The 2012 election drives home some basic new realities about how we communicate and conduct our business and our daily lives. The advent of the digital and social world has changed us forever. In politics as in business we see those who are on the leading edge, and the stragglers. Many of my clients, and certainly my future clients, have come to this understanding late.
Here are a few thoughts on how this worked out for the latest election cycle. Everything we saw as business and communications work nearly exactly the same in business as politics. One side triumphed over the other, and the reasons were more for business practices in the conduct of the marketing for the election, than in purely political leanings. Just a few thoughts…
Nate Silver and the Pundits The biggest winner of the 2012 election cycle was 538 - by Nate Silver. The success of Nate with his ‘system’ that followed individual polls, weighted the results, and then posits results by election area, became a new standard for tracking forecasts. The single poll as a key talking point will recede as conglomerated results become the new norm. This will also impact the role of the pundit who is basing their forecasts on feelings and not empirical data. Pundits were especially routed in this election cycle when their results did not match the data on the ground, and the final results. They are now relegated to mere ‘talking heads’ and all of their wishing on hoping are just that. Show me the data is what we now expect.
The Role of Social Media The biggest change in this campaign from 2008 to 2012 was the role of social media. 2008 was the digital campaign yea . 2012 became the social campaign, all of the benefits of the digital conduit for communications, along with tailored messaging, and listening, with their targeted audiences. Obama’s team built a large social-digital staff that literally drove the campaign. Nothing did more for the Obama campaign, and this will set the standard for all future campaigns. Little time here for the details, and I will go into more detail in future posts, but for now, we must see that a return to more traditional messaging will not work in future campaigns. The die is cast.
The Power of Print Media Print media still lives, and will still have a key role in future campaigns, just as they do for day to day business, but it will play a lesser role in the future. The power of the press, and especially of the official endorsements no longer drives the electorate. Day by day, their hold on the public is loosened. The results of who endorsed each of the candidates had a low correlation to the final outcome. We now want newspapers to tell us what is going on, but not who to vote for…we’ll get that from our friends on social media or general social contacts, if we need those at all to make up our minds.
The major dollars spent at the end of the campaign by the Romney campaign in print and television did very little to move the needle. By the time they ran, minds had already been made up. Words and print images are simply not as powerful and recent and visual images on the web or on television.
The Party Vs. The Campaign In this election cycle we were treated again to the real power of incumbency. Though many thought Obama carried a lot of negative baggage, and that incumbency in a poor economic climate would act as a drag, it did not turn out that way. As the incumbent, he was able to rebuild his election team from 2008, and take advantage of all of their previous experiences to come up with an even stronger campaign organization.
Romney was perceived to have been a great organizer, but it didn’t work out that way in this campaign. With a long primary, his team was late coming up to speed, and messaging and marketing continually ran behind. They also gave up the advantage when the Obama campaign was able to define them before they could build their own image.
Campaign Timing In past campaigns both sides usually started at roughly the same time, the incumbent having an advantage. In the current election cycle, the challengers were exceptionally late due to a long and contentious primary campaign. The party used to play a larger role in the overall campaign, but in recent campaigns it is the candidate who basically runs the entire show. Funding still comes from the party, but direct campaign funds and the direction of the campaign really are driven by the candidate.
I first saw this with Richard Nixon, who had the California campaign staff taking the lead and driving the campaign. This worked for most campaigns from Carter, the Bushes and Bill Clinton, but in this last cycle we saw the Chicago group take out the Boston group who struggled to mount the right campaign. They went to battle ill prepared for what was ahead, and the experienced crew out managed them. Future campaigns should take heed from this. Next time there will be no incumbent, but the team with the best plan, crew, message, and funding sources will likely win – all other politics aside. The same goes in business. Thinking you have the best ‘product’ will not trump the best marketing campaign, especially in a short ‘campaign’ with a finite deadline on election day.
Digital Donations The Romney strategy was based on large donations and the use of PACs to drive their message, and they did exceptionally well in this area, both in the primary and election campaigns. The money was flowing, but the results did not match the massive amounts spent, much of it too late to change minds already set by the other side.
The very large PAC infusion of money, much of it from just a small group of very wealthy donors did not accomplish the goal of total domination. In the end, the other guys had some strong PACs as well, but even more they discovered the power of small digital donations via text or emails. The power of small donations by the many, repeated several times by strong messaging did the trick. The key fact is that the masses that donated also took the time to vote in large numbers. The ‘engaged’ donor became the very engaged voter. For me that was the big win that I did not see coming, especially the size of total donations via this methodology.
Audiences and Precise Targeting In the world of direct mail the Republicans set the standard, and their lists were gold to the party. Election cycle after election cycle they yielded fantastic results. I’m sure they performed well this cycle as well, however, the Obama team who switched the ball game to heavy digital marketing outperformed them. Appeals went out on a nearly daily cycle; immediacy trumped the heavy mail package.
What we found out later is, that in this new 2012 cycle, the digital team advanced the art and science well beyond their initial efforts in the past cycle. Offers were tested, run, revamped – all within the span of a few hours, something impossible in direct mail. The single most interesting fact that I found out later were that nearly all of the appeals tested worked…they all worked. Message may be the key, but in this case it was more likely that methodology triumphed. For business, resisting digital and social marketing is at your peril. They must be a part of your mix in the future if you want to win the business in your daily marketing cycles.
Generations & Ethnicity…and Single Women Perhaps nothing explains the results of the 2012 election than the results shown by generations and ethnicity. They certainly skewed in both directions. But the bigger question is what this means to our electoral and business future. Targeted messaging is critical to identifying and supplying messaging to each audience. The days of mass marketing producing and mass result in the general marketplace are fast fading.
In future any marketer must target and message for their audiences, each with their own concerns and issues. Not only is the messaging variable, so is the media. Fewer of us subscribe to a daily paper. Confession here, as an old direct marketer and newspaper advertising executive, I used to subscribe to all the local papers on a daily basis. Now I have just one paper on Sunday, and the other for 4 days a week. All the rest of my news comes from the Internet via computer, iPad and iPhone. I also consume at least 3 times more total information as a result. For me, less is truly better.
For many, the iPhone, and other fully featured phones are now their prime communication vehicle and news source. Any business, or candidate, who does not take this into account, will not survive the next election cycle if they need that audience to win. As we saw the older audience does not use these tools as much now, but that audience is literally dying out. Not good ways to run a campaign in the future, if you want to have a future.
Single women also went heavily for Obama, married women more Romney. Messaging alone wouldn’t change the results here. It becomes a platform issue of what each party stands for. Is a party platform a key component of the message and do they need to be in synch. Much was made of the distinction in this case and through the Republicans courted single women, their overall message that was ‘heard’ was negative. Now we need to heed and message to gender, age, marital status, ethnicity and generational location as key factor in future campaigns. This is a very tough challenge for any marketer in business or politics and will determine the results of most future elections here.
Unforeseen Events Unforeseen events, like ‘Sandy’ will not be unforeseen in the future. What? I expect that future elections will forecast for every possible event and preparations will be at hand. Kind of like packing for a trip to Hawaii, but bring your snow skis anyway. With the outcome resting on any unforeseen event, they simply have to be built into our future radar. There is not time to regroup and react – bring the kitchen sink with you, we may need it will be the new motto.
Closing thoughts… Future elections, and future business will never be the same. Our digital and social tools have changed everything. I also expect this trend to continue as newer processes replace the old. Keepup, use the tools, or lose it all. No looking back now.