Last weeks midterm elections reveal that marketers in political contests have their work cut out engaging voters across a broad range of mobile platforms despite being able to leverage the technology in all aspects of a campaign.
Amid a proliferation of smartphones and tablets, marketers still faced challenges reaching voters across the mobile spectrum, finding desktops a formidable competitor for attention. The mixed performance suggests that while mobiles role in electoral politics is growing, campaigns have yet to realize its potential for organizing supporters, fund-raising and getting out the vote.
Voters preferred mode of communication is mobile, yet campaigns are under-indexing in terms of utilization, said Sean Gera, marketing manager at CallFire. Studies have proven that people check their mobile devices countless times a day.
Mobile content carries a higher degree of salience for the user whereas direct mail, television ads, and landline phone calls dont necessarily have the same impact or reach as they did just a decade ago, he said.
As in past elections, SMS and social media use increased during the 2014 political contests.
2014 was the first election where we saw numerous politicians at all levels on all sides using texting as a valuable part of their marketing mix and outreach, Mr. Gera said.
Greg Abbott's campaign Web site.
Calling potential supporters on mobile versus landlines stymied some campaign organizers.
Campaigns know that there are serious restrictions when calling mobile devices and many will actually scrub their lists for mobile, Mr. Gera said. Calling is possible but only when consent is given. As fewer people use landlines, the need to reach mobile will only increase.
Political strategists discovered the effectiveness of keyword SMS promotions that businesses had been using for years.
Campaigns would post Text to Win, Text to Learn More, Text to Join, Text to Meet offers on all of their major channels. The voter texted in a keyword such as USA to a short code such as 67076, and they received an autoreply message that gave them an offer, a place to meet, an interesting fact, a link to a video or site, or anything that a candidate wanted to use to target the voter.
Yet no single channel proved to be effective given the differing strategies used to target specific voting groups.
Mobile is a platform that enables campaigns to reach their audience using the optimal channel whether it be social media, SMS, phone call if given consent, app, email, website, etcetera, but consent is key, Mr. Gera said.
Huge investments in digital and mobile paid off for Greg Abbott, who emerged as the victor in the Texas governors race.
The campaign targeted Hispanic voters, traditionally one of the most Internet-savvy ethnic groups.
Digital ad firm Targeted Victory created Hispanic audience segments constructed from nightly scoring and Targeted Victorys online targeting data. From there, data sets were broken down further, first by gender and then by voters who primarily spoke English versus those who primarily spoke Spanish.
Targeted Victory then used Lotames data-management platform to serve ads sequentially to potential voters across all devices. Pre-roll and in-banner video campaigns targeting Hispanic audiences amassed more than 12 million views.
Targeting Hispanics in Texas.
Driving mobile users to our Targeted GOTV app environment looking up where to vote, etcetera had great success this time, said Michael Beach, Targeted Victorys co-founder.
A large part of that was improved targeting, but another improvement was making sure that the application was built with a mobile-first mindset so that our conversion rates did not drop dependent on the device type. This was a problem in the past.
Also, launching our Victory Passport product allowed for one-click donations which dramatically improved ROI for fundraising on mobile.
For many candidates, the big challenge was finding ways to reach voters across the range of mobile platforms.
Different platforms require different creatives and message types, Mr. Beach said. This is where we are still behind in politics. We are data rich and content poor.
The mobile universes sheer growth challenged some political marketers.
As with all consumers of media, voters are more and more device agnostic than they ever have been before, said Jonathan Melvin, an account manager with BASK Digital Media who worked on the social media, email marketing, and Web components of Bruce Rauners successful Illinois gubernatorial campaign.
We had to make sure we were reaching those voters across all devices, whether that be desktop, smartphone, tablet, connected TV, etcetera.
Our Web sites were built with responsive design, our email messaging was mobile friendly, including sign-up and donation forms, our advertising strategies always included a heavy mobile component with mobile display, mobile video ads, mobile social media ads, and mobile Pandora ads, he said.
Being that most messaging was persuasion or awareness-related, click-through rate was not the main focus of the advertising strategy, but the mobile ads always outperformed desktop ads in terms of CTR.
Analytics proved target voters high usage of mobile devices. The Bruce Rauner for Governor campaign Web site received more than 50 percent of its traffic from either a smartphone or tablet. About 55 percent of the campaigns email messages were read on a mobile device.
The election pointed to the importance of incorporating mobile into the broader campaign blueprint.
It should not be viewed as another silo, Mr. Beach said. Mobile communication should not be planned in a vacuum. It should be a part of the overall campaign communication strategy.
At best, a small step
Not all observers saw the campaigns of 2014 as a step forward for mobile.
Organizing support through social.
Mobile advertising wasnt used to any great extent in the last election, said Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates. Nationwide, there was only a few hundred million spent on digital advertising, and virtually all of it was on standard banners and video-preroll.
The big challenge wasnt particular to mobile, but to online media in general, he said. Campaign managers still believe to a great extent that TV and direct mail are the best way to use their dollars.
When things change and they will over the next two years I think youll see a fivefold increase in the use of mobile in advertising campaigns designed to solicit contributions and volunteers, he said.
Still, the entire expenditure on digital will be roughly $1 billion in the 2016 election year, or about 10 percent of total political advertising.
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York.