Political Intent Marketing

Political Intent Marketing: Part 1

Yesterday, Rand Paul formally announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Overall it was a well-done event and the forethought was evident, especially in his digital integration. But, living in Washington, we don’t always get to see firsthand the full digital strategy, as precious advertising dollars and grassroots focus are often saved for more competitive parts of the country. So, masking my IP address, I decided to explore what the rest of the country was seeing. I ran multiple search queries around the term “rand paul” and each time this is what I got: "Who Is Rand Paul" search This same fundraising-first strategy was applied to the display advertising I saw as well. In each instance, I was taken to a stand-alone donation page, with no ability to visit his actual website or learn more about him. In recent memory, this approach has become the norm for most Republican campaigns. When Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, similar donation ads went up in search. I fear we’ve fallen into a very shortsighted trend. Major political events have become nothing more than trolling fundraisers. Like fishing with a net, we are content to scare a few more in. This approach strikes me as largely counter-intuitive and inherently wrong. Online contributions are no longer tied to a linear path. Today’s pathways to conversion are distributed – tied to the moment of emotional connection with the candidate or organization, regardless of environment. In addition, brand perception is increasingly out of our control. One’s friends, their social networks, and even their greater theological family (in case you missed it, see the third promoted link) shares ownership of a candidate’s brand. To get our message across, win support, and yes, raise money, we have to listen and capitalize on the conversations the voters are initiating. Our relationship with voters no longer moves in a straight line, but twists and loops over and over again during a campaign cycle. And how we choose to engage during that process largely depends on our ability to discern a voter’s political intent.

Understanding Intent

Growing up, my mother was fond of reminding my siblings and me that no one was politically black or white. We are all shades of grey. While simplistic, it underlines this new way of thinking about digital marketing. Every online interaction with your brand is unique. Every click, every page load, and every email acquisition comes with a unique reason, an intention. The intention, in this case, is a guiding action, a state of mind. It has been widely studied in philosophy, psychology, and more recently in digital marketing — spending the time to understand the intentions of potential customers can have a powerful impact on a company’s bottom line. To better understand intent marketing, consider Teslas Motors. You can’t actually walk in and buy an electric-powered vehicle at their retail locations. This is by design. They knew that electric vehicles came with stigmas, skepticism, and preconceived notions. Even if they set up fancy car lots, hired fast-talking staff, and threw blowout sales events visitors would only come to gawk at the unknown. So, they placed their showrooms in places like malls and office buildings, put actual vehicles inside for people to play with and armed employees with a plethora of pamphlets and facts. In this regard, they operate more like a campaign office than a car company. Their sole purpose is education and perception management because they understand consumer intent. Tesla understood what the consumer needed, not necessarily what they wanted. In doing so, they are changing negative perception and increasing revenue: Sales of their Model S are up 55% in Q1 over last year.

Political Intent Marketing

In politics, understanding one’s political intent can help you build a smarter, data-driven campaign. Consider the Rand Paul example we started with. If I had pre-conceived intentions of donating to his campaign, an informational search is likely the last place I’d go. Social media, email lists, news sites, etc. all carried links, content, pathways to the campaign’s site. It was hard to miss, especially if you were a supporter. At the very least, organic search results would have helped me find his website. Instead of taking the time to understand the story of a donor’s journey (the who, what, and why), we jump straight to the last chapter and expect a happy ending. But in reality, if I am using a search engine, it’s much more likely that I am intent on learning, not a transaction. A study done in 2008 shows that more than 80% of of Internet queries are informational in nature. Only a rough estimate of 10% could be classified as navigational or transactional. What’s more, a survey referenced by Inc. Magazine last year stated that 70% of consumers prefer to learn about a product through content, choosing to shun traditional ad methods: display ads, search ads, etc. If we are continuing to think of campaigns as startups and candidates like a product, these numbers should be alarming. But, imagine what we could do if we understood a user’s end intent. We could begin to develop content that actually addresses their informational needs. We could create content that moves a voter through the various stages of political intent and build mutually beneficial relationships along the way. Indeed campaign launches and major political events are incredible opportunities to capture data and raise money. But before we presume to be the answer, perhaps we should start listening to the question. — In Part 2 of this series I’ll discuss my four stages of political intent and how you can optimize your political intent marketing strategies to capitalize in real-time.

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