The US is gearing up for one of the most incredible election years ever. June 7th is rapidly approaching as one of the big election days leading up to the eventual November presidential vote. As it turns out, it is not just the presidential election. There are many candidates running for office for Congress, City councils and School boards.
I had the opportunity to meet up with Ro Khanna who is running for Congress, from Silicon Valley. A friend of mine had invited him home for a meet and greet with others in the neighborhood. I was curious to see and meet a real politician, a Democrat at that in the run up to this election. So, I RSVP’ed right away. It was well worth it. While Ro seemed like an interesting candidate, this post is not an endorsement for him.
President Barack Obama (2008) and PM Narendra Modi (2014) both ran the most successful digital political campaigns in history. I was keen to understand the role of marketing in a modern day election campaign in 2016.
To set the context, here are some basic facts.
Much like a startup CMO, here are several questions a political campaigner has to address:
Most candidate have a website and social media presence. You need to have a clear, simple and small set of messages that are the basis of your campaign. People have to be able to talk about you and share your messages.
Co-incidentally, this is no different than early stage startups. If you stand for too many things, it will confuse your customers (or the voters). Further, you need to have a clear positioning with respect the other candidates. This is especially true if are the challenger as opposed to an incumbent.
Last but not the least, you need to decide and start your digital activities early. Apparently both the Obama and Modi teams had registered their domains and started SEO, audience segmentation, etc. couple of years before the final elections.
They also did a lot of sophisticated A/B testing on the various message copies. Remember “Ab ki baar Modi Sarkar” or “Yes We Can!” from the Obama campaign! Some of these techniques have also made it down to the local campaigns now.
Fundraising is a core competence required to run a modern day campaign. Like Senator Obama showed in 2008, even to do fund raising, one can leverage online marketing in a big way.
Who should you target and in what way? Should you spend money to get money? You bet! However, depending on your anticipated cost of customer acquisition (CAC, Donation and LTV) you may wish to raise more or less money. In a way, this is similar to budgeting in an early stage startup.
There is a notion of customer lifetime value (LTV – life time votes, anyone :-)) here. For example, they want to target people who have registered for their party, voted before (the most attractive demographic), donated, volunteered, etc.
You have a clear message, a budget and now need to figure out your go-to-market. You need to figure out channels and the right way to deliver the message for each channel.
It was fascinating to talk to Ro about how effective he thought various channels like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google were. He was clearly thinking about how to get reach and distribution in a cost effective way. Secondly, they had given a lot of thought on how to tailor the messages differently for YouTube vs. a Podcast vs. a Facebook post.
Further, since they are running local, if not hyper-local campaign, they need their budgets to be super focussed. Most platforms don’t have efficient hyper local targeting for these kind of ‘web’ campaigns.
Most importantly, they needed to rely on the customers to get the word out. Ro mentioned several times that they had 25k likes on Facebook and that has material impact on their campaign. Again, its no different than relying on word of mouth or NPS for startups.
Further, even in an avant-garde market like Silicon Valley, they need to have a sophisticated offline strategy. They had a “targeted” postcard mailer strategy, a TV and Print strategy (both paid and “earned”) to get the word out. Also, for all the offline activity they needed to send traffic back to their website and their social media presence!
The holy truth in managing a campaign is the the various polls leading up to the election. While I suspect pre-polling has become quite good for national level campaigns, I think for local campaigns you need to find ways of running online polls, surveys and even NPS trending to figure out if you are getting there.
In conclusion, the role of online marketing is becoming ever more important in elections. Just like startups, the fortunes of the political campaigners will depend on their marketing ability. Agree? Disagree? As always, please do share your thoughts below.
(Amit is a Managing Partner at Prime Venture Partners, a seed stage VC firm based out of Bangalore, India. Prime invests in category creating, early stage companies founded by rock star teams. Amit has held leadership positions at Makemytrip, Google and IBM. He is also deeply engaged with the early stage ecosystem in India and actively volunteers with iSpirt, TiE and NASSCOM. He tweets regularly @amitsomani and is trying to become an active, late blooming blogger).
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