Originally published in Entrepreneur’s Handbook
The election is far in the rearview mirror. For those of us who work at the intersection of political strategy and digital transformation, that means it’s time to regroup and discuss the new ways campaigns engaged supporters while persuading and mobilizing voters in 2020.
Facing a different world in 2020, campaigns quickly evolved and innovated to adapt to our new reality. This is true both for both political campaigns and brands. As growth hackers, learnings are applicable across the digital ecosystem, not just in the sector they were tested.
Breaking down Silos
The links between the private sector and politics are fairly well known and marketing a candidate is often compared to product marketing. But much of the research focuses on how for-profit marketing leads in developing tools and creating tactics that are utilized by political campaigns.
At A+G Digital, we started as a firm that’s laser-focused on helping Democratic campaigns run the most effective and transformative digital campaigns possible. While our laser-focus on creating scroll-stopping experiences to help our clients win hasn’t changed, we’ve widened our clientele since then to include support for socially conscious companies and startups.
By working across silos, we’ve been able to identify and apply learnings from all of our areas of practice to keep our strategic direction at the cutting edge. As it turns out, persuading and mobilizing voters and direct-to-consumer marketing rely on similar tactics and strategies. And we apply our learnings across our practice.
Far too often, industries are siloed when there are cross-sector learnings that could benefit their work. Political campaigns are no exception. Tactics used in campaigns can be applied in the private sector to enhance digital transformation and go-to-market strategies.
The truth is, if something is effective in politics, it probably works in D2C marketing as well and the inverse.
We saw this trend before, but it accelerated in 2020 in a big way. And campaigns saw major major dividends.
Video has been a dominant content category across online channels for years now but the Coronavirus accelerated the trend. Users sought escape from lockdown just as it became harder to safely send production teams to produce the content.
The solution? When A+G produced a video short for Tim Ryan last year, we couldn’t send a production team. Instead, we interspersed preexisting b-roll with audio recorded on an iPhone to tell the story of why Tim Ryan is such a strong champion for working families in Northeast Ohio.
Similarly, Rising Tide Interactive created a remote shoot kit that traveled over 10,000 miles from August to October capturing authentic moments that would never have been logistically difficult to do safely in the middle of a pandemic. The new system had the added benefit of saving creators tens of thousands of dollars in production.
Whether cuts from a live-streamed event, motion graphic videos, TikToks, a quick selfie video, or even a tuna melt tutorial, online video evolved. Campaigns learned that producing engaging videos doesn’t necessarily require spending tens of thousands of dollars to fly out a production team. While that innovation was created for the pandemic era its benefits mean it’s likely here to stay.
With the pandemic making holding in-person unsafe, campaigns quickly adapted to hosting virtual events instead of in-person ones. Both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions were both held virtually to varying levels of success. Candidates at every level went live on social networks or even held virtual town hall meetings and fundraisers.
Virtual events have widened their audience and reach beyond what would be possible with traditional events. Holding events online doesn’t require a candidate to travel to event locations making it possible to host several virtual events which would only allow ten legacy events.
This efficiency was particularly helpful for fundraising with candidates able to devote their time to higher-impact areas like call time. While virtual events were held before the pandemic the variety of formats and goals have seen lots of innovation.
Many campaigns partnered with Hovercast during the cycle to create participatory live virtual shows. The platform which had previously been used by major brands like Audi to hold interactive events was leveraged to hold grassroots fundraisers.
Presidential campaigns like those of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren led the way during the primaries but Hovercast was also leveraged by state parties in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and by down-ballot candidates. It was even used for an inaugural ball.
They saw big results. Clients saw a 100% increase in live donations (ie., additional donations during the event) on ticketed events and even larger ROIs on non-ticketed events. Andrew Yang’s presidential campaign saw fundraising during live-streamed town halls jump 4x using Hovercast’s technology.
Post-pandemic, it’s a near certainty that politicians and brands will continue using interactive virtual events to enhance campaigns utilizing technology pioneered during the lockdown.
Quality Over Quantity
Organic reach has significantly dropped for most organizations. In 2019, Facebook posts from nonprofits reached an average of only 9.1% of the page’s followers.
Since Facebook’s “meaningful interactions” algorithm update, the volume of posts no longer correlates with reach. Instead, it’s all about quality. Posts that generate meaningful interactions with and between your followers will be shown more on newsfeeds.
What does that mean? It means that if your KPI is reach, you should take the time to craft thoughtful posts that generate strong responses from your followers instead of simply posting more. Avoid posting “filler content” that doesn’t generate high-quality responses.
What does quality content mean? At its core, it’s content created for your target audience for them to engage with meaningfully. For campaigns, that’s voters. That could mean a highly produced or even a quick selfie posted by a candidate. At A+G, we’ve seen clients that post one quality post with high engagement see more reach than clients who post multiple times a day.
The approach to emails is slightly different. A few years ago, campaigns and non-profits set arbitrary ceilings on their cadence of emails. “Send one email a week” was common advice. That’s changed now as strategists segment to send multiple emails a day to their most engaged supporters while reducing sends to less engaged supporters.
On political campaigns, donations are usually the primary KPI to evaluate email programs, and sending more emails usually means more donations. But bombarding subscribers with a high number of emails risks spiking your unsubscribe and spam rates impacting your list health and deliverability. Treating your list tactfully became even more important during the pandemic.
While the Trump campaign hit their list relentlessly, even after the election, the Democratic National Committee took a different approach. The party’s digital team unintuitively sent fewer emails and raised more money. By drafting dynamic emails and a commitment to growing a stronger relationship with supporters, the party improved deliverability and increased ROI from the email program.
Bottom line? Treat your supporters and potential clients well. Send emails as often as you have quality content that engages your list.
It’s no secret that email is still the most scalable way to raise money for political campaigns. And list development is naturally a priority for marketers of all stripes.
Political campaigns rely heavily on list swaps and acquisitions are common. Vendors allow campaigns to buy lists of confirmed Democratic donors and immediately start sending them emails asking for support.
During this cycle, we saw campaigns that simply dumped newly acquired subscribers into their standard email program while others took a concerted approach to warm up new contacts. Spoiler: the campaigns that took the time to build out a strong welcome sequence massively outperformed those that didn’t.
Call them drip sequences, onboarding series, engagement ladders, automation, or whatever you’d like but it’s a crucial piece of building a strong email program.
Whether you’re a consumer brand, B2B marketer, or a political campaign, you should have a well-thought-out drip series to warm up contacts. And it should be constantly iterated. If you don’t get it right, you’re leaving money on the table.
The pandemic was a time of disruption and digital transformation for our world. Political campaigns were no exception. Luckily, like the rest of the world, campaigns proved their agility and adapted. Growth hackers of all stripes can gain valuable insights from the learnings of the whirlwind of the 2020 election cycle in digital politics.
It’s time to break down the silos between digital marketers in various industries. Strategists for brands and politics could all benefit from applying learnings across sectors to their own work