Regional Targeting: From microtargeting to search success

Traditionally, online political campaigns have lagged behind online marketers. From the Web site platform to e-mail campaigns to search, we have spent the recent cycles bemoaning our candidates’ approach to online media. Yet in the last few days of this historic election, both candidates are happily spending their last pennies online. Better yet, the ad copy, landing pages and regional targeting are on par with, if not ahead of, commercial marketers’ efforts.

So how is it that 2008 became the year of improved political online marketing? As it turns out, we have offline direct marketing to thank. Both parties’ success with microtargeting — the practice of applying sophisticated data-mining tactics and predictive modeling to identify voters and supporters — has proven to be a game changer in 2008. According to a recent article in The New York Times, “By investing heavily in microtargeting, the [Democratic] campaign has built a ground game that has helped put more closely contested states into play and forced the Republicans to compete in states they have handily won in the past.”

As a result, both parties — and their online campaigns — are wooing Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, Missouri and Indiana. A Google search for “Obama North Carolina” serves up an ad for each candidate that reflects the campaign’s strategy in its final days. While this query was an explicit request for “North Carolina,” my guess is that a local resident would see even more regional targeting for broader searches within both the paid and organic results.

During the SMX East session, Search & the US Presidential Campaign, Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist for the McCain-Palin team, pointed out that everything his team does is both geo-targeted and microtargeted. He is not alone.

Peter Greenberger of Google’s Elections & Issue Advocacy team, who also participated on the panel, recently told me, “In the general election, the campaigns have refined their advertising strategies to target voters in only the states that are in play making their ad buys much more effective and efficient.  In addition, the messages delivered can be tailored to the specific states or localities where they run.”

Direct marketers might do well to take a cue or two from the candidates’ use of regional tactics for an online search campaign. Panelist Diane Rinaldo of Yahoo’s Political Advertising team pointed out if there was one cue that all direct marketers should take from the political candidates’ online activities, it would be the use of geo-targeting. She should know — Rinaldo previously served as the director of Yahoo’s Retail Advertising team. She noted that both often have hard deadlines, must meet the needs of regional audiences and employ behavioral targeting.

So how can retailers take advantage of regional targeting? Rinaldo recommends that “retailers further customize their advertising according to their geographical priorities and also according to the different customer needs by market. There’s a lot of sophisticated targeting available, from state to the ZIP code level, and it can often be combined with demographic or behavioral targeting for fine-tuned messaging.”

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