Monday, December 5, 2011

“Time Shifting” Reinvents 2012 Voter Campaign Message Consumption

Photo Credit - Flickr Common

Time shifting is the process of recording live television shows on TiVo, or a similar digital video recording (DVR) device, and watching them at a later date. People who time shift are opting-out of live TV viewing. This process includes fast-forwarding through commercials.

For many, this is particularly true of political ads when they hit favorite shows non-stop. Time shifting allows viewers to control their ad consumption, if any at all on TV.

Politicians must now become more creative and in-touch with how voters consume campaign messaging. The Internet has become the place to be seen and to be heard, and most importantly, the place to create voter engagement.

President Obama’s current use of Town Hall meetings on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as websites and mobile phone applications, is no youth vote outreach novelty. It is an example for all politicians in meeting the evolving campaign consumption choices of voters regardless of age.

With his 2008 campaign, President Obama used social media to change the culture of politics. The days of marketers, including political campaigns, being “I speak and you listen.” are over. The new paradigm is “We must now listen to each other.”

Social media and new media in general, have changed voters’ campaign consumption and interaction. More Americans now expect two-way communication. They desire a seat at the table. They demand a meaningful online presence and engagement from politicians.

The Campaign Solutions Group (TCSG) has been a leading provider of TeleCampaign services since 1995. Based in San Diego, TCSG owns and operates a 150 seat in-house call center specializing in live-agent voter-ID, persuasion, patch-through and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) services. TCSG also offers a full suite of automated voter contact solutions including Tele Town Hall, robo-calls and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) polling.

Video-TownHall, The Campaign Solutions Group's newest virtual campaign tool, is now available for the 2012 election cycle. Video-TownHall is truly unique. Unlike a traditional Town Hall, it does not have to be tied to a live event. A video widget is permanently embedded on the campaign website. Voters engage in personalized Q&A sessions with the candidate by keying natural language questions (policy or personal). Answers are provided via prerecorded high definition video clips.

Video-TownHall is TCSG’s inaugural contribution to the digital campaign space. Future digital campaign tools will include Virtual Debate Forum and Grassroots Volunteer Portal.

John Mabie, CEO of The Campaign Solutions Group shares his insight.

BKH: What are the main effects social media, mobile apps, and TiVo are having on campaign message strategy and ad buys?

JM: With one third of voters time-shifting, campaigns must seek alternative communication channels to fill the gap. Old media, TV, print (including direct mail), and radio advertising will continue to be staples; however, new media is gaining ground.

The campaign website will still be the cornerstone of digital campaigning; however, candidates will also rely on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Digital content and messaging is now customary. The challenge for today’s digital campaign strategist is how to leverage technology to gain an advantage.

Creating voter engagement is the new priority. Effective campaign websites have minimal bounce rates. Bounce rates are visitors logging on to the site, then leaving after viewing the homepage. Website effectiveness is measured with analytics. Key performance indicators include page views, session duration, unique visitors, repeat visitors and active time.

The most effective campaign websites include tools which allow voters to do more than just click through pages and view content. Interactive voter engagement (completing web-forms, answering survey/poll questions, clicking “like,” etc.) is the Holy Grail of digital campaigning.

Digital campaign strategists must also develop effective ways to drive traffic to the website. The greatest campaign website is useless without visitors. Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital, for this makes it easy for voters to find the website when querying Google, Yahoo, etc.

The true challenge is to attract voters who are not looking for the site which involves marketing and promotion. The campaign website URL should be prominently displayed on all printed promotional material and mentioned in all TV and radio ads.

Campaigns must now deploy dedicated stand-alone advertising initiatives solely for the purpose of driving website traffic; namely, strategically placed banner ads. For example, if a candidate is trying to appeal to young adult males, placing banner ads on Entertainment and Sports Programming Network’s (ESPN) website is a clever choice. If older voters are the target, American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) website would be desirable.

Effective banner ads must be creative, perhaps provocative, and always include a “call to action.” For example, “Click here to view Candidate-X’s policy position on gay marriage!”

BKH: What are the main effects of voters trending away from traditional media to new media in general?

JM: The effects are different for the constituent and the candidate. For the constituent, with the advent of time shifting, many now control their ad consumption.

For the candidate, the campaign must deploy an integrated mix of traditional media and new media strategies. Putting all eggs in one basket is a losing formula. Each campaign must decide how to weight this mix in terms of dedicated resources and investment. Some common questions a campaign team must ask:

  1. How much do we spend on new media?
  2. How do we allocate our new media investment?
  3. Do we outsource every aspect of our new media initiative, or do we bring certain things in-house?

BKH: How has campaign strategy evolved most from 2008 to 2012?

JM: New media’s place in politics has gradually been gaining ground since Diane Feinstein lunched the first campaign website in 1994. By 1998, the effects of the Internet began to emerge. Independent Jesse Ventura stunned the Minnesota political establishment by conducting a campaign that featured email communications.

In 2000, GOP presidential candidate John McCain proved that candidates could raise a lot of money online. During the 2002-midterm elections, many voters were turning to the Internet to get political information from multiple sources.

