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Political Campaigns in Transition:  What I Heard at Campaign Tech Expo

Political Campaigns in Transition:  What I Heard at Campaign Tech Expo

I recently spent a very interesting couple of days at Campaign and Election’s Campaign Tech Expo.  Here is what stood out to me as having the most far reaching implications for candidates, campaign managers, consultants, operatives, and political junkies.

  1. Digital Campaigning is a Channel, Not a Strategy– There was lots of cutting edge digital technology on display both on stage and in the vendor booths.  But in a ‘digital everything’ era let’s be sure not to become slaves to technology – your candidate, your strategy, and your message is what matters most.  Cutting edge technology doesn’t replace strategy – it simply helps you execute it.  Let’s not forget that!
  2. Digital ROI in is Doubt – Multimillion dollar corporate advertisers with the greatest levels of marketing sophistication like, Procter and Gamble, are pulling awayfrom platforms like Facebook (even before the Cambridge Analytica mess).  The burning question on the minds of many is whether digital advertising really and truly persuades and wins votes.  That remains the million dollar unanswered question.
  3. Democratic Digital Spend Deficit – Several speakers made the point that since the Obama years the Democrats have lost their digital and technology edge and cited the Democratic digital spending deficit relative to the GOP as the reason.  The strategic question is, recognizing that the Democrats likely can’t match the GOP dollar for dollar, what are the investments that make most sense and why and what tactics (Facebook advertising?) should Democrats largely cede to the GOP because it doesn’t have enough ROI (see point #2)?
  4. Message Trumps Technology + Data– Everytime – It’s not a partisan point to say that Hillary’s campaign was far more sophisticated on the social, digital, and data side compared with Trump.  So what was Trump’s edge?  Pure and simple – his message was far better – memorable, motivating, and quotable.  Look who’s living in the White House these days – message trumps technology and data, and it will everytime.
  5. Facebook – Change is Coming – The current thinking is that in the next 3-4 months Facebook will no longer integrate 3rdparty data into its algorithm, making targeting on their platform significantly less precise.  These changes, in direct response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, mean the platform will have to significantly change and evolve.  Political marketers need to be on their toes – and honestly not even the ‘experts’ know the full extent of the Facebook changes coming our way.
  6. Democracy Under Seige is Bi-Partisan – Yes Democrats, including me, are really angry about the Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  But, in retrospect Americans should have realized this was coming.  Nina Jankeowicz, from the Wilson Center, talked about the Russian strategy of working to create chaos and interference (rather than promote Russian ideology) through disinformation campaigns across Europe.  They did this in Estonia (2007), Ukraine (2014), the Netherlands (the 2016 referendum), the UK Brexit vote (2016) and French and Catalonia elections (2017), as well as of course in the United States.  Jankeowicz called this nothing less than “an assault on democracy” which leveraged Reddit and Tumblr, as well as Facebook.  Russian /foreign interference in our democracy is a bi-partisan issue and the Russians and others will be back.  The Belfer Center at Harvard has launched an election protection project– and, in my view, this must have bi-partisan support – at the federal, state, and local level.
  7. Fake News – the Worst is Yet to Come – Campaign and Election’s Shane Greer demonstrated compellingly that Fake News will become far more dangerous as technology grows even more sophisticated, allowing rogue actors to manipulate and corrupt communications.  Have a look at the video of the Parkland survivorsbeing corrupted and how one can even manipulate the words coming out of Obama’s mouth.  This Is Scary Stuff!
  8. Test, Test, Test – It’s never been cheaper or easier to test marketing content, collateral, and advertising – especially digitally.  This theory is even the subject of a great book, The Victory Lab.  Constant rigorous, iterative testing is actually a place where I believe politics is much more advanced than where Madison Avenue is these day.  In my view, it ought to become malpractice for corporate or political campaigns to not rigorously test many more facets of their campaign than they are doing today.
  9. Digital Analytics Must Go Beyond Vanity Metrics – Fundamentally, creative content, advertising, and political marketing is about winning votes and winning elections.  It’s not about generating clicks or impressions.  The focus of your analysis must never stray from how your campaign communications are changing the attitudes and opinions of target voters.
  10. Campaigns = Content Engines – Campaigns must no longer be content to put an ad on the air and sit back while the GRP’s burn in. Geoffrey Mackler from Blueprint, a Democratic digital firm, talked about how winning campaigns must commit to being guerrilla marketers, constantly creating content – and doing it fast, cheap, and easy.  Videos, graphics, and other points of engagement are the name of the game.

Bradley Honan is CEO and President of Honan Strategy Group, a Democratic polling and digital analytics firm.

Bradley Honan
CEO & President
Honan Strategy Group