The following is a guest contributed post from Sean Gera, a Strategic Analyst at CallFire.
Election candidates have every aspect of their lives and campaigns scrutinized by analysts, media, and the public. Money raised is tracked down to the dollar, email correspondence is scoured, and personal matters of the past are widely debated. As a Strategic Analyst for CallFire, I wanted to test and rank the top candidates in each party for the effectiveness of one of the newer forms of election marketing – mobile marketing. SMS has established itself as one of the fastest forms of communication, not only between family and friends, but also between businesses and customers, politicians and their constituents. A majority of political candidates are using some form of mobile tactics in their campaigns, and this trend will only increase with every future election. So, is one party outshining the other when it comes to mobile communications? Yes. Read on to find out who is winning the mobile battle, including my analysis (and ranking from 1-10) of the mobile strategies for some of the most popular candidates in each party.
Hillary Clinton: 7
Overall, Clinton has a pretty solid mobile strategy with mobile effectiveness as her weakest point, and SEO/SEM optimization as her strongest. Her site is responsive with great SEO optimization and she also uses landing pages and AdWords campaigns to expand her reach. Her social media exposure is considered to be the best of any candidate and she has leveraged these channels well in previous elections. She owns her own SMS short code, which can be used at any time to engage her voter base. She also has tremendous reach on social media, and is starting to use contests and promotions to market herself well. Clinton’s campaign is the most robust in terms of funding, capabilities, and experience; however, her site needs to do a better a job of capturing opt-in mobile numbers. Since she has worked on all platforms at a national level in the past, we will likely see her unveil her full mobile strategy as the election progresses.
Martin O’Malley: 4
O’Malley’s campaign is lacking in several key mobile tactics that would help his overall awareness. While he has a responsive site that is optimized for SEO, he does not utilize any paid search campaigns. His site’s homepage allows for email and zip code capturing, but does not collect mobile numbers, which is important in building a mobile audience. I also have not seen any indication that he is planning to use any SMS keyword campaigns. Shortly after providing my information on his site, I received a follow up email urging me to follow his social media channels. O’Malley’s campaign must deal with more constraints (less funds raised and less public awareness) than the two other Democratic contenders, which is why he should attempt to gain a competitive advantage through mobile. Many campaign managers make the assumption that a mobile strategy is just as costly as a digital or direct mail strategy, which is a major misconception. A campaign can easily acquire mobile numbers for a fraction of the cost and time, while a large-scale outbound email, direct mail, or calling campaign is expensive with lower return rates. A mobile audience is likely to be much more engaged because the recipients have opted-in to receive these alerts (which have a 95% open rate in the first five minutes). For candidates with limitations, the best strategy is to innovate, which includes the use of mobile tactics.
Bernie Sanders: 9
I believe Sanders’ use of mobile is the strongest out of any candidate. His campaign is taking off like a wildfire with rallies that draw more crowds than any other contender. Could his strong mobile strategy be a contributing factor to his success so far? I’d say so, as his site is very well designed, including strong SEO optimization. He also has SEM campaigns directing traffic to subject-specific landing pages. At the time of my research, he was the only candidate offering to send mobile alerts from his site’s home page. He’s making great use of SMS keyword campaigns as well. I left my cell phone number (without any other info), and I received a mobile alert in seconds. This is the only site from which I’ve received a mobile alert without offering to be a volunteer or to donate, and it’s the only time I’ve actually heard back from a campaign on my mobile device. Overall, Sanders has a strong mobile presence and strategy, and my advice would be to apply that same thinking to social media, especially integrating his SMS keyword campaigns and mobile alerts into Twitter and Facebook.
Donald Trump: 4
Trump’s mobile strategy is lacking in several departments. While his mobile site is responsive and optimized for SEO, he does not use paid search advertising and does not appear to have any landing pages. Unlike every other candidate, he does not have an email form on his home page. I was only able to fill out my email and mobile number after selecting the “Join Us” option, but I have not received any mobile alert yet. The mobile number field in the contact form is not required information, which further indicates a lack of a mobile strategy. Additionally, despite being one of the most publicized candidates up to this point, he has not used any kind of SMS keyword campaign to capture his supporters. Trump’s campaign has the potential to capture mobile effectively, as he has the brand identity and campaign resources needed. However, he is solely relying on sound bites at conferences, as well as political online chats on social media to generate notoriety. Adding SMS keywords would offer him the opportunity to market himself exclusively to his interested audience. I was a bit surprised that he has not used mobile effectively up to this point, considering that mobile marketing has become a widely accepted practice in industries he’s involved in, such as real estate and entertainment.
Ted Cruz: 7
Cruz’s mobile strategy is solid, having a well designed, responsive website, but his SEO on mobile is not optimized. He has limited social media channels, but uses Facebook and Twitter extremely well and boasts that his campaign has garnered the most Facebook interactions in 2016. I was not able to opt-in to receive mobile updates on his site, making his mobile reach less effective, despite the fact that he does use SMS keyword campaigns at rallies to fundraise and grow his voter base. I went as far as to volunteer for his campaign, but have still not received an invitation to opt-in for mobile updates. The Cruz campaign’s mobile readiness seems a bit limited at this time, although it’s interesting to note that he was one of the first candidates to use SMS technology, and uses it for multiple purposes: fundraising, messaging, and polling.
Jeb Bush: 3
Bush has very limited SEO/SEM optimization and tactics to grow a mobile audience. In addition to the fact that his site is not optimized for mobile, my research showed that his SEO could use some serious work. In fact, at the time of my initial searches, I was unable to find his official Presidential site on the first page of Google search results for “Jeb Bush for President.” There is little indication that Bush is using any SMS keyword campaigns to capture a mobile audience. He has incorporated a mobile app called MeerKat that provides live unfiltered video feeds for a mobile audience, but MeerKat requires its users to actually download the app, which limits its effectiveness. I did sign up to volunteer on his site, leaving my mobile number in the process, but have yet to receive a text or call. His decision to use MeerKat indicates a concerted effort to reach a mobile audience, and he does have a solid social media following on Twitter and Facebook.
So which party shows the strongest mobile marketing tactics thus far? Democrats are leading slightly, thanks to the strong use of SMS keywords and mobile site optimization used by Clinton and Sanders. The Republican candidates are definitely implementing specific mobile tactics, but need to increase their overall mobile strategies – which can be done through the use of SMS short codes and capturing their voter base’s mobile numbers – in order to really target and engage a large mobile audience throughout the campaign season.