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Obama, Romney rely on mobile apps for votes

Mobile applications are playing a bigger role for presidential campaigns this year as a way to engage constituents and drive excitement around key developments, as evidenced by the release of new apps this week by the presidential campaigns for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

The Obama app is focused on bringing local volunteers the information they need while the Romney app is driving excitement around the candidate?s pick for vice president, using pushing notifications, social media and the ability to earn rewards. Because the apps are designed to leverage the growing use of smartphones to consume content, the campaigns need to insure they are providing users with relevant, meaningful content.

?An app download is a strong signal of interest and support on behalf of the constituent, so presidential candidates need to take care to provide their users with valuable information and an enriching experience,? said Hafez Adel, director of marketing at ReTargeter, San Francisco.

?If people download their candidate's app and are simply bombarded with generic messages, that's a wasted opportunity,? he said. ?Politicians need to take the time to figure out how to provide users with real value instead of just treating their mobile app as another broadcast platform like email or direct mail.

?I think the best mobile app implementations will find a way to encourage user interaction and feedback to create a two-way dialogue, but this is easier said than done.?

Romney innovates in mobile
The new Obama for America smartphone app lets users easily find local volunteer events, get a list of voters to talk to in their neighborhood and access the information they need to spread the word, such as President Obama?s record to state-specific voting information.

Users can also stay up to date with breaking news and instantly share with friends and family using Facebook, Twitter, email and text messaging.

The Mitt?s VP app is focused on keeping users informed about Mr. Romney?s choice for his running mate.

Users will receive a push notification when the news breaks so they are the first to find out. Additionally, the app lets users share the news with friends to earn exclusive campaign gear.

While the Obama campaign has historically been a leader in technological innovation, the Romney campaign has gone the extra mile to best take advantage of what mobile has to offer.

?In a way, the Romney app is more innovative because it's explicitly tied to an exciting narrative ? who will Mitt Romney pick for his VP?,? Mr. Adel said.

?This creates anticipation and drama around his decision, and that's the best kind of engagement,? he said. ?The rewards element is also clever because it incentivizes social media sharing and can help the announcement go viral quickly.

?The Romney camp has basically applied some of the best practices in mobile app development to their own campaign, so that's impressively forward-looking, especially compared to McCain's virtually non-existent digital presence in 2008.?

Mr. Romney?s campaign has also actively been pushing mobile advertising for his presidential election both at a national and targeted level. For example, a recent iAd campaign from Mitt Romney encouraged users to download a different app via a video (see story).

Broader mobile strategies
In the 2008 presidential elections, President Obama?s campaign was applauded by mobile marketers for its use of SMS and mobile Web.

While SMS text messaging continues to play an important role in the presidential candidates? marketing efforts, this year they are embracing a wide array of mobile techniques, from mobile donations, mobile advertising and mobile video.

?I believe 2012 is the year that mobile really came into its own as an indispensable tool for political campaigns, and that's thanks to the versatility of contemporary mobile apps,? Mr. Adel said.

?Politicians can use them to create a direct link with their constituents and provide them with news and information without relying on an intermediary,? he said. ?Mobile apps are also tremendously helpful for coordinating the efforts of countless campaign volunteers, particularly with regards to canvassing and fundraising.

?Finally, geo-targeted mobile ads can provide politicians with the last-minute push they need to mobilize voters and ensure their messages are heard.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York