To Reach Likely Voters, Political Advertisers Must Move Beyond First-Party Data

Written by Peter Pasi, VP of Political Sales

Borrell Associates predicts candidates will spend $1 billion on political digital advertising ahead of the 2016 election. While that’s only a fraction of the total advertising picture, it’s a huge jump from the $159 million spent on digital outreach in 2012.

Political programmatic advertising requires a dramatically different skill set than more traditional brand advertising, particularly where data is concerned. That’s largely because political advertisers face far more challenges that brand marketers when using first-party data and matching it to voters. That’s forced many to dig deeper to find likely voters.

Marketers use first-party data to target consumers and persuade them to buy laundry detergent or a subcompact car, but almost any adult consumer will be in the market for these products at some point in his or her life. However, in political advertising, first-party data limits the size of an audience rather than helps expand it. This is because only qualified voters can vote in elections; only registered Democrats, for instance, can vote in closed Democratic primaries. As a result, all political advertising needs to be highly targeted to reach a very specific first-party audience.

Political audiences also fall into extremes, and those diametrically opposed audiences are known and finite. Yet only a minority of voters can be found via first-party data matching. This forces political marketers to rely heavily on modeling, which has its shortcomings. Since an impression delivered to the wrong person is an impression wasted, political marketers must find ways to leverage data wisely.

Ultimately, an election is decided by a relatively small number of voters. In presidential elections, only half of eligible voters actually show up – and in many cases those voters aren’t “persuadable.” In 2012, Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses by 34 votes. That’s a lot of pressure on a marketer to target, reach and persuade a very small number of voters. It’s very different than trying to persuade them to buy a can of ginger ale because there’s simply more at stake. And in most electoral contests, there’s no prize for second place.

The Rise Of Microtargeting

Political marketers are therefore forced to consider a variety of approaches to reach undecided voters. George W. Bush was the first president to use modern microtargeting, digging beyond known voter data to glean insights about the electorate. Microtargeting is rising in importance in the 2016 election, when creativity is critical and first-party data and likely voter models are becoming less predictive. Even when the party of the voter is known, the likelihood of that voter turning out to vote can sometimes be inaccurately predicted.

In the past, simple microtargeting models looked at race, age, income and a handful of other variables to try to predict voting behavior. But in the past decade, the sheer amount of data available to campaigns, combined with significant improvements in computing power and a renewed interest and focus on predictive models, has enabled campaigns to unearth new prospective supporters and conduct targeted outreach to those voters.

Today it’s possible to take thousands of pieces of research and data about a group of voters and process them with software in the cloud or on a laptop; these processes may have required a mainframe 20 years ago. And results of polling, ID calls, field work, email and direct mail responses and TV viewership gleaned from set-top box data can be input and processed in near-real time. This unprecedented level of data analysis allows campaigns to respond to changes in the political environment and refine their persuasion and turnout models on a moment’s notice, which can mean the difference between triumph and defeat.

Political marketers need to look beyond first-party data at facts and purchase behavior that may indicate voters’ political leanings. For example, drivers who own hybrid vehicles tend to be Democrats, but that’s not strictly the case since there are certainly Republicans who like to save money on gas. However, if a voter drives a Tesla and also shops at LL Bean or Whole Foods, they’re likely to be a Democrat. (This Time magazine chart offers some interesting insights on shopping behavior along party lines.)

A political marketer can identify voters they believe to be sympathetic to their candidate and isolate characteristics those voters share at levels that exceed those of the general population. For example, if a marketer notices that voters who support her candidate are in-market for a Ford, use a Discover card and like frozen yogurt, she can find others who might share those behaviors and might also be likely supporters. By adding digital data to offline data, that marketer can make stronger connections and increase the pool of potential supporters.

Responding To Volatility

Political campaign marketers have historically relied on first-party data to try to understand who voters are and what matters to them. However, static voter data alone cannot be relied upon to win an election because there are always surprises. Districts that are historically Democratic can unexpectedly vote Republican because a candidate doesn’t conform on a single issue or because he or she behaved badly at a fundraiser. A polarizing candidate can turn voter expectations upside-down. Candidates are becoming less like the proverbial cookie cutter so campaigns must follow suit.

Marketers need to continuously optimize their messages, data and media in a volatile, fast-paced political campaign. There’s more on the line for them than for that laundry detergent or soft drink marketer. There are no second chances.

