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Rating the GOP candidates on their mobile know-how

Building strong relationships with constituents, donors and peers is what politics is all about. Mobile marketing, which lets brands get closer to their audiences than ever before, is also about relationships, which is why it should be an important tool in politicians? marketing toolbox.

However, politicians for the most part ? with a few exceptions ? have not done a good job so far of harnessing the power of mobile to help them build relationships. For example, the current crop of Republican presidential candidates have not shown an understanding of what mobile can help them accomplish, according to recent research conducted by Vibes.

?There is not a lot of effort going on from the Republican candidates to understand this stuff,? said Alex Campbell, CEO at Vibes, Chicago.

?If you are going to be the leader of the country, you need to understand technology and how this stuff works,? he said.

?Yes, there lots of other things that are out there that are more proven but, do we want someone to be our president who accepts the status quo or someone who is looking for new possibilities and opportunities and trying new things.?

Trial and error
Vibes assigned a mobile score for each of the current GOP candidates based on how they are using mobile to build awareness and support as well as to drive engagement and donations. The total points available are 19, with Mitt Romney scoring 9, Newt Gingrich 6, Ron Paul 5 and Rick Santorum 2.

Some advances are being made. For example, Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama have begun using mobile credit card readers from Square to let supporters make a donation.

?The fact that they are using Square to get donations is great use of mobile,? Mr. Campbell said.

Because mobile is growing so quickly, it is expected to play a more significant role in this year?s presidential election than the one four years ago if only because so many more consumers now own smartphones and use them regularly to keep up on the news.

?It is still way early in the election season,? Mr. Campbell said. ?If you are going to learn how to use mobile in a political campaign, you have to get out there and try things.

?Start learning now so that you know the effective way to use mobile when things get tough and when spending on TV ads gets out of control,? he said. ?Mobile is a great way to cut through the clutter.

?Spend the time and effort now to build an SMS list so that when attack ads are running, you have a base that you can send messages to. You can use mobile to really change the transaction, which is the vote.?

Building awareness
While the candidates are pouring a lot of money into TV and radio advertising, there is very little focus on how mobile can help build awareness.

For example, when Vibes did a search for the Obama mobile application, the results at the top of the page did not include the official president Obama app and even included one app that makes fun of him.

?You have to deal with that,? Mr. Campbell said. ?You have to make sure that people who are searching for the Obama app are getting what they need.?

The GOP presidential candidates either did not have an official app when Vibes searched for them or they were difficult to find. However, there were apps built by third parties for various candidates.

?If I?m a politician, that is my brand,? Mr. Campbell said. ?Am I controlling my brand?

?You would never go to an app store and find a Walmart app by someone else there,? he said.

?Finding the official apps is tough. The candidates should have a call to action on their Web sites letting visitors know they can text to get a link to the app.?

Mobile can also provide a way to tie everything together and make sure that people who are supporters stay informed.

For example, the candidates should be looking at how they can segment their list of opt-in mobile users to determine who are on the fence, who are loyal supports and who are peers. This way they can create different messaging strategies for each.

?There is a lot of information being put out there and mobile is a fantastic way to cut through the clutter and really get a message to an individual,? Mr. Campbell said.

Localized campaigns
While the candidates do have Web sites, not a lot of thought was put into the mobile experience.

Mr. Romney?s Web site is not mobile-optimized and the experience is subpar on a device. 

Additionally, when Vibes tried to pull up the Web site on a feature phone all that appeared was a button that said ?Donate.? However, when Vibes clicked on the button, there was a security error.

?It was not the best experience,? Mr. Campbell said. ?Half of your audience is not getting the information they want in a timely manner.?

?I like the fact that there are least mobile presences for some of the candidates,? he said. ?I would love to see candidates embrace mobile and have the understanding that they are not the experts.?

There is also potential in mobile for congressmen and senators.

?There is a bigger potential with more localized campaigns and a lot of those have not kicked off yet,? Mr. Campbell said. ?Because they are so localized, mobile can be a huge component because you can have a direct relationship with people in your area.?

?There is a big opportunity for congressmen and senators to embrace mobile because it is not as expensive and is a great way to have a relationship,? he said.

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