How to Avoid Running the Same Digital Campaign You Ran Last Cycle

By now every manager has heard this pitch from digital media firms trying to get a bigger slice of their advertising pie: Digital advertising can be more targeted, more directly measurable, and in most cases, more cost-effective for budget-conscious campaigns trying to break through. I’ll spare you my version of that spiel.

I think there’s a better selling point for digital and that’s the power it has to inform strategic campaign decisions down the road. This is a conversation that isn’t happening frequently enough between digital consultants and managers.

In fact, too many political organizations on both sides of the aisle are stuck running their campaigns the same way they have for the past decade—or longer. Campaigns stockpile loads of cash only to spend it all in the last few weeks before Election Day hoping to drown out their competition. Rinse, lather, repeat.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Campaign decision makers are often creatures of habit that resist change, even when that change is being embraced by our colleagues working for brand marketers.  

To wit, digital advertising is projected to reach 54 percent of all ad spending in 2019. But in our industry, campaigns are lagging significantly behind. Digital isn't prioritized the same way, in part, because campaigns are stuck focusing on immediate short term results. Consider this: in 2018, digital advertising only made up about 6.9 percent of all campaign spending

Here’s how to break through campaign inertia:

  1. End the campaign paralysis in the off-year.

  2. Commit to understanding your voters better online.

  3. Spend time figuring out what messages work best with particular audiences in your district. 

  4. Grow your social and email following via paid and organic means.

Setting these objectives now will pay dividends down the road. Here are a few ways to put your 4-point plan into motion.

Advertise off the news cycle.

Now more than ever, digital advertising must reflect the news of the week. Place a small budget on a couple of variations of creative on a few different platforms to run a small test of what's resonating with voters.

Make little bets. Many won’t work, but some will and those are the ones you should keep a note of for future deployment. This method allows campaigns to keep their finger on the pulse of an online audience, which behaves very differently than the larger electorate. 

Keep track of your data.

It’s important to organize and manage your data correctly. Place tags on all new leads based on ad message, location, and method of acquisition. For all your ads, use UTM codes to evaluate which version of your test creative resulted in the most clicks, conversions, and longest session durations on your website. Over time your team will notice patterns develop from your advertising and email marketing, so don’t waste your efforts by cutting corners.

Measure the right KPI.

What’s most important to you? Make sure that’s what you’re measuring for. In the case of online fundraising, too often vendors sell campaigns on getting the cheapest acquisitions possible. But have those leads turned into donors? Perhaps leads on one platform come in at a cheaper cost, but don’t have as high of a conversion rate to become donors. Doesn’t it make more sense to evaluate success based off of the final objective than the initial metric?

Similarly, don’t look at how many video impressions or clicks your campaign pushed out. Look for its total reach compared to your target audience, average frequency, viewability, click-through rate, and most importantly the completion rate. These metrics tell you a lot more about the success of the message and the platform because they focus on actions taken by the viewer instead of your campaign.

Don’t let whoever is running your digital effort give themselves a pat on the back for cheap acquisitions or distract you with shallow metrics. Focus on what matters. Make sure you’re evaluating which platforms allow you to reach your final objective.

It isn't easy or cheap to build a successful online apparatus. But if a campaign commits to refining their message, and finding the right audience by testing variations of the creative, platform, and targeting, they can build an operation that will raise them a lot of money, and learn a tremendous amount about the voters they’re courting in the process.

Daniel Bassali is the vice president for digital at Go Big Media. He previously served as campaign manager to Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia.

This article was originally published on campaignsandelections.com