Key Learnings From Election 2016: Treat Consumers Like Voters

michaelbalabanovAdExchanger Politics” is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.

Today’s column is written by Michael Balabanov, account director at AOL.

If we treated political advertising the same way we treated consumer advertising, we’d pull wide swaths of demographic data – female, 18-34 years old, educated – and spray them with ads built upon generalized assumptions.

As a female, for example, she will relate to female talent (read: Hillary) and want to buy our product (read: vote). What if we were still running ads after all the votes had been counted? (I’m looking at you, retargeting.)

If this doesn’t sound like a winning strategy to get voters to the polls, why would it be a winning strategy to get a consumer to buy a product?

Many assume political advertising only exists every four years. But all year, every year, political advertisers are trying to figure out how to make individual connections with individual voters. No one did that better this past year than Ted Cruz, when he won the Iowa caucus. His campaign’s microtargeting was so granular that it included local issues, such as repealing fireworks laws and banning traffic cams.

This level of individualization is the best lesson the B2C and B2B worlds can glean from the political world’s wisdom. Brands that can establish one-to-one connections with consumers will find more success in becoming a personal presence in their lives.

Get Deeper Than Demographics

There are few decisions more personal than the choice made behind the voting booth curtain. Political advertisers know this and understand that treating their target voters as individuals, and not just a demographic or segment, is critical to the success of their campaigns. Even if voting for the same candidate, people cast their votes for different reasons. What draws one person to Donald Trump is not necessarily what draws the next.

Getting to know voters on a personal level is the only way to determine what will motivate them to get to the polls. One factor that makes this easier is the public nature of elections – people register with their preferred party. Over the years there has also been a rise in the amount of data available through firms specializing in political data, coupled with numerous commercial data sets that can assist advertisers in learning more about their constituents.

For those working in the B2B and B2C realms, taking this lesson to heart could make a tremendous difference for their campaigns. Who are the individuals inside the demographics? What moves them? What issues are they passionate about?

Treating the consumer as a voter means asking these types of questions and shaping strategy and creative around the answers.

Let Data Be Your Road Map

One obvious advantage in political advertising is that the goal of campaigns is crystal clear: to motivate people to vote on Election Day. Political advertisers measure success against that goal incrementally along the way through polls – and in a very big way on Election Day. Seeing a finish line helps them to stay focused and develop strategies informed by the data they have on individual voters.

Advertisers often make false starts by implementing strategies before considering the data or even setting a goal. Data tell us who the individual voters are so those insights will shape the most efficacious strategy. In political advertising, if data tells us that constituents spend hours commuting by car from beyond the beltway into the nation’s capital, perhaps it makes sense to spend on radio over digital. Hopefully, nobody is seeing pre-roll and banner ads while driving.

Similarly, if the data shows an advertiser that its target consumers are white males older than 55, the advertiser should probably consider television over Twitter. Advertisers should use data to help them work smarter, and set goals that guide them to shape and refine their strategy along the way.

Get Out Of Your Own Way 

Treating consumers like voters also means getting out of your own bubble. Most advertising executives are based in urban areas on the coasts. Contrary to what some may think, that’s not where the whole country lives.

It’s important not to give in to shiny object syndrome and endlessly chase trends. If consumers aren’t on Snapchat, advertisers shouldn’t direct their resources toward a Snapchat story.

It may make early adopters cringe, but political advertisers often turn to snail mail when we know targets check their physical mailbox more often than their digital one. Likewise, if consumers prefer traditional prime-time cable, advertisers might rethink their digital efforts.

When political advertisers look to develop a targeted campaign, it all starts with the voter file – the raw data of actual voters. With all the dissections of the 2012 Obama campaign, it all came down to its understanding of the data and the individuals it needed to reach. Allow the data to shape the strategy.

Regardless of how we feel about the candidates or their campaigns, we can agree that this election cycle has been like no other we have seen before. It has taught us a lot about our country and, just as interestingly, advertising. People are complex creatures and their motivations are as unique as their fingerprints. Getting to know them on a personal level is the only way to know how to connect them to candidates’ campaigns. Those same people are consumers, and marketers must use data to get to know them better before they start designing strategies and campaign creative.

By using the data and putting the voter or consumer first, marketers can win America’s perpetual election, in which dollars are the equivalent of votes.

Follow AOL (@AOL) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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