Digital electioneering should inspire, says EPiServer

“Companies talk a lot about social and attribution,” said Joakim Holmquist, “But they don’t really have a scientific understanding of what they’re trying to do.”

Holmquist, director of digital marketing at EPiServer, was trying to persuade me that brands can take inspiration from the sophisticated approach to audience segmentation and messaging adopted by political parties here in the United States (EPiServer has a number of US offices, but Holmquist was calling me from Stockholm, Sweden).

While brands often fail to deploy digital marketing strategies effectively, said Holmquist, the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were excellent examples of digital media expertise, audience targeting, and persona mapping. “They have the marketing funnel worked out so clearly,” he said, moving from fairly sophisticated conversation mining, to defining personas, to sending personalized messages as the initial engagement strategy. “This is cutting edge. Very few (brands) can create these rich personas.”

In particular, he credits the Obama campaign with groundbreaking testing strategies–for images, buttons, and copy on landing pages. 

EPiServer’s business encompasses the creation, management, and publishing of digital content, with analytics (A/B testing is built into the dashboard). The challenge is instilling brands with the mind-set and methodology to use digital marketing tools effectively.

The inspirational message from digital electioneering seems to very much derived from the Democratic Party–so far, at least. The Republican Party’s last attempt was memorably named Project Orca, and on election day it crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.

But is any US political party really so savvy? After all, if millennials are an easy group to reach using social platforms on mobile devices, they’re a notoriously hard demographic to bring to the polling station. If your likely voters are in an older age group, maybe they’re best reached through traditional television advertising, or even snail mail.

“At the end of the day,” Holmquist responded, “every marketer’s job is to know where the audience is.” It’s easy to assume that younger people are more sociable, but these days everyone–even senior citizens–are using mobile devices. “Maybe you just don’t serve your message on Snapchat.”

What about these refined personas? Isn’t it enough to know that a potential voter falls into a broad block in order to predict their interests and concerns? Holmquist disagreed. “This is what differentiates mediocre, everyday marketing from inspirational marketing.” There’s a lot of data out there for creating complex, responsive personas for voters or customers.

Given that Sweden is a famously digital State, I took the opportunity to ask Holmquist about online voting–something which may become a reality in Sweden in the near future. “What is great digital marketing? It’s not about delighting people. It’s about creating a friction-free experience. What really works for brands is getting out of the way.” There’s little doubt, he said, that the opportunity to vote online would reduce friction enormously. But he agreed it’s unlikely to happen in the United States any time soon.

Here are EPiServer’s four keys to using digital marketing to attract voters–and, by implication, customers:

  • Engage them on their favorite mobile device.
  • Understand what they care about, and deliver a personal message.
  • Leverage A/B testing and multi-touch attribution.
  • Make messages inherently social, and therefore easy to pass on.
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