In this keynote talk from the 2021 CampaignTech conference, I outline the emerging digital battlegrounds that transcend demographics and provide a strategy for how candidates and their campaigns reach voters through behavioral campaigning.
My name is Eric Wilson. I’m a political technologist helping Republicans unlock the full potential of technology, the Internet and digital media to become more competitive and win. I’m excited to share with you today a new idea
that I’m exploring called Digital Battlegrounds. These are the emerging battlegrounds that candidates and their campaigns will have to compete in in the 21st century and beyond.
When I mentioned political battlegrounds to you and swing voters, what typically comes to mind are things like soccer moms or suburban college educated women, Hispanic men, rustbelt non college educated white voters. These are all demographics there focused on geography, gender, race, education and income.
But what we’re starting to see is an emerging new set of battlegrounds built around not demographics, but behaviors, specifically, behaviors that are happening online. Modern digital campaign battlegrounds extend beyond those demographics to focus on behaviors such as gaming, social media content creation, usage of Internet of Things devices, and mobile computing and communication.
So let’s look at how some of these new battlegrounds are shaping the way campaigns reach voters. In a poll, we found that 57% of persuadable voters – these are voters who considered supporting both Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the last election – they relied on a search engine like Google to get information about campaigns and elections in 2020. We also know that 75% of Google users never go to the second page of search results.
So what that means is that first page of Google search results is one of the hottest battlegrounds in politics today. As competitive as any swing state or suburb. Campaigns need to start thinking about how they engage with voters in these platforms.
When it comes to email, which is our most important channel for online fund raising, we saw that fewer than 1% of emails from House incumbents in the most important races made it into Gmail’s primary inbox. And similarly, Mailchimp’s data show that 23% of political emails are opened by recipients. That means the vast majority – three out of four are not opened – and so again those few messages on a user’s inbox or or text inbox are becoming more competitive than ever for campaigns, and we have to think about how do we campaign there.
When it comes to social media and the creator economy, we’re seeing that voters are engaged there as well. 17% of political donors listen to podcasts weekly. As we know it’s very difficult to advertise into podcasts because the audiences are so segmented. When it comes to email newsletters, 33% of voters report getting news about politics and elections on a weekly basis from newsletters. So it’s time for campaigns to start thinking about how they might become creators themselves. How do they interact with influencers and reach these audiences in places where paid advertising isn’t possible?
The answer is behavioral campaigning, which is a modern approach for these emerging digital battlegrounds. For example, search engine marketing – these are SEO strategies to ensure that campaigns content appears on Google that voters can find your side of the story. A clear task item for campaigns is to write for Google. We write for voters right now. But increasingly we need to write for Google because more and more of these searches are so called no click where someone just gets the information they need on that first page of Google and it’s pulling from someone else’s website. Similarly, we see that about 1/3 of voters have smart speakers like an Amazon Alexa, and they’re doing more searches than ever using voice.
When it comes to email and text messaging, we need to have an eye towards deliverability. Most of our focus is on writing copy and getting conversions, but again, we need to think about how we’re competitive in that inbox space, email authentication, the process of creating DNS records to verify your ownership of a domain are becoming table stakes for campaigns and more advanced campaigns are looking at ways to make sure that they get into the primary inbox.
Again, you’ve got to be a content creator. Embrace the influencer lifestyle to create content that people want
to engage with. And finally, it’s time to have digital field programs. It’s no longer enough just to give people physical turf, but you need to engage online communities and meet voters where they are with digital field reps.
So here’s how campaigns are typically doing this. Unfortunately, this is the wrong way. TV ads are shipped online and we spend 20% of our budget behind that. That’s that’s digital advertising. Social media is really just press releases on Facebook and Twitter and fundraising is all about burning through those lists and using gimmicks to get people to donate. They’re missing out a lot on a really complete conversion
This is behavioral campaigning. This is the right way to do it. It’s a comprehensive journey for supporters.
Your advertising is your top of the funnel. Search marketing making sure that your campaigns content can be
found online. Creating social media for a community. Good content. Having a dialogue, hearing from your audience, making sure that the content is getting delivered with email. And finally instead of just conversion, focusing on enrollment, getting people to become part of your campaign.
That’s behavioral campaigning, and that’s the future for candidates. Thanks for listening.