November 7, 2012
Social CRM/Big Data played a critical role in the re-election of Barack Obama. In order to understand how and why this happened, it’s important to understand what Social CRM means. At its core, Social CRM/Big Data is customer relationship management system which uses social, mobile and digital channels to keep track of and respond to the needs and wants of an organization’s existing or prospective customers or supporters.
Businesses have used some form of CRM for many years, but it has only been in the past few years that digital, mobile and social media have had sufficient penetration that enabled them to be used to listen and respond to customers. The “trick” in this complicated calculus is to understand both the listening and the responding sides of this equation.
President-elect Obama surrounded himself with a team of Social CRM/Big Data experts and they used these mobile, social and digital tools in: (a) the identification of likely supporters in key electoral college states (e.g. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada), (b) the timely messaging of these supporters and Obama leaning prospects and (c) turning them out on an early voting and election day ground game that would have made Patton proud.
The Candidates Spent Campaign Funds Differently
The lede on any post-election analysis/stories will likely involve the record setting expenditures of both candidates. While the numbers have not been tallied at the time of this writing, it is safe to say that total collective expenditures of the Romney and Obama camps will be north of $2 billion, which makes it the most expensive campaign in the history of the United States. Unlike most previous campaigns, both Romney and Obama seemed to have plenty of cash to spend and their choices on allocation of these budgets will likely be analyzed by future candidates for many years to come.
Most of these campaign dollars went to broadcast media – specifically network and local television spots – that reached parts of the country that held large pockets of Electoral College voters. The Electoral College, often described as a byzantine relic of the early days of the country, consists of electors who are supposed (but are not legally obligated) to vote for the candidate who received the majority of votes in their state. The magic number for any candidate is 270 Electoral College votes.
Both candidates purchased as much TV spot inventory as was available in Electoral College rich areas that pollsters said were still in play on elections day. The unfortunate citizens of the states of Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia were inundated with TV ads – usually of the negative variety – from both camps. However, the manner that the two candidates allocated their budgets in the realm of Social CRM/Big Data media is telling indeed.
Digital Marketing Expenditures Tell the Tale
The Federal Election Commission filing, reported by the publication “Politico” noted that the campaign for President Obama spent more than $47 million for online advertising and marketing, compared to $4.7 million by Governor Romney. This represents a substantial difference in priorities, given that both men had ample budgets to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do.
This digital component is an important tactic in any Social CRM/Big Data strategy and clearly the Obama camp felt it was about 10 times more important than Romney’s team. However, the volume of money is not the complete story. Every business person knows that “about 50% of all advertising (even digital advertising) is wasted” which is folksy way of saying that savvy targeting of the best online media and tactics is more important that flooding cyberspace with a huge volume of un-targeted messages.
The Obama campaign used search, key-word advertising and other digital media such as targeted banner ads with good precision, particularly after each of the Presidential debates. Several third-party companies, which were not associated with either campaign, noted that the Obama campaign responded to media references to “wins” and “losses” after the debates with paid-search ads and compelling landing page that supported his points. This is a classic Social CRM/Big Data strategy and the Romney camp did not take advantage of this tactic.
Search agency Rosetta, offered some post-election analysis of the keyword paid search ads before and after the debates and noted that neither candidate used as many key-words as they could have but Obama did a better job, particularly in the key Electoral state of Ohio. In this state, the search company noted that Romney held 3% coverage and Obama had 41% coverage.
Both candidates had plenty of resources, but Obama chose to place his in this very specific digital realm and respond to specific issues raised by the voters after the debates. So, if the voter Googled a search query that was tied to the key words that Obama had bought, a specific digital display ad would pop up.
Businesses can also take a cue from how the two camps dealt with bidding on competitive brand terms. Both candidates had a strategy in place to deal with searches from voters about the other side’s stances. Romney bid on Obama-related terms about 35% of the time and Obama bid on Romney-related terms about 17% of the time.
The lesson here is one that search marketers try and share with their business clients. The prices are higher and the conversion rates are lower when the bidding is for competitive brands, because people who are buying paper towels or presidential candidates have a brand preference and it is very difficult to get them to change brands. Thus, most of the money bid on these competitive terms was likely ill-spent.
Other Social CRM/Big Data Effects
As late as the Monday before Election Day, social, mobile and digital media experts were predicting an Obama victory based on his allocation of budgets to these media. During the campaign, it was reported that President Obama was averaging between $4,400 and $13,100 daily on Google search ads, compared to Governor Romney’s $3,400 to $6,300 daily spend. The Obama camp also spent considerably more of its budget on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter than did the Romney team. Website visitors to the Romney website were estimated to be 2.6 million versus Obama who had 8.6 million visitors. Romney got 28,579 YouTube subscribers and Obama got 257,471 subscribers. On Twitter, Obama was a tweeting machine. He had 21.7 million Twitter followers and Romney had 1.6 million. There is an obvious disparity between the two candidates social media presence.
Even the weather proved to favor Obama’s campaign. During Hurricane Sandy, when most of the populous Northeastern states were without electricity, and therefore were not susceptible to TV advertising, Obama appeared to take a page out of the Social CRM/Big Data playbook using mobile tactics to energize voters, many of whom were sitting in the dark at home waiting for the power to come on. Although many mobile advertising specialists noted that neither candidate took advantage of all of the aspects of mobile marketing, Obama seemed to do better than Romney, particularly in using the Social CRM/Big Data tactic to turn out the pro-Obama voters on Election Day in critical states such as Ohio.
What Else Happened?
In a U.S. presidential campaign, there are many factors that determine the outcome, many of which have little to do with Social CRM/Big Data. For example, there were big gaps between the two candidates among women voters, Hispanic voters and white male voters. Plus, the positive earned media that Obama received after Hurricane Sandy was a powerful image of the leader of the country working with local officials to help those in need and this was no doubt on the minds of many when they went to the polls. One could argue that these other factors were exploited/enhanced by Obama’s use of Social CRM/Big Data.
However, the positive effect of Social CRM/Big Data was much more dramatic than the percentage of the budget it received and this will not be lost on future campaigns. Mobile, digital and social media are relatively new tools for candidates involved in electoral politics and by the time the next Presidential campaign rolls around, there will likely be more digitally-based media that have not even been invented yet.
- Art Young, Client Development