This post originally appeared in Campaigns & Elections.
Many campaigns and consulting shops are now following a familiar playbook to ramp up their digital efforts for 2018. Chances are good they’re using the same set of software to build their websites and run their email programs as they did the last cycle—likewise for their mail and voter outreach efforts.
But with easy access to a better, and often cheaper, arsenal of tools, and an increasingly tech-savvy electorate, smart campaigns and strategists are turning to newer technologies to activate their supporters and reach out to unengaged audiences.
For anyone who’s recently spent time in a corporate marketing or communications department these MarCom tools and platforms will likely be familiar. But our industry has only scratched the surface of what they have to offer. If you’re looking to give your campaign a leg up this cycle, here are three tried-and-true MarCom tech trends you should consider.
Automate your email marketing
Does your email service provider (ESP) allow you to segment your audience based on where they’ve been on your website, or what emails they’ve opened and clicked? For example, can you automate an email to a supporter who has never donated, but took action on the petition from your last email?
Can you create automated sequences of multiple emails without asking your developer for help? Do your compliance software and your field data automatically populate as lists within your ESP?
If the answer to any of the above is no, then you shouldn’t be using it.
Virtually no modern campaign can function — or fundraise — effectively without some kind of email program. But email software, more than any other tool used within the political industry, has not kept pace with existing technology. Email automation isn’t just about importing the right audience list, it’s about having your data properly synced to your ESP so that you can quickly and easily produce a correctly targeted message.
By and large, the Right have already learned this lesson. Top Republican campaigns have jettisoned clunky ESPs in favor better platforms like MailChimp and Iterable as email has become a more integrated part of the GOP campaign strategy.
Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on or how large your campaign is, there’s an email platform that exists that will help your communications and fundraising operations go above and beyond what you’ve come to expect.
Invest in audience and data management
Discussing email automation naturally leads to a questions about your content management system (CMS) or client relationship management (CRM), or, more broadly speaking, whatever platform your campaign uses as its data hub.
Digital practitioners love to talk about breaking down silos between data, but for many campaigns this is still largely aspirational. Far too many strategists and campaign managers still rely on metrics and data dashboards from disparate tools, often accompanied by row upon row of Google spreadsheets. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
For years, software companies like SalesForce Pardot, and HubSpot have specialized in creating all-in-one data visualization, ad management, and message distribution hubs for the B2B and B2C space. These platforms are why you get phone calls from a sales rep after visiting his or her company’s website. They helped perfect the abandoned cart emails you receive after leaving a checkout page without buying a product.
The same marketing-style tactics apply for campaigns tracking their online and offline efforts. Many audience management platforms, including my firm, Crowdskout, specialize in the campaign and advocacy space. These platforms help you see what actions your supporters and donors are taking on your website and how they’re interacting with your messaging. The result is a 360-degree view of who your audience is and what’s driving them to act.
Get better chat
In complement to an all-in-one software approach, “single-point solutions” designed for campaigns are more sophisticated than ever—we’ve moved far beyond software that only sends emails or only processes online donations.
For example, numerous peer-to-peer text apps are now being deployed by field organizers to better engage with their supporters. Other companies offer automated direct mailing. Their platforms allow you to build and design your own direct mail pieces, choose your targets, and submit fully-designed mailers to a printer at the click of a button.
A final example of a useful single-point solution are chatbots. These are artificial intelligence tools that can hold automated conversations and have already been embraced by the corporate world and nonprofit industries.
Often deployed on Facebook pages or on mobile sites, chatbots provide answers to customer service issues or direct site visitors to appropriate help articles. While not fully-utilized by the campaign industry as of yet, the implications for chatbots on campaigns to help mobilize volunteers, provide information to supporters, and spur donations are exciting.
Most of these single-point solutions come with some degree of analytics capabilities baked-in so that you can track your progress and results. Most are also integration-friendly, meaning they will sync with your existing CRM or audience management platform allowing you to view all of your data from multiple sources in one place.
With the wealth of practical poli-tech on the market continuing to expand, it’s only a matter of time before these technology trends become industry standard. Winners this cycle will be the ones who understand how to leverage these tools before the rest of the pack.