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The main takeaway from a discussion of segmenting is to stop sending the same emails to everyone. But there’s another important takeaway for those doing digital political campaigns: people are not all the same, everybody brings unique and important perspectives into your campaign, and acknowledging that goes a long way towards getting supporters to help out in the best ways they can.

Segmentation originally emerged as a marketing strategy for email advertising of products and services. So it feels a little awkward talking about marketing strategies in relation to digital political campaigning, especially since many of the campaigns we work on are quite a distance away from the values of corporate advertisers. Two things get me through the incongruency. First, I don’t see an alternative in this system to raising money, doing so quickly and efficiently, and utilizing some level of mass marketing to do it. At the present time in the present world, it costs money to elect candidates who will defend reproductive rights, resist deregulation, and—if we demand it and support the right candidates—ultimately move us away from a pay-to-play political system.

Second, I’ve seen, and been a part of, thoughtful campaigns that use emails as part of larger conversations, of which raising money is an honest part, but not the whole. Strategies like segmentation sound cheesy, and in many contexts they can be cheesy. But strategies to find the kind of campaign supporters you want to engage are also essential, and if done right, can be the opposite of depersonalizing.

Scholars of persuasion going all the way back to Aristotle have emphasized the importance of understanding the different needs and situations of audiences. While political constituents have many common values and beliefs, they may have many different ways of getting there. Good communicators understand not only those common values and beliefs, but particular people’s unique starting points and priorities.

Even really market-oriented consultants say that good segmentation is about thinking beyond where people are right now. In politics, that means that people will reveal their policy hopes, and their aspirations about the political culture they want to live, if your email engagement can ask the right questions. Surveys are obviously an effective way to do this.

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The process actually begins a couple of steps earlier. Email verification and appending for your voter lists is really important before you start sending pre-segmented emails that are designed to reach everyone on the voter list, because that’s the point where you’re most likely to have a lot of those emails land somewhere they don’t belong, whether that means bouncing or end up in the inboxes of those who don’t want them. So you’ll want to use an email verification, and email append with Accurate Append (including their lead validation) to get the best quality and coverage. Verification isn’t very expensive; it’s about a penny per email, and is worth it to avoid inbox penalties from email service providers.

From there, once you have an accurate list, you can email out a survey about issues in the district, with a simple landing page with little campaign branding so that people won’t feel like you’re baiting-and-switching them. The data from that survey will be like gold to your campaign team, allowing prioritization of subject matter for subsequent emails, social media engagement, and even traditional media engagement. Questions about voters’ income levels and ages can also inform both subject matter prioritization and fundraising, and you can also get that data from your vendor.  

Segmentation was one of the tactics in the Obama campaign team’s impressive use of email. Bloggers back in 2012 wrote enthusiastically about the campaign’s “detailed segmentation” that included sending different messages and asks to different levels of donors, or enthusiastic versus mild supporters. Committed supporters would receive a video, while undecided voters (yes, the campaign segmented them out too) received a chart showing job growth in Obama’s first term. Whatever might be said of Obama’s policies, he had a superior campaign team that made supporters feel like they were part of a larger vision. Every election, I work with candidates who have what I believe are critical and timely visions of policy. I want to know and respond to any information I can get about voters in those races.

While money is important, we know spending the most money doesn’t win elections (although the candidates who spend the most money usually win – it’s complicated, read the article). I think one thing that does win, when races are close, is candidates going the extra mile to understand and appropriately respond to their supporters, because doing so will inspire those supporters to put more energy and value into the campaign. Smart and thoughtful campaigns will append the gaps in their voter lists, gather specific information about the voters through surveys or other techniques, and then use segmentation to ask the appropriate voters for the appropriate things. None of that needs to be cynical or cheesy if you don’t want it to be.

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Here in California, voter ID programs are aided by a very complete file – phones, emails, addresses. In most voter ID programs, I also work with Accurate Append (client) to supplement voter files. If I don’t have emails or need more coverage, an email append can fill the gaps. Accurate Append’s services are essential for line-typing phones, where different contact methods are required for cells vs. landlines, and for validating emails.

