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.
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.