In 2004 presidential race, Howard Dean's campaign demonstrated how social networking (blogs) could be effective in generating voter interest. The 2006 midterm election campaign was perhaps most famous for the rise of online video, highlighted by Virginia Republican George Allen’s “macaca” video.

The main story of the historic 2008 presidential race was the way in which all kinds of social media tools came to prominence: Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and mobile phone texting. The 2010 race was notable for the innovation of mobile campaign apps.

I predict the digital trend will continue to expand in 2012. Candidates will place more emphasis on online messaging and will utilize more online channels. A simple campaign website will no longer suffice. The 2012 campaign strategist will deploy a feature rich website chock full of engaging features and web-tools. Facebook and Twitter will be leveraged more than ever.

The difference from 2010 to 2012 will not be marked by differences per se, but more by “scale.” The new media options that were effectively dabbled with in 2010 will command much greater attention and investment in 2012. Bigger campaigns will hire dedicated Digital Strategists. Campaigns will reassess 2010 voter outreach budget allocations and redirect a greater percentage to new media options.

If I had to predict one actual “big” campaign development in 2012, I’d say, “web traffic optimization.”

Campaigns will spend a lot of time and money designing compelling website campaign messaging, but they will spend record amounts of money driving traffic to the site. Strategists will invest heavily in targeted dedicated banner ads for the sole purpose of driving voters to campaign websites.

BKH: Is there a big difference between how over 40 voters versus under 40 voters follow campaigns?

JM: Voters are generally divided into four age categories: (18-29), (30-44), (45-64) and (65+). In 2008 Obama got 66%, 52% and 50% of the three youngest groups. McCain got 53% of the oldest group.

Statistics show that younger people opt-out of live TV more than older voters. Nearly 80% of young voters rely on the Internet as their primary source of news. Approximately 70% of young voters use some form of social networking every week, 39% do so every day.

Because younger voters are online more than older voters, they naturally consume more campaign information via digital options. Innovative forward thinking campaign strategists will make a better effort driving older voter digital traffic in 2012.

BKH: Do most politicians and political strategists understand the entire campaign message elements needed?

JM: As CEO of a TeleCampaign company, I speak to candidates, campaign managers and political consultants all the time. I can safely say everyone in the political campaign space is well aware of the increasing growth and value of new media. I am quite sure at least 99% of today’s campaign strategists utilize some form of digital messaging. At the least, they all use a basic campaign website.

In terms of proactive, creative, innovative, forward-thinking understanding and command of digital campaigning, the landscape is clearly segmented on a bell curve. Only a small group truly “gets it.” On the other end of the spectrum, only a small group lack true understanding.

The overwhelming majority are somewhere in the middle. Over time, the bell will start to change shape as more campaign strategists stop talking about comprehensive digital strategies and actually start allocating significant budget resources to new media initiatives.

Its true most modern campaign strategists understand social networking and the value of an online presence; however, most are “old-school,” still prepared to dedicate the vast majority of outreach resources to TV and print. Television advertising still casts a huge shadow over all other forms of voter messaging in terms of budget.

In 2010, nearly 70% of the $2 billion spent on campaigns was used for TV advertising. Total expenditures for 2012 are projected at $3 billion. How the 2012 pie will be cut up remains to be seen. No doubt new media will gain significant ground; however, it may still be underutilized.

Television will continue to lead the way. Old habits die hard, and the economics of the “campaign business” are deeply rooted in traditional TV ad buys. Modern campaign strategists acknowledge the need for an online presence, but most are satisfied with the mere basics of a vanilla website, an unimaginative Facebook page, maybe a Twitter account and perhaps an inexpensive mobile app.

As political TV ads are proven to be less effective and as more voters utilize new media, strategists will start allocating greater resources to digital campaigning. Basic campaign websites will eventually include more innovative content and interactive tools.

Capturing demographics and voter data will become a serious priority. Social media channels will be leveraged. Significant investments will be made in website traffic optimization. The early adopters will gain a decided advantage. Over time the playing field will level.

BKH: How are politicians and campaign strategists reengineering their voter outreach strategies in general?

JM: While all candidates and political consultants talk the digital talk, they are still not walking the digital walk. Candidates typically spend a very small portion of their ad budgets on digital advertising. Though digital advocates have predicted increases in online ad budgets for years, the standard is still around 5% of the overall ad budget or less. TV and direct mail still rule.

2008 was by far the biggest year for online political advertising, but wasn’t big enough to be considered a “tipping point,” that status may be attained in 2012. The impact of the 2008 Obama campaign certainly got the scale moving, but old-school political media consultants were not completely sold.

To-date, anecdotal evidence suggests Democrats have leveraged new media more successfully. However, in 2010, Republican Scott Brown’s stunning Senate victory in Massachusetts, driven in part by a sophisticated online organizing and advertising effort, proves digital campaigning works for Republicans too.