Once your data is clean, using a simple calculator to estimate voter ID costs and frequency per contact method will help you determine where to deploy volunteers and how much you’ll need to spend to reach your goals.

Recently, I’ve been working on cost-analysis for voter IDs, and my firm is also beginning to use response data from our programs to create goals and budget for the meaningful interactions that precede a hard ID and help determine the health of a campaign. The sample calculator below includes social ads, bulk mail, and cost-efficient products from some of my favorite voter outreach solutions: CallHub for computer-based texting and dialers, VoterCircle for an influencer peer-to-peer program, and Ecanvasser for app and paper-based door-to-door canvassing. There are several notes on the original spreadsheet linked below the embed.

Voter ID program results are highly variable based upon scripts and targeting. Green numbers are variable and will change the results and costs totals when updated (you’ll need to copy the original spreadsheet). If you have suggestions or feedback, please email me, adriel@adrielhamptongroup.com. Hope you find this helpful!

Original Spreadsheet

One of the biggest challenges in running a Congressional race is keeping up the required fundraising pace. Email fundraising can help take some of the pressure off the candidate, but how to grow your list?

After starting with friends and family, it basically comes down to append vs. acquire. Here’s why I think a good email append strategy comes out slightly ahead here.

Append

Voter files often have some email coverage in place – the California file includes email addresses, and software like the VAN and PDI have email coverage but may charge fees to use those addresses (you’ll need a campaign-friendly bulk email system no matter what you do here – MailChimp will not allow the kind of voter prospecting I’m outlining).

For purposes of this exercise, let’s say you have about 300,000 voters on your Congressional voter file. An email append from a professional vendor like Accurate Append (client) will give you back deliverable email addresses for about one in three people on file. These emails come from consumer opt-ins throughout the web – however, they haven’t signed up for your list.

This list of 100,000 emailable people will cost you about $6,000, and may include data sweeteners like additional phone numbers for your voter file, and address standardization and correction using the Postal Service’s National Change of Address database.

What do you need to do to get these folks onboard?

First, I email a survey about issues in the district – one a landing page with little to no candidate/campaign branding, if possible. Typically this gives me an open rate of about 22% and perhaps a few hundred people take the survey. I included a prominent “leave this list” note with an unsubscribe link, also letting the prospect know I am reaching out because they are a voter in the district. Perhaps 2,000 of the original 100,000 unsubscribe.

Initially, I will be able to email about 20,000 of these folks, maybe more if I try additional survey tactics – however, I keep a very light touch to keep spam complaints low. I’ll begin to ease these 20,000 openers who didn’t unsubscribe onto my list. And for fundraising, I’ll bring in about $300 per email ($15 per thousand emails). I’ll estimate a that about half the list unsubscribes over the first couple months – but by that time, I should have brought in about $6,000 with 20 emails, paying for the cost of the list. Now I have an asset of about 10,00 voters who will still give about $150 per email, or $1,500 per month. Start early and this is a solid way to grow your list – especially if you’re reaching these local emailable voters with volunteer appeals and generally recruiting their support.

Acquire

An email acquisition strategy generally means partnering with a company that does this full time, or else investing a lot of ingenuity into a petition strategy. I co-founded Really American to help with large-scale signature opt-in acquisition efforts, and will say that getting district-specific emails is difficult and expensive.

But for this exercise, let’s say you can get 6,000 opt-in emails for your district for $6,000. ($1 each is a low estimate here.) These folks opt-in through a petition with your logo on it – but that doesn’t automatically make them happy subscribers! You’ll need to warm them up using Action Network Ladders or some other form of welcome series.

As you begin emailing these folks, you may raise twice as much per thousand vs. the appends, $30. That’s $180 per email, and if you send 10 a month, it’ll take just over three months to recoup your cash investment. You’ll also lose subscribers, ending up with perhaps 4,000 at the end of the first quarter of emails. That’ll be ongoing revenue of about $1,200 a month.

Append or acquire, there’s no easy money – but nurturing an email program can certainly pay for itself while achieving many of your outreach goals. Please read my article in Campaigns & Elections on content that nurtures a list to find more ideas.

