Would-Be Presidents Are All About the Dead Presidents

Why do I write so much about political candidates in a marketing magazine? Because the people who are desperate to become rulers of the free world do things that product and service marketers would never even think to do. From desperation comes innovation!

Take our current crop of 2016 presidential candidates. They all learned from President Obama’s 2012 campaign that a robust email strategy—enhanced by issue and geographic segmentation—is crucial to getting people to donate time and money. But the subject lines on Barack’s emails primarily focused on the issues. The Class of 2016, it appears in the early going, is focused on the cash. They want you to pay them for the honor of cramming your inbox on a daily basis. What email marketer would dare try that?

Today I visited Hillary Clinton’s campaign site and got a box that said “Join the official campaign.” I entered my email address and ZIP Code and pressed a button that said “Count me in.” But all Hill’s people wanted to count was my money. The next page asked you to select a contribution amount. Some deftly written copy explained to me that I need to donate to affirm I was a U.S. citizen, that I was using my own funds, and that I was at least 18 and not a federal contractor. I entered my standard political contribution ($0.00) and three screens later, I was allowed to register as a freeloader and attain the honor of being hit up for money incessantly for the next year and a half.

“For about the next six months, the candidates will be, in effect, running lead-gen campaigns. They’re still in the discovery phase and focused on fundraising,” says Zac Moffatt, cofounder of the digital political agency Targeted Victory, which is handling former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s presidential run. 

Marco Rubio has the same “Donate Now” message and the same dollar-amount boxes and boilerplate about what information’s needed to ante up. I typed in “$0.00” on the Rubio site, pressed “Enter,”and suddenly had the feeling I was out on Sixth Avenue getting hit up by the homeless guy on the corner. “Your registration is almost complete,” said the next page, haranguing me with ubiquitous contribution box. “Will you chip in a few bucks now?” No way. I hit a button that said “Return to the site” and got sent to a page advertising a “Flash Sale” for a butt-ugly T-shirt that was mine for the amazing price of donating $20 or–if I were a highly qualified lead–$2,700. An e-commerce option! Only in America.

Rand Paul looks to be my guy in the early going. His site hits you right in the face with a current tally on a big money board. I like a politician who doesn’t pussyfoot. I entered my email address and ZIP and was presented with two options: “Donate Now” or “Learn More.” I pressed the latter and got an instant message saying “We’ll be in touch.” Woo-hoo! Rand’s going to be in touch, just like that! No doubt it will be to ask me for cash. He also uses personalization, running the names and hometowns of recent donators.

How advanced will the 2016 presidential hopefuls’ CRM and marketing automation systems be? “Data? They’ll all talk about it, but I don’t know if they all got the religion,” Moffatt says. “If you want to be leaders of the free world, you’re going to have lots of money and little time. It’s like flying an airplane while building it.”

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