On Influencer Marketing:

The key to success on social is robust engagement, but political organizations have varying levels of resources, whether money or manpower. Become smarter about engagement by identifying and prioritizing those social media supporters (or potential supporters) with a larger online audience and, more importantly, greater influence. Is a supporter’s social action more likely to be shared?  Working with a strong base of influencers, who might share the persona of Amy Awesome below, will provide great customer referral value (CRV) and boost your online influence.

  • 4. Make A-B Testing An Essential Component Of All Digital Marketing Efforts:

Whether you’re running online ads or email campaigns, anything digital can be tested and optimized. Solutions like Optimizely have made A-B testing for websites and mobile apps easier than it’s ever been. A-B testing for social sharing that indicates the best headlines, copy, and images can also provide a new and critical means to boost digital marketing efforts, particularly given the tremendous source of website traffic provided by social media. This will foster greater awareness and higher acquisition conversion rates, leading to more victories.

  • 5. Reach New Audiences By Seeding Content Via An Established Publisher:

Since candidates are constantly looking to tap into new media to reach new audiences, consider promoting policy positions that address topics of interest to a publisher’s readership and placing a sponsored post on that publisher platform. For example, a candidate who blogs about wanting to create more jobs through policies that expand internet access, promote STEM education, and modernize our immigration system could consider a paid placement for that post on a site like VentureBeat.

  • 6. Develop A Content Strategy That Is Platform-Specific:

As opposed to reposting the same content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media websites, understand what type of content works best on a given platform. Is positive or negative content more likely to be shared? Graphics or videos? Messages from the candidate, her family members, or her supporters? What issues are most likely to resonate? In an age of a surplus of information and a deficit of attention, being thoughtful and deliberate about what you post is critical for maximizing reach.

While it might be tempting for campaigns, committees, and advocacy groups to build proprietary platforms that enable these capabilities, these organizations may not have the resources to develop and deploy the technologies that accomplish these goals. That’s why it makes sense to partner with cutting-edge companies like Naytev, a Y Combinator alum based in San Francisco that’s helping companies generate more referral traffic.

Companies like Naytev are already developing these competencies and can help political organizations apply consumer or enterprise technologies in impactful ways. While Election Day is months away, now is the time to start innovating and iterating and to explore the latest weapons to arm your digital arsenal for the electoral battles that lie ahead.

Steve Johnston started working on federal political campaigns 15 years ago. Since then, he has done digital marketing for companies, causes, and candidates looking to employ smarter strategies online. In addition to his digital work for the House Majority Leader in Congress, Steve has also done product marketing for the Silicon Valley tech startup Quora. He has a degree in Government from Harvard and an MBA in Marketing and Operations Management (joint major) from Penn’s Wharton School. Follow him on Twitter @StevenEJohnston.