Political Marketing That’s Fooling Some of the People, Some (or All) of the Time

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Increasingly unable to escape the deluge of hysterical ill-directed political marketing that is overflowing my inbox, I’ve jealously started wondering what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are guiding these communications consultants to justify their million-dollar fees.

Are their efforts fooling all of the people all of the time? Or just some of the people some of the time?

In product marketing initiatives, there can be lots of bottom-line winners — all of the brands whose clickthrough numbers exceed the company’s KPI targets and show the kinds of bottom-line sales results that bring smiles to shareholders’ faces and money to their pockets. But political marketing is a zero-sum game.

The ultimate KPI is winning or losing, becoming Senator, Governor or even White House occupant. Along the way, political marketers, like all fundraisers, especially those seeking campaign funding contributions, are no doubt watching to see all the obvious KPI metrics. They’re looking for percentages contributing, range of contribution amounts and average contributions, first-time or multiple “givers.” One can’t help but wonder: In the last analysis, do they really want to see more than the KPI which says “WIN” or “LOSE”?

I don’t know about you (and given our growing desires for privacy, I’m not sure I have any right to know about you) but I’ll bet my inbox gets more political fundraising and petition-gathering mail than yours does. Every day, mine displays a stunning collection that sorely tempts me to invoke the Spam solution.

But I hesitate, because I guess I’m a political junkie. Otherwise, I’d figure out a way never to hear any word that rhymes with “rump” again. (All readers’ entries will be gratefully considered, published and/or deleted.) You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

Way back in early 2017, I wrote a column here venting my frustration with the tsunami of inviting, pleading, and threatening emails I was receiving daily from the Democratic party’s octopus of units, the DCCC, the Democratic National Committee, Maggie for NH, National Democratic Training Committee (the worst and most outrageous), Progressive Turnout Project and the imperious commands from House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi: “Not Asking for Money“ (which always end up asking for money) and the order, “READ NOW” “(don’t delete)”.  Here are some others:

  • URGENT — 20K SIGNATURES NEEDED: Women’s reproductive rights on the line
  • Add your name to hold Big Pharma accountable
  • Fwd: ? NOT asking for money
  • Sign this petition re: Trump’s golf course
  • Need Peter’s signature to STOP TRUMP
  • You have been selected to represent voters in your area

It appears that fooling the prospect into believing he/she is one of a very select group and asking for the target to complete a survey or a petition is this year’s most effective political marketing and, dare I say it, fundraising tool. I guess we all want to feel special; even if deep-down, we know that everyone has been “selected.”

Can I be the only person offended when assaulted by a subject line: “Peter is committed to vote for Donald Trump!?” Only after having voiced a few favorite expletives do I notice that “?”. But by then, I’m hooked on the rest of the message.

If the KPIs must first, be the number of surveys or petitions completed and the number abandoned and second, the contribution generation from the pitch at the end of the survey, I must be screwing up the political marketers’ dashboards. Given the number of headline changes, you’d think that either nothing works or everything does.

Can the almost daily surveys do anything more than fool a certain number of people into believing their voices reach the ears of anyone? Especially anyone who really cares what they think, more than whether they will pony up some money?

The hardly impartial rhetorical questions: “Donald Trump recently lied by claiming millions of voters cast their ballots illegally this year. Do you think he will use this lie to try to further suppress minority voters in future elections?” are always quite reasonably followed by, “Will you make a $3 contribution right now to help us advance our data-driven strategies to help Democrats win?”

What Data-Driven Marketing 101 teaches must be true, or they wouldn’t keep using the technique. And as pointed out recently in Forbes:

The amount of money invested will be in the billions of dollars — all spent within roughly a calendar year. The degree of sophistication, customization, micro-targeting, and proliferation across media channels is unprecedented. The goal is to create a lot of content that is both pushed to people — who then share it with others — and made available so that people find it on their own. What this means is that the authority of TV ads has diminished. At POOLHOUSE [an agency serving the Republican Party] we have to approach getting a candidate’s message out to voters in a much more complex manner, and that makes political marketing more challenging. But more interesting, as well.

