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What Political Campaigns Need to Learn From Digital Marketers

06/24/2015 08:43 EDT | Updated 06/24/2016 05:59 EDT
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With the looming federal election this October, Canadians are about to be flooded with information about candidates through several communication channels. This is the time when political parties ramp up their efforts to reach as many people as possible and spread their key messages. This is not a new concept. Communication with voters has always been a critical component of politics, but what has changed is how they communicate.

It's well known that people who consume news media are more likely to be civically and politically engaged, but where people get their news has now shifted. With more and more people opting to search for news not only online, but on social media platforms, politicians and their teams are now faced with the challenge (and opportunity) of being in that space and using it appropriately.

Why is this worth it? In the past, campaigns have focused on undecided voters as an attempt to sway them to vote in their favour. However, there are two types of undecided voters, those who are truly apathetic and those who are persuadable. The latter group is the one most influenced by media, ads and debates. These are the votes that have the biggest effect on an election; these are the people who can be more easily found and targeted online.

It is apparent that this online audience has to be reached, but how? This is where political campaign teams can learn from digital marketers.

Going beyond having a good website

A strong website is the minimum standard these days but getting the most out of digital efforts include looking at analytics, leveraging social media and using digital ads.

Being in the digital space is so much more than having a responsive website, it is about learning from your website and tracking the journey. With the many tracking tools available, the insights a political party can gain from website analytics is vital in gaining voter information, helping politicians communicate more effectively and increasing the success rate of key messages reaching the target audience.

This is the time when campaign teams should explore the real potential of website analytics, discovering not only who visits a website, but more specifically which aspects of your content they are more interested in and what information is resonating with the public. Insights gained will help further segment and identify the audience, micro-target and micro-message, and foster engagement while building a community.

Social media platforms are an opportunity

Every social media platform offers different rules and tactics to maximize the reach of key messages and opportunities to engage with target audiences -- some highlight the importance of graphics while others focus on frequency of information and tone. It is no longer a decision of which platform one should be on, it's about how to communicate effectively on each platform -- deciding on which type of multimedia to use and how to deliver your message with the goal of a user sharing content. A study recently found that "less than half of likely voters say live television is their primary way of viewing video content," yet the vast majority of political video budgets go toward traditional television ads.

Social media efforts also act as a testing ground for political messaging. Campaigns can test, track and analyze messaging in the digital space before they are used in a larger medium (broadcast, etc.). The immediacy of social media will provide insight on how the audience reacts to certain messages, keywords or phrases.

Online ads are an investment worth considering

Due to the sheer ability to reach a large amount of people with a single graphic, online ads should be used as a tool to target those undecided voters. Marketing is not solely based on budget but on how that budget will be used. Display advertising can act as huge factor in reaching certain people due to its granular level of targeting. Information like demographics, geography and user behavior is then available, making these ads far superior in terms of targeted reach than traditional advertising.

By investing in online ads, political campaigns have greater insight into the effectiveness of online advertising efforts. This then helps in tweaking and maximizing future online efforts.

Respect your email subscribers

Even though political campaigns are exempt from section 6 of the Canadian Anti-Spam legislation, meaning they are allowed to send online messages to anyone they have access to, it is still important to respect this relationship. Frequency, length and variety of content should be top of mind when using this method of communication. Reaching someone's inbox is now considered a privilege that should not be taken lightly.

Digital marketing has now taken a larger role in how campaign teams communicate with future voters. This is not to say that door-to-door canvassing or traditional advertising is rendered useless. Online efforts are simply an addition to the communications formula used by campaign teams. With the United States providing great insight on how to incorporate digital efforts in a political campaign, it will be interesting to see how Canadian political parties utilize such powerful tools.

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