It’s all or nothing in politics. You either win an election or you don’t. It was those high stakes last November that motivated digital marketing strategists to create a winning campaign for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe.
Adding to the pressure, the 2013 race for the governor’s office was far from typical. “Virginia happens to be a state that holds its statewide elections in odd years,” says the campaign’s former digital director Alex Kellner, now director of Bully Pulpit Interactive, a digital marketing agency. “That means even people who have lived in Virginia for a long time aren’t necessarily in the habit of voting.”
Kellner says the McAuliffe team needed a strategy that would galvanize supporters to show up at the polls on Election Day, persuade undecided voters to support the Democratic candidate, and underlie a digital marketing campaign to track and measure along the way.
The team first identified likely voters and volunteers through focus groups, polling, historical data, and consumer data. Once the members of the campaign knew who to target, they put a cohesive digital campaign in motion—using targeted Pandora Internet radio ads, Facebook game apps, online ads that pushed people to pledge to vote, preroll ads, and other digital strategies using technology from Bully Pulpit.
“The metrics that we ultimately looked at were ROI—such as how much money would [potential voters] donate, and would they volunteer by knocking on doors and making phone calls—and cost per acquisition, which was very important,” Kellner says. The return on investment, he adds, needed to come sooner rather than later, with a looming November 5 deadline.
“We looked at other metrics, too, like conversion rates, to make sure we were reaching the right people on those platforms,” he says, adding that campaigners didn’t care about impressions because the goal was to turn someone into a donor. “We measured how long it took that online contact to become a donor.”
That carefully crafted campaign, Kellner says, motivated more than 90,000 people to look up their polling stations in the last four days before the election. “Simply by having people look up their polling places, they’re much more likely to vote,” he says. And those who pledge are up to 7% more likely to vote.
Boosting donations, rounding up volunteers, and getting people to vote were clear signs of success. “Governor Terry McAuliffe won with about a 60,000-vote margin,” Kellner says. He adds that throughout the entire campaign, strategists were able to track metrics that revealed if people donated, volunteered, looked up their polling stations, and eventually voted. “We could measure if we were delivering the message to the right people, and most important, did they take action,” Kellner says. “Obviously it worked. We won the election.”