The new CTO of the DNC has already notched up a big win in Virgina, where the Democrats and aligned “WinVA” poured staff and new distributed field tools into the House of Delegates race, winning net +15 seats (three seats are still too close to call – in the balance are control of the Legislature and deeper influence on the state’s redistricting process).

I’m very pleased that VoterCircle played a role in this victory. Back in 2015, after being laid off by NationBuilder, I joined VoterCircle as an advisor – its growth has been extremely strong, but what’s most promising is VoterCircle’s potential to dramatically reduce the cost of elections. The software works by matching a campaign supporter’s personal network (email, generally, but LinkedIn and phone contacts also work) with eligible voters. At enterprise rates, it costs just $0.10 per contact – much cheaper than mail, and each contact is a confirmed email open. Whenever I prepare campaign plans these days, I lean in on VoterCircle – can we cut the cost of voter contact and then focus volunteer time on doors and phones with voters we cannot reach through a personal network?

Putting a digital touch on field contacts not only gives us a better look at who’s getting our campaign messages and how they are reacting, VoterCircle also learns from the campaigns networks, identifying the most influential voters with a campaign’s target universe. Campaigns can then focus special attention on supporters who can reach more than 10, 50, or more voters with just one email.

I also like to use cell phone and email data appends with VoterCircle to improve the quality matches (you can also use that data in survey-based email campaigns and in texting programs).

The most challenging barrier to adoption of a tool like VoterCircle is user trust – the DNC went a long way there by enlisting well-known surrogates:

With trusted, well-known surrogates, you’ve reduced the barrier to use – if you don’t have a Rosie or a VP candidate, try using the candidate themselves!

Wired magazine covered VA as an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take more risks in districts it may not win.

Tech donors bundlers also said they will be using data from VA to assist other Democrats use their money efficiently.

Read DNC CTO Raffi Krikorian’s thoughts here.

The first time I came out to Puget Sound was in my mid 20s. I was interviewing for a reporter position with the Tacoma News-Tribune. I marveled at the size of Mt. Rainier looming over the Sound. My hotel had a wooden deck that allowed me to walk out and look at the big moon jellies bobbing in the blue-green water.

After reporting for a morning (I didn’t take that job), I went out to a recreation area and spent an hour or so picking up jellyfish with a plastic cup and lobbing them back into the water. My hands got only a little bit numb. Tacoma is very beautiful, and whenever I’ve spent time up there, it’s sunny.

Many years later (yes, I’m getting that old), I sailed for the very first time, again in the Puget Sound. My host was Chris Nichols, president of my long-term client Accurate Append. The water was a bit rough so we spent a lot of time under power, but on the way back I got a profile-worthy shot at the helm. I worried over knots and clumsily helped tie the boat at our various docking points.

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Nothing about my early trips to the Seattle area came close to my experience taking out a 37-foot cruiser for a nearly week-long tour of the San Juan Islands. There are officially 172 islands and reefs that make up the San Juans, but only four are served by ferry. A handful more are popular for boating tourists. With enough time, fuel, and wind, the San Juans are perfect for a sleepy sail. You’ll enjoy beautiful sunsets, admire remote houses built up on the pristine island hillsides, and tie up in tranquil bays and inlets with other sailors. You can also take advantage of one of the many island harbors with fuel for both boats and hungry and thirsty sailors. The best portside amenity after a few days will be the quarters-fed pay showers!

On my first full San Juans adventure, four of us – plus a Boston Terrier! – piled onto the Lucy Jane. With a full larder and three two-man berths, we still had plenty of room to move about above and below decks. I will say, though, that 6’3” doesn’t quite fit well in a sleeping berth – I knocked my head and elbows a few times, and did some gymnastics moving around my partner to get to the head or up in the morning.

I’ll write more elsewhere about what it’s like to go ashore and explore the islands. The sailing adventure is a tale of its own.

On our week-long voyage, we hit Sucia Island, Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Blakely Island Marina, and Spencer Spit State Park. While we motored around a bit due to a couple of unseasoned deckhands (yes, me and my partner!), we also took advantage of good weather to cut half circles between the islands. I kept a close eye on the navigation and depth finder – you don’t want to be one of those discovering an obscure reef! But other than wandering into Canadian territory and getting in trouble with customs, the San Juan Islands are friendly for newer sailors. Our boat was part of the Windworks Sailing fleet, and sailing lessons are available for those who aren’t going out with a seasoned skipper.