The old way of marketing political candidates no longer works, as the exponential increase in information leads to higher consumer/voter intelligence.

How to develop KPIs to follow the complexity and drive strategic changes depends to a great extent on political judgement calls as much as traditional brand marketing experience, and may actually justify those sky-high consultant fees.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical and should signal that at least some surveys have a grander purpose. Sky Croeser, writing in The Conversation opined:

Online petitions are often seen as a form of “slacktivism” — small acts that don’t require much commitment and are more about helping us feel good than effective activism. But the impacts of online petitions can stretch beyond immediate results.

Whether they work to create legislative change, or just raise awareness of an issue, there’s some merit to signing them. Even if nothing happens immediately, petitions are one of many ways we can help build long-term change.

The possibility of building “long-term” change is not without its merits; although, building the KPIs to measure the change is a daunting task.

Now imagine if that change means that political and general marketers could no longer fool all or even some of the people, all or even some of the time. But hold on a sec. Then we need to consider how many of us might have to change our ways or be out of the game.

Help Me Connect the Dots! (A Buyer’s Lament)

On Christmas morning, my oldest son was excited to receive a variety of electronic devices from family and friends. But while he was registering his various new toys online, he became increasingly frustrated as the instructions were NOT intuitive. After three or four of these complaints from him and his other two brothers, it became obvious that many sales and marketing departments get an “F” for their lack of helpfulness and logical thinking.

On Christmas morning, my oldest son was excited to receive a variety of electronic devices from family and friends. But while he was registering his various new toys online, he became increasingly frustrated as the instructions were NOT intuitive.

“It says ‘enter device passcode,’ but that’s not an option on the unit itself. Instead my choices are ‘device registration number’, ‘secret code’ or ‘PIN key,'” he lamented. After several false starts (and error messages that generated warnings that sounded like the device might explode), he finally got everything working properly.

After three or four of these complaints from him and his other two brothers, it became obvious that many sales and marketing departments get an “F” for their lack of helpfulness and logical thinking. It seems simple enough: Label a code by one name on the device, and then replicate that same name in the instructions. Duh. So why do companies make it so hard?

I’m sure somebody in IT created the code itself (and probably created the name of that code), and product marketing was responsible for writing the copy for the instructions (whether contained in the box and/or online) … but why not use the same labeling terminology? Was one group working in another country and couldn’t communicate, in English, with those writing the instructions? Perhaps.

The people at Ikea (who have figured out how to ensure language won’t be a barrier), provided a link to a YouTube video where I could watch Sally and Stan (or Svetlana and Sven) assemble my new furniture without so much as a word, sound or manual. My husband laughingly called it “The Epitome of a Dummy’s Guide to Assembly.” Personally, I loved it—they even supplied the tools you need for assembly in the product box so my new desk was operational within an hour of unwrapping.

Amazon, those amazingly straightforward folks who brought me my Kindle, also clearly understand how to make it simple. One of my kids (who hates to read any kind of instructional manual), figured out to how to set up his new Kindle, link it to my Amazon account (um.. wait…), download 3 or 4 books and start reading, all before I had a chance to shout, “Use your own credit card!”

The i-anything was easy to set up and use—exactly what you’d expect from those Apple people—while the new GoPro camera came with a small book, with small type, that will require a magnifying glass to read. As was to be expected, the college-age son tossed the manual in this backpack (where it will get ripped into several un-usable pieces) and said he’d figure it out on his own.

After a lovely morning sitting around the tree, followed by a frustrating hour or so trying to set up each new gift, I retreated to the kitchen to start working on Christmas dinner. Thankfully, I already know how to read a recipe book. The food processor, and all its attachments, however, might take me until the new year to figure out.