The following is a guest contributed post from Sean Gera, a Strategic Analyst at CallFire.
We have begun the one-year countdown to Election Day 2016. Another heated Republican debate has passed and an announcement that Joe Biden has decided not to run recently hit the news, leaving a few predictable frontrunners for one party, and some less predictable choices for the other. There’s still the possibility of a dark horse, but for the sake of simplicity, I am focusing on the two leading candidates for each party: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Three of these four could be considered surprises by the pundits. Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders were overlooked by many at the beginning of 2015 and now they are considered to be most popular. So how have these two decidedly non-traditional candidates been able to compete with the big fish?
Carson and Sanders have excelled in their mobile campaign strategies, whereas most of the other candidates have displayed average or non-existent mobile efforts. Politics certainly play a major role in determining popularity, but, I would argue that there is a strong relationship between a candidate’s mobile reach and his or her political success. The following is an evaluation of each candidate’s mobile strategy (specifically each’s ability to develop a connection with prospective voters on mobile devices such as smartphones) for fundraising and polling.
Building a mobile audience is standard practice in the corporate world, as marketers are able to create targeted campaigns and responsive designs for ads and landing pages, and, more importantly, connect with customers on their mobile devices. I have examined each candidate’s website on a desktop browser and on my mobile device, and found that Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders have the best sites on both platforms. Perhaps even more essential, both candidates integrate opt-in consent options for reaching supporters via mobile.
When visiting Ben Carson’s site, the user is immediately served a call-to-action to endorse Carson. Upon clicking that link, a contact information form is provided. This is standard practice among all candidates, except Carson’s site has added a checkbox that says ‘I give permission to text this number.’ This simple message gives Ben Carson a distinct advantage over his rivals because he can contact a voter via SMS or MMS on their mobile devices, while the other candidates cannot. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.
Every candidate can send emails – and most will wind up in the same spam folder – but not every candidate is gaining opt-in consent to connect with voters on the device used most: mobile. An SMS message can provide a link to various landing pages that not only mobilize, but can also raise funds. Ben Carson’s mobile strategy has helped him keep pace with his peers, with $20.2 million raised thus far. As the election progresses, Carson’s supporters and volunteers will likely receive many more messages from the campaign related to donating, supporting, and organizing.
Bernie Sanders has an even stronger and more effective mobile strategy. At $26.2 million, he is second only to Hillary in money raised in Q3 – shocking to most experts. What is equally impressive is that the total was garnered from average donations of $200 or less.* How can Bernie Sanders, a far lesser known politician with a semi-socialist platform compete with Clinton? The simple answer is that he has a very sophisticated mobile campaign strategy and Clinton does not. When a user visits Sanders’ site, there is a field in the center just below the fold for the user’s mobile number. In less than five seconds, a user can type in his or her phone number, click submit, and be opted-in to receive mobile alerts from Sanders’ campaign. In short, his campaign is capable of reaching an audience that Clinton’s thus far cannot. The content of each text message that Sanders’ campaign sends is rich in content and carries a function or purpose – capturing recipients’ locations, soliciting donations, and encouraging debate viewing at local venues – along with images and animations. All of this content creates an emotional connection with a recipient that is more intimate and immediate than email.
The emotion that connects a voter to a candidate is one of the keys to success in any election. Developing that emotion is precisely what Carson and Sanders have done with mobile technology. Does that mean they will win their parties’ nominations? That remains to be seen, as other candidates will likely adapt their strategies to be on the same level.
The Clinton website’s Terms of Service already includes content about receiving SMS alerts. She has a very strategically planned campaign and SMS will likely be included as she rolls out her 2016 strategy. We can expect to see an increase in political messaging via text, as competitive advantages are tough to gain in politics; the risk of not incorporating text messaging will eventually become too great to ignore. It is hard to say if Donald Trump’s campaign will use SMS, but one thing is clear – he only raised $3.9M in Q3 compared to $20.2M by Carson, $26.2M by Sanders, and $29.9M by Clinton. Because he will no longer be using his own finances for campaign funding (in theory), it is likely that Trump will need to evolve his fundraising strategy to compete with his peers. Since he is from the private sector, one would expect his campaign to innovate and adapt fairly quickly. Trump has an opportunity to adapt his mobile strategy into a highly sophisticated interactive platform to connect with his voter base. The winner in 2016 will obviously have a huge advantage in raising more money and engaging more voters than his or her rivals.
While there is still plenty of time for all candidates to ramp up their mobile strategies, those using the medium well, and using it this early in the race, already have a leg up on their competition. I’m curious to see how mobile will play out come 2016 and will be watching the space closely to see how it affects each candidate’s campaign.
* 88% of donations were $200 or less.