Behavioral and purchase history data can also support these efforts: We can glean a lot about voters based on what they read, watch, share and buy. Political marketers also know that different issues matter to different demographics. For example, data can easily help marketers identify new mothers in the digital world. Swing voters in this demographic may be more sympathetic to a candidate with a strong platform on child care or child tax credits. Using the same strategies, a hunter will also be relatively easy to find online and may have strong views on gun control and related issues. The data can reveal a great deal and provide political marketers with some signs to guide them along the campaign trail to victory.

Political campaign marketers have to be smart, savvy and persistent. Elections are a tricky, emotional and unpredictable business. However, data in the digital medium gives marketers insights that have never before been available to them. With access to deeper information about their voter audiences, campaign marketers have the opportunity to be more targeted than ever, and perhaps even smarter.

The Flaw Of Averages & Risks Of Non-Transparency

AdExchanger recently published an article discussing the risks of averages and non-transparency within our space. The article uncovers the flaws of complacency within campaign results, where the average KPI of all tactics falls within goal, and yet individual tactics are outside the desired range of performance. The article also lends great advice for Media Planners on how to proactively structure campaigns to ensure transparency into the strategies they propose. While this advice is sound, digital marketing is still in need of a tool to help marketers easily determine where their dollars are being utilized correctly, and where they may be able to trim the fat.

In an industry where testing is common, it is reasonable to assume that at any point, a media plan could include tactics which bring down performance. This is accepted within our space, so long as the end result is a smarter, more efficient campaign. The risk however, is when a partner on a plan isn’t specific – to a delivery level – with the tactics they are running. In these cases, while the average performance of the partner could fall within the KPI goal for a campaign, complacency can lead to less than optimal tactics remaining on the plan for longer periods of time, and thus wasted media dollars.

VISTO™ holds a significant advantage for performance marketers, giving them a clear view into every piece of their campaign, not just an attractive top line stat.

Take for instance the following example:
The KPI goal for this campaign is a .3% CTR. In aggregate, all tactics under this campaign strategy have hit the KPI, and the client is happy. More often than not, however, there are multiple tactics that a partner will run in order to test new strategies, segments, or utilize incremental budget. Below is the same media plan report, except with full tactic transparency provided by the VISTO™ platform.

Targeting Tactics

Of the four tactics running, only two are hitting the client KPI goals. With this extra level of insight, it becomes clear why advertisers need a deeper, more transparent view into their media plan. Further, when offering managed services in running a campaign, we provide transparency into all changes made by the optimization team. See below example:

Campaign Optimizations

The transparency level of VISTO™ makes monitoring of the “flaw of averages” a less tedious task. Allowing marketers to be more proactive across their plan holistically is invaluable, and can only lead to more efficiently spent marketing dollars.

To quote the article:

“Just like averages can hide the true picture, failing to have a full view of investment can damage the effectiveness of performance media.”

Read the full article here

The True Cost Of Programmatic

Advertising Age recently published an article about the “Hidden Costs of Programmatic,” addressing an issue that has become common in the industry. The advent of programmatic advertising was revolutionary for marketers. The data-driven, automated approach enabled them to accurately target audiences at scale and serve ads across screens and formats in mere milliseconds. Programmatic inventory was also cheaper than going directly to publishers. Intelligent automation at a lower price – in theory it was a marketer’s dream come true.

However, though programmatic has made cross-screen audience engagement more sophisticated and easier to scale, it has also fragmented campaign execution, leaving workflow disjointed and more complicated. Marketers must now employ an army of ad tech vendors – DSPs, ad servers, data management platforms, verification partners, etc. – to help them achieve their goals. In fact, according to a November 2013 study by iAB/Winterbury Group, it’s not uncommon for a marketer to use over 12 (!) tools to successfully run a campaign.

And as Advertising Age states, these tools aren’t cheap. Behind them are teams of highly paid engineers and campaign experts that drive costs to a premium. What’s more, with so many cooks in the kitchen, marketers rarely have insight into what works and what doesn’t, and are frequently the victims of duplicative pricing. Arbitrage CPM business models have ensured marketers aren’t exposed to what they actually pay for.

Collective believes that as the digital ad landscape continues to crowd, marketers will desperately need a simplified and fully transparent platform with the flexibility to integrate with all campaign tools and the ability to seamlessly orchestrate workflow among them. It should manage all data, embrace both programmatic and publisher direct inventory, and provide full disclosure into the costs and performance of their campaigns. Only then will marketers be equipped with the knowledge needed to make smart business decisions moving forward.

