(Article originally published on Forbes.com)
In March 2018, exposés on Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook user data in the New York Times and The Guardianchanged digital and social media marketing forever, especially for political advertisers. The ways in which big data and social media were weaponized for political agendas were exposed, forcing politicians and political action committees to find new (or possibly old) ways to engage with audiences in order to succeed.
With over 20 years in digital and database marketing, and after researching the changes in how digital marketing has been used by political campaigns in recent history, I hope to explore how we, as advertising professionals, can better approach current political campaigns. How can we build targeted audiences and both speak to them in ways that respect their privacy and connect with them authentically?
What’s a political campaign to do now?
Win by taking the high road. Wouldn’t it be great if all campaigns agreed to this? But, in reality, this could be a plan. Let me explain.
One of the biggest trends in search marketing, both paid search and organic, is semantic search. This means that search engines like Google are doing their best to deliver search results that best match what you actually want vs. what you specifically ask for.
A clear way that campaigns can maximize audience engagement using this fact is by understanding the micro-moments your donors, supporters and constituents experience on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. Then, design advertising and marketing campaigns, across media, to resonate and connect at those moments.
To turn this insight into action, let’s consider the four types of micro-moments. They are moments consumers want to know something, do something, go somewhere or buy something (better thought of as "support" someone for politicians).
A search engine like Google will present paid and organic results to searchers based on advanced algorithms and individual users' past history using the internet. When an individual consumer (aka constituent) does a search for a particular candidate’s name, like "Jane Smith," Google has to determine if:
1. the searcher is looking to learn more about the candidate and her issues (know something)
2. the searcher wants to become a volunteer or organizer to support her cause (do something)
3. the searcher wants to attend an upcoming event (go somewhere), or
4. the searcher wants to support the candidate financially via a direct donation (buy something)
In order for our candidate to connect with any of these realities, she needs to first have website content that speaks to each of these possibilities (and more). And second, she should have paid campaign keywords, ads and landing pages in place so she can expand the possibilities of connecting. A search engine like Google will take the individual searcher's past online behavior, their physical location and the possible matches for intent to guess which of the options (both organic and paid) would be best for that individual searcher. (Note: This explains why two individuals conducting the same search can receive different results.)
It is also important to build authentic audiences in compliance with privacy best practices. California may be the first U.S. state to implement privacy regulation via the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), but I expect this is just the beginning. Campaigns should engineer privacy into their data collection and retention systems and look at ways to connect when donors, supporters and constituents choose to reach out to learn more. Facebook has already started making changes to how its data can be collected and used, and Mark Zuckerberg recently published an open letter addressing a longer-term vision for privacy, so building audiences that span platform will be critical for continued and consistent success.
And like any successful long-term advertising campaign, connect with people and motivate them to be for rather than against something. Provide them with the tools to become your advocate and activate their communities on their terms, rather than yours, and trust them to deliver on the shared vision you paint. For example, you could provide potential supporters with the tools, templates and educational materials needed to organize an ad-hoc community meetup. A candidate may even want to encourage these activities by dropping in to a user-generated event every so often as a reward for, and recognition of, the organizer's support.
So, as we all prepare for a high-spending and technologically sophisticated political campaign season, remember these two takeaways:
1. Be prepared to take advantage of semantic search and micro-moments by creating content that speaks to the know, do, go and buy moments searchers are looking to solve, and design (and amplify) paid search campaigns that connect with the intent of searches.
2. Build authentic audiences, not by manipulating data and messaging, but by resonating with supporters organically and providing them with the tools to become advocates.