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Spencer Spit was one of my favorite spots, and, not to spoil my second post, my experience watching tiny hermit crabs in a stream feeding to the beach was transcendent. The longer I started into the pool, the more crabs I could see, like stars on a clear night. Clear night skies are another benefit of sailing the San Juans!

Just a couple hours outside of Seattle and a short sail from Anacortes, the San Juans are a treat that no sailor should miss.

Whether you’re running for city council with a vote goal of 2,200 people, or for President with a goal of 65 million, your campaign needs the best contact data to increase the number of connects to those voters.

Mailings can cost up to $1 each – every address had better be right.

For targeted calls, the challenge is connect rate. Say an unappended file has 30% coverage for phones. But it’s likely a third of those will be outdated! So you start at one-in-five voters contactable by phone. If you can increase coverage to 50% correct numbers, you’ve increased your contact rate 2.5x. That’s game-changing.

If you’re using commercial software and voters (or donors!) don’t have a “click-to-add” button for contact data, ask your vendor to implement the Accurate Append contact data API. You can then append landline and call phone numbers, emails, and update addresses if needed. Accurate Append has a basic implementation of the Open Support Data Interface, which means other adopters of that data standard can easily add Accurate Append data to their voter outreach tools and CRMs.

If you’re doing your own voter or donor database, access to the Accurate Append API is free for up to 500 calls for testing. With billions of data points – including hundreds of millions of emails and cell numbers – you don’t want to miss out.

guest post by Jeff Swift

Email marketing is an incredibly resilient strategy. Despite regular predictions of its demise – often citing the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Google Wave (RIP), and now SnapChat – email simply isn’t going anywhere. People open their emails. They click on links in their email. And they are motivated to donate by high quality emails.

When email is done right, it’s incredibly powerful. When it’s done wrong, it can be a disaster. Three of the most common email mistakes are easy to commit and often difficult to address:

  1. Emailing the wrong people
  2. Sending the wrong content
  3. Ignoring your audience

Emailing the wrong people

Sending an email newsletter out without having accurate data is like walking blindfolded across the street. There’s a chance nothing will happen, but it’s a bad idea.

Not only should you know your recipients’ names and email addresses, but you should ideally know quite a bit more about them. If you know their zip code, for example, you’ll be able to just send them emails about events in their area. If you know basic consumer information – what magazines they subscribe to, for example – you’ll know whether you should reference the outdoors or video games in your next email.

Email inboxes are very personal spaces. People have no problem clicking unsubscribe or marking as spam if they don’t feel the email is sent specifically to them.

The right people will know that a newsletter is meant for them. Don’t send to the wrong people. Email and demographic appends are worth the investment – as long as you use them!

Sending the wrong content

Now that you’ve got your audience sorted out, it’s time for the easy part: writing the actual email.

Nothing is more unnerving to a writer than a blank screen. That blinking curser just taunts you. Fortunately, with accurate data on your audience, you never have to start with a blank screen again. Make a list of what you know about your audience – do they prefer electric cars or NASCAR? Do they mostly live in big cities, or are they spread out across the countryside?

Put yourself in their shoes. What would you want to see in your inbox, if you were them?

When you hit that sweet content spot, you’ll know. Your open rates will climb, your click rates will meet your goals, and your list will grow.

The wrong content won’t get anywhere.

Ignoring your audience

Once you’ve got the right audience and the right content, it’s time to click send. But that’s not the end of it.

Your audience will give you invaluable information with every email, as they open, click, forward, unsubscribe, or take action on your website.

When you find something that works well, do it more often. When something flops, make sure you don’t do it again.

This sounds like obvious advice, but the fact is that many email lists are used like billboards – they just broadcast information out there and don’t bother to see how it’s received. Honor your investment in the data you collected about your audience and be willing to accept data directly from them.

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Using data in email campaigns sets you up to succeed. Learn about your audience, target emails accordingly, and make sure to learn as you go.