A Two-Year Campaign Nears Its End

ClickZ Campaign 08 Election Coverage

Yes, the end is near.

It’s hard to believe that in six days (and hopefully before midnight Eastern Time), we’ll know who will be the next United States president.

We’re all fascinated by the polls and “Saturday Night Live” skits. But at the end of the campaign, all that truly matters is voting. And voting is an offline event.

The campaign’s digital efforts are now aimed solely at driving offline action. The visible Web activity — online banner ads, search ads, Web site views, activity on the social network platforms — are just not as important.

What is most important as the campaigns draw to a close is the invisible Web: the e-mails, text messages, robocalls, and database-generated call sheets. These techniques generate heat and power — not just a lot of flash.

And like invisible light, we can only see the results of the invisible Web, not the activity itself. According to a recent “Washington Post” poll, more than half of likely Virginia voters surveyed said they had been contacted in person, on the phone, or by e-mail or text message about voting for Sen. Obama.

As a Virginia resident living in a bipartisan household, I can attest to the number of contacts facilitated by digital means. I’ve received an interactive, voice-recognition robocall from Sen. McCain’s campaign asking if I knew about Obama’s relationship with David Ayers. And I have received phone calls from MoveOn.org volunteers in New Mexico and Connecticut asking me to volunteer.

“The media pays attention to the campaigns’ closing arguments,” says Melissa Boasberg, a leader of the online effort for Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. “At this stage of the campaign online, there are no more arguments. There is only a focus on action.”

And that action is primarily getting people to the polls.

In this election cycle, digital tools are the force behind the phone calls, door-to-door canvases, e-mail messages, and text messages needed to persuade the undecided and drive people to the polls. The digital is driving, reminding, and offer incentives to real people to directly contact others to get them to act.

Boasberg, now a colleague of mine, reminded me that if 60,000 more people had voted for Kerry in Ohio, he would have been president. That’s just over half the number of people who attend a Buckeyes football game on Saturdays in Columbus.

Right now, the campaigns can teach traditional marketers how far they can go in pushing their supporters or loyal customers to evangelize on their behalf. In a really competitive environment (or perhaps even an economic downturn), it’s not enough to politely suggest that a loyal customer refer a friend. Perhaps, like the campaigns, businesses need to aggressively ask, offer incentives, and make it easy for their loyalists to move others to buy.

For campaigns, there’s no longer one election day. By some estimates, almost 30 percent of the votes will have been cast prior to November 4. This creates both challenges and opportunities for the campaign. It also means that campaigns are more like businesses; there’s no longer a one-day sale in politics.

Traditional marketers can’t dismiss campaign lessons merely because their efforts are seemingly transparent. These campaigns have been going on for nearly two years. They’ve asked people to do things time and again, and in these final days the most valuable lessons can be observed.

Twitter as an Election Monitor

The closeness of recent elections has certainly revealed that the voting process is less than perfect. The nonprofit Election Protection Coalition recently announced a Twitter Vote Report project, which aims to empower all voters to become election monitors.

Watch how the local election boards and state officials respond. Their response to claims of fraud, voter intimidation, and election site inadequacy will be valuable lessons in effectively responding to real-time and amplified consumer complaints.

Above All, Don’t Forget…

On a closing note, please don’t forget to vote. And if you are a parent, please take your child to vote. Research shows that people are more likely to vote as adults if they observed their parents voting. Think of it as intergenerational social networking that will help keep the United States a thriving democracy.

Want more campaign information? Check out our ClickZ News Campaign ’08 section for the latest news and analysis.

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