There’s a lot that businesses can learn from political campaigns in the heat of national elections about how to identify, reach and motivate target audiences. Political campaigns, and in particular Presidential elections, are a hot-bed of on-the-ground strategies, where anything and everything is tested to see what works all with a single goal in mind: to get as many people who will vote for your candidate to the polls on election day as possible. The national political parties spend hundreds of millions of dollars on these efforts, and are at the cutting-edge of these types of behavioral and digital sciences.
If you have any doubt, just look at the Obama 2008 campaign where the announcement of the selection of Joe Biden as the Vice Presidential candidate was not released to the national news media on a Friday evening to maximize news coverage as had been the norm going back decade. Instead, it was broadcast via Twitter to the campaigns millions of followers at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. On that date in August 2008, the traditional news media and its filter of reporters and editors serving watch over the campaign news that it would deliver to citizens officially became irrelevant to the campaigns. The Obama team went directly to supporters with its message unfiltered.
Get-out-the-vote campaigns have a lot in common with the efforts of businesses to reach potential leads and turn them into active customers. With a wide set of tools in their toolbox, ranging from traditional print and broadcast ads to direct mail to digital strategies, executives struggle to know which activities will be most successful. Here’s where they can learn the most from campaigns.
Starting in 1998, a team of political scientists led by Alan Gerber and Donald Green began experimenting with various get-out-the-vote techniques to see which were the most effective. They compared, for example, the effectiveness of calls from a paid call center, a piece of direct mail, and a home visit (this began before the age of digital marketing strategies, of course). The biggest surprise was that having people knocking on doors boosted voter turnout by nine percent—a huge increase in political terms. Least effective were impersonal techniques, such as generic mailings and phone calls from paid, script-reading workers.
What did work? Personalized, inquisitive and engaging communications targeted to the consumer were most effective. Even simple tasks such as thanking a voter for their previous support had a significant impact.
The lessons are clear and shouldn’t be surprising. Developing campaigns that speak directly to a key audience, that is personalized and talks about their particular needs, is the most effective way to reach and motivate customers.