Running a political campaign is a lot like running a business’s marketing department. To be successful, you have to determine a target audience, then find the best ways to reach them to sell your product.
Just over a month before the 2016 presidential election, three leaders from Hillary for America’s digital team visited General Assembly’s New York headquarters for a captivating panel conversation moderated by Fast Company writer Ruth Reader. They shared insight on the Hillary Clinton campaign’s digital marketing strategy, from experimenting with new platforms, to choosing data sources and breaking through the echo chamber.
Clinton’s team shared tips that digital marketers can apply to amplify brand messages, create stronger communities, and capitalize on new tools and trends. Get an exclusive look at how the campaign operates by watching the full discussion below.
1. Use your brand’s strengths to tell your story and engage with your audience.
Hillary Clinton isn’t known for her natural ability to work a room like Barack Obama or her husband Bill, but she’s celebrated as a great listener who makes strong impressions in a one-on-one setting. The team centered the campaign around those strengths, finding ways for voters to intimately engage with the candidate and make them feel like they have access to her, even if they couldn’t be with her face to face.
“A lot of the [campaign] videos you see are about these intimate moments,” said Jessica Morales Rocketto, Hillary for America’s Digital Organizing Director. “In organizing that, we’re trying to help people meet Hillary through contests. We’re trying to make sure she comments on Facebook pages, likes Instagram posts, and also [give people] access to ask her questions through conference calls or livestreams.”
2. Consider your target audience for each distribution platform.
Different platforms — like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and email — lend themselves better to various demographics and types of content, so it’s important to consider which outlet you’re using for each message.
“[We ask], who’s the audience there? Do they tend to be older? Do they tend to be younger? Do they tend to be women? We [think] about who we’re talking to and what’s natural on the platform,” explained Andrew Forrest, HFA’s Director of Audience Development. “Twitter tends to be for influential folks, and reporters … On Facebook, we think a lot about video distribution. It depends who we’re trying to reach with our message.”
3. Use a variety of data sources to inform your marketing decisions.
Targeting your audience based on age, location, interests, and other factors increases the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, and that data, used to inform content strategy and ad placement, can come from a variety of sources. Clinton’s team uses its own collected data supplemented by information that’s accessible via other sources, like Facebook and YouTube.
“We try to make judgments on whether our own data is better or worse than the data we [can get] from the platforms themselves,” said Danielle Butterfield, Deputy Director of Digital Advertising for HFA. “We target people we need to be speaking to but we lean on places like YouTube and Facebook” for user behavior and characteristics such as language and family-related details. For an ad about Clinton’s Bernie Sanders–assisted proposal for debt-free college, the campaign targeted student voters, then layered on Facebook and YouTube data to find parents with kids in college.
4. You can’t always control your message — and sometimes that’s a good thing.
There’s no stopping what other people say about or do with your brand, and sometimes it’ll work to your advantage. During the vice presidential debate on October 4, Governor Mike Pence said to Senator Tim Kaine, “Senator, you’ve whipped out that Mexican thing again,” after Kaine mentioned Donald Trump’s past derogatory comments about Mexicans. Soon after, a Hillary Clinton supporter created the website thatmexicanthing.com, which redirects to Clinton’s donation page.
“We keep getting credit for it, but [a supporter named Danilo Alfaro] did it,” Rocketto explained. “We don’t think about it as hijacking [our message]. It would be foolish to think we could control the message in this age of social media.”
5. Find a way to break through the echo chamber.
As crucial as it is to cater to your core demographic, the most effective marketing campaigns discover ways to reach a wider audience — sometimes through unexpected channels. Hillary Clinton recently did that by appearing on an episode of the Funny or Die web series Between Two Ferns with comedian Zach Galifianakis, which was shared widely beyond her liberal base.
“You have to think about how to frame content so that it’s going to energize your base and people who are willing to be your evangelists, but frame it in a way that is approachable, surprising, and interesting to people who are not necessarily part of that group,” Forrest said. “[After Between Two Ferns went live], I regularly saw people posting comments that said, ‘I may not love Hillary but honestly this is just funny.’ It’s a really nice example of how we can break through by being a little bit creative, a little bit outside the box of what folks might typically expect us to do.”
6. Tailor your outreach to new trends and technologies.
Successful marketers are constantly adapting to new ways of reaching their audience, which often means testing out new social media platforms or content formats.
“One thing we’ve done that has been very innovative on this campaign is create videos in a way that is optimized for performance on social media,” Forrest explained, referencing the short, easily shareable Facebook-hosted videos that have been prominent in Clinton’s campaign. “Native Facebook video didn’t exist in the last presidential campaign. It’s completely revolutionized the way the media works today, and we wanted to make it successful.”
7. Engagement is universal, whether the message is online or offline.
Rocketto stressed that there’s no real difference between marketing to people online or offline because the ultimate goal is to engage people with your product or organization regularly, and in their real life.
“We’re trying to think about the ways we can be a part of the daily life of our supporters, whether it’s because they saw in their Facebook feed a post from Hillary Clinton about last night’s debate, or because they got a call from our organizers,” she said. “All of those things together are communications from the campaign, and I don’t think anybody is separating those. To me it’s just engaging with people — sometimes it’s online and sometimes it’s offline. I don’t think those terms really mean that much.”
8. Utilize brand advocates wherever you find them.
Some of the most influential marketing comes from peers and local influencers, which is why Clinton’s campaign spends a lot of time working with grassroots organizations and not only popular celebrities or politicians.
Rocketto pointed out that companies have “people who can be evangelists for your product, your technology, and supporters who are enthusiastic and want to talk about it.” Use them to your advantage and “give them the tools they need to be able to do that.”
Master your brand and business plan.