Since 2008, campaigns with money almost always include online advertising in the mix, both early on to build a supporter list, and later for persuasion and GOTV purposes. In the future, more and more small, bootstrapped campaigns, from city council to statehouse, will buy and target Google and Facebook ads and/or develop a display/banner ad initiative.

BKH: What are the new high traffic areas for messaging?

JM: Individual campaign websites are still campaign staples but Twitter and Facebook are gaining ground fast. In January 2011, only 40% of the US Congressmen and Congresswomen were on Twitter. That number doubled by August.

Mitt Romney ran the first political Twitter ad on September 21, 2011. As of November 2011, Mitt Romney has 1.19 million Facebook “Likes.” By comparison, President Obama has 24 million “Likes.”

BKH: Where is the ad placement and ad money leaving and going?

JM: Online ads allow candidates to capture supporters at a relatively low cost compared to TV, direct mail, and other media. Digital ads, like the sponsored links that show up at the top of a Google search and ubiquitous social network ads, help candidates drive voters to their Facebook pages or campaign websites.

From there, they can entice supporters to sign a petition focused on a key issue, get them to register to volunteer with the campaign, and most important, donate campaign contributions. Once campaigns have an email address, they can go back to a supporter again and again to ask for additional donations.

In 2008, Obama clearly beat McCain in terms of online campaigning. The major distinction was money. The Obama camp spent upwards of $20 million. McCain’s team, on the other hand, spent closer to $4 million.

Google was the clear winner, grabbing at least $7.5 million in ad dollars from Obama. Obama spent less than $1 million on Facebook ads. Though Google is still a powerhouse when it comes to online political advertising, Facebook is rapidly closing in on Google’s dominant position as a result of its explosive growth among much of the voting public in the U.S. 2010 was the first big election year for social network advertising.

Because nearly every campaign created a Facebook page, many took the next step of running display ads to promote their pages in the hopes of garnering more “Likes”, which by extension is a bigger audience for their political messages and fundraising appeals. The trend is sure to continue in 2012.

BKH: What are the new products that meet the needs of how voters' want to view candidate information?

JM: New campaign trends for 2012 will include innovative web-tools, like Video-TownHall, and integrated “analytics analysis” that will trigger donation requests to visitors who are obvious supporters.

Video will start playing a more significant role in digital campaigning. More candidates are posting speeches and/or TV news appearances on YouTube, and embedding those videos on their campaign website.

I believe we will see a very large increase in money spent promoting all forms of online campaign communication, namely banner ads to drive traffic to campaign websites.

Originated in 2008, the Google ad tactic known as the “Google Surge” will continue to be popular and will likely be copied. Typically employed for GOTV right before election day, the surge involves a display ad blitz on the Google content network within a brief period of time, targeting a specific geographic area. The surge is equivalent to a short term “blast,” bombarding the electorate with consistent and persistent messaging.

BKH: How is Video-Town Hall a revolutionary campaign solution?

JM: Video-TownHall is revolutionary, because it is the first campaign web-tool, which allows true voter-candidate interaction in real time, any time - not tied to a live event. The Q&A experience is available 24-7.

The interactive Q&A experience is in itself revolutionary. No other campaign product or web-tool has ever created an individualized virtual town hall experience for the voter. Constituents engage the candidate on personalized issues.

Voters are not forced to listen to long speeches or view extended YouTube videos, which may contain issues/subjects of little or no interest to that voter.

No other campaign product or web-tool exposes the “personal” side of a candidate like Video-TownHall. Politicians may typically be viewed as detached and inaccessible - just a suit and a set of talking points. Video-TownHall actually helps “humanize” the candidate.

Video-TownHall allows voters to ask personal questions like What books do you read?, Who’s your favorite actor?, Did you always do your homework in school?, PC or Mac?, What historical figures do you admire most? The experience is engaging and fun!

Video-TownHall is also revolutionary, because it is on the cutting edge of “constituency profiling.” All voter Q&A engagement is recorded and reported. If logged on through Facebook, the voter’s demographic profile comes with him/her. Each Q&A session results in valuable data capture.

The platform allows for measurement of question frequency and pinpoints hot issues in specific geographic locations. It identifies key issues by age and/or gender, which is useful for micro-targeting and campaign strategy. The back-end analytics are invaluable. Captured voter data, via online interaction, will eventually be the life-blood of campaigns in the future.

Video-TownHall is revolutionary, because it is “newsworthy” in and of itself. Utilizing this new technology creates publicity. Forward thinking early adopters of new technology are seen as tech savvy innovators. Candidates who think outside the box are considered cutting edge.

BKH: Which candidates are currently using Video-TownHall?

JM: The web-tool was released in late October. San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio was the first candidate to deploy the technology.

Six candidates are scheduled to come online soon. Two are U.S. Congressmen, one is a U.S. Senate candidate, two are California Assemblymen, and one is a Los Angeles Board of Supervisor candidate.

In addition, we have submitted 200+ additional proposals, and The Campaign Solutions Group will start a national advertising campaign in December.

Follow Brenda Krueger Huffman on Twitter and Facebook.

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