Are Vendors Driving Your Campaigns? How To Keep Control

Today’s digital marketers must invest in the best tools available to manage their campaigns and drive measureable results. However, marketing technology tools require significant investment, not just in dollars, but also in data and labor. Marketers spend hours and thousands of dollars setting up campaigns in technology stacks that they’ve either purchased whole or cobbled together. They “strategically invest” in point solutions that don’t always turn out to be advantageous.

Marketers get stuck using these platforms because they’ve simply invested too much time, money, and data. They become entrenched in the solution they’ve implemented, effectively trapped by the technology partners. Post implementation, it’s not cheap or easy to switch, even when it’s clear that better options are available – or when campaign goals and workflow requirements change dramatically and unexpectedly.

What happens, then, if the provider of the technology stack suddenly decides to change policies about inventory access, data ownership or privacy, or suddenly raises prices or fail to disclose the hidden costs? Marketers are in too deep to just switch solutions. In effect, they’ve lost control of their campaigns.

This scenario has probably happened to most marketers. For instance, Google’s decision to remove YouTube inventory from outside ad exchanges impacted thousands of marketers – many of whom may have chosen a specific network because it offered YouTube pre-roll.  The elimination of DMP tags from Google was also an unexpected blow. Changes in algorithms, tagging regulations, or ad specs may seem minor to a platform provider, but to marketers the impact is stressful, time-consuming and often expensive. Yet as our industry matures and consolidates, experiences like this seem to be a common occurrence for marketers.

How are marketers meant to handle these challenges? What do they do next when they’ve suddenly lost access to ad inventory, but are still beholden to the partner they’ve chosen? For marketers with their budgets invested in one type of video solution and thousands of iterations of data-driven advertising creatives, simply “moving” the ads to another platform isn’t as easy as it sounds. More often than not, marketers won’t even have the technical expertise to make such a move.

What marketers need is an unbiased, knowledgeable partner who can help guide the way. The ideal partner understands the ecosystem, has experience with the technology, and is unbiased in their choice of point solutions. This partner isn’t a person on the marketing team or an agency, and it’s not some technological ninja or matchmaker.

It’s a marketing system integrator.

That’s what marketing technology needs: system integrators with complete platforms. They need solutions that bridge the walled gardens with a focus on building successful campaigns. These integrators aren’t typical agencies that solve problems through services and expertise. They build systems that are more flexible and that integrate with multiple technology partners, making it easier for marketers to adapt. Typical agencies may also work directly with these marketing system integrators to expand their own options.

If a system integrator isn’t a person or an agency, what is it? The best system integrators build platforms that are open to diverse, quality partnerships. Salesforce is a good example. They don’t prevent marketers from working with Marketo or Hubspot, despite the fact that they own Pardot. Salesforce will integrate neatly with Constant Contact or MailChimp, and allow you to bring in any solution you like. There are other CRMs, MAPs and CMSs that are good system integrators as well. Marketers aren’t forced to change partners to work with the solutions these integrators build. They are unbiased, foundational platforms, open to integration with any quality partner.

The walled gardens are the fly in the ointment, since they tend not to play nicely with systems they don’t own. That’s indicative of the problem the whole industry faces, though. Those big platform players, the keepers of the gardens, are so focused on their own interests that they have driven the industry to become platform-centric. The advertising/marketing technology industry is looking out for itself, not focused on marketers and target customers.

As a result, marketers are forced to make sacrifices every single day. They have to choose a specific partner because that’s the partner that integrates better. They lose visibility into campaign results because dominant players change the rules, or they have to set up a second (or third) reporting interface because some partners won’t play nicely with the marketer’s existing solution. This cuts into a marketing team’s time and productivity, and ultimately impacts their results and the end-user experience. If we’re here to serve marketers, this needs to be fixed.

It’s time for marketers to take center stage. When we start to focus on building successful campaign systems for marketers, the industry will thrive, grow, and evolve in a way that’s good for everyone in the ecosystem. Until then, marketers will continue to struggle as they fight to keep control.

Ad Tech Fragmentation: A Marketer’s Worst Nightmare

One look at the infamous LUMA slide tells an epic story of a fragmented ad tech industry. There are hundreds of logos crammed onto a single 8.5 x 11-inch sheet. It’s downright intimidating, and I can’t blame anyone who feels ambivalent about investing in digital media.

Media fragmentation caused the advertising industry to splinter in response. The landscape is brimming with players offering a single solution for every minute challenge along the customers’ path to purchase. Holistic solutions are nowhere to be found – unless a marketer is willing to hand the keys over to Adobe, IBM or the like.

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