May/June 2008

Lessons and Ideas to Replicate from Campaign '08

by Tompkins Spann, Sr. Market Strategist, Convio

The 2003-2004 presidential campaign helped start a conversation about using the Web more effectively. The Howard Dean campaign's creative use of viral marketing, aggressive email list building, targeted communications and donor cultivation has been widely acclaimed as trailblazing. Later, Bush/Cheney '04 took segmentation and constituent empowerment to new levels. Today, the way fundraising, advocacy and political campaigns operate are converging like never before. Here are three shared lessons:

Lesson #1 – It's about the email list. While the '03 campaign set a new standard for list growth, campaign '08 has taken this to new levels. The campaigns have removed all of the traditional barriers to list growth and focused heavily on capturing the email address. If you visit the Obama '08 Web site you will find it difficult to not give them your email address. Once you've got an email address, you have the beginnings of a relationship.

Lesson #2 – Segment for higher response rates. This was first demonstrated by George McGovern in 1970 with direct mail by using a three-pronged segmentation approach that was considered revolutionary at the time. The Dean campaign adopted the advanced direct mail strategy and transformed it to the Internet, placing each new subscriber or supporter into a "relationship path" that included detailed segmentation to help increase response. As a result, Dean raised more than $40 million online — mostly from small donations, dwarfing his rivals and setting a new bar for results to which Mr. Obama has now raised the stakes even higher. Bush/Cheney '04 was able to track constituent engagement online and learn which members of their community were the influencers in their respective "groups". Using this segmentation they provided content and tools, such as the ability to host an event, that these individuals could use to engage their social networks, driving higher levels of participation than direct communication from a campaign or an organization could do on their own.

Lesson #3 – Trust your volunteers. For many, affiliation with and helping a specific cause or movement is a source of pride. The presidential races have used online tools to create a grassroots movement, involving people in house parties, door-to-door canvassing, and other activities that go far beyond fund raising. While nonprofits are using similar tactics for fundraising events, they can do more to follow the candidates' examples in trusting their supporters to build their movement and tell their story. Peer-to-peer is one of the best ways to increase influence, spur activity and build your list. Provide constituents the resources and trust them to support you.

These and other online marketing lessons shared between political, advocacy and fundraising campaigns have been widely embraced by savvy marketers. Organizations that continue to narrowly define their online strategy as a way to simply open their donor database to the Web are having a difficult time justifying the technology investment. Whereas organizations that understand the strategic value of the Internet as a relationship tool are finding success by removing the barriers to growing their list and rapidly evolving holistic strategies to integrate online marketing into everything they do.

ViaNovo and Convio recently hosted a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, DC about how the Internet is changing philanthropy, advocacy and politics, and the lessons learned and shared between political organizations and nonprofits. Experts from Facebook, Rock the Vote, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and online strategists from the Dean and Bush campaigns of 2003-04, shared insights on these and other topics such as:

  • engaging current and potential supporters,
  • need for micro-campaigns/micro-targeting,
  • importance of an effective online presence,
  • use of multi-channels,
  • empowering constituents and volunteers,
  • value of mobile technology, and
  • the power of young people.

You can watch the full event at www.visualwebcaster.com/converging and join in the discussion around these topics at the Connection Café blog.

The 2008 candidates have propelled past tactics of online engagement and fundraising to even greater success. Their strategies and lessons learned provide the next "standard practices" for nonprofits seeking a powerful and relatively low-cost medium for strategic outreach and engagement. Here are eight ideas from campaign '08 that are likely to be considered "standard practice" in 2012:

Idea #1 - Get the email address
Idea #2 - Provide clear and obvious calls to action throughout your Web site
Idea #3 - Keep your email subject lines brief
Idea #4 - Say "Thank you!" and be creative about it
Idea #5 - Graphic transparency really works
Idea #6 - Fish where the fish are, using social media to extend your reach
Idea #7 - Think globally, but localize your Web site
Idea #8 - Usability matters

We'll be describing each of these ideas in detail on Connection Café in coming weeks, so be sure to visit the blog and look for articles tagged "08Campaign" or bookmark this link. We will share insight and ideas here and on Connection Café that we think will help you to yield success online. And that's my campaign '08 promise to you.

Lessons and Ideas to Replicate from Campaign '08 | Convio