Growing Up Digital - 6 Things that have changed since 2007

I was recently asked a great question. What has changed about the business of digital for Republican campaigns since we started our firm in 2006? After some thought, I came up with six things that I think are different:

1. It used to be that no one wanted us. Now everyone wants to BE us.
The biggest change is our status. When we first started our business we found ourselves trying to convince candidates and party organizations that they needed to spend money on digital. The entrenched media consultants would tell them things like “digital doesn’t persuade voters” and “only young people are online” or “Likes don’t vote.” But now, all of a sudden, those same media firms who thought digital was a waste now advertise themselves as digital “experts.” Everyone is in the business of digital- even if that means they simply outsource those items directly back out to firms like ours!

2. More science, less art.
I used to believe that, like good social media, email and website work was art. Now it’s 100% science. We can target our audiences with extreme precision and test messages against each other with A/B and multivariate testing. If a campaign has invested its resources properly, no part of their digital campaign is left up to the opinions of anyone - everything is backed up with data.

3. I’m getting older.
This may seem out of place, but I think this is an important distinction. When I started my business, the fact that I was 20-something was important. People wanted a young digital consultant because young people were the ones who knew all about the internet tubes, the Google machine and the Facebooks. Now knowledge and expertise in these areas is no longer exclusive to the youth. In addition, the age groups involved in social media use have gotten older. I have to watch what I put on Facebook these days - my seventy-year old mother watches me closely! I love you mom! By the way, when did forty start sounding like a young age?

4. Clients have in-house experts- and I’m excited about that.
Our clients are starting to become sophisticated enough to have strong in-house experts. This is a wonderful change in the last few years that is dramatically improving the quality of digital work in the industry. A client who understands what they want, what they are buying, and how to measure it, ultimately ends up creating a better product for the candidate. In addition, it keeps us focused on what we are good at- delivering the right messages to the right people- versus what the client is better able to do in house- real time content creation.

5. We are becoming a larger part of the campaign.
I’ve started telling candidates that they need to understand a simple fact. For the first year (or more) of their campaign their digital outreach is the primary means by which they will communicate with voters. Earned media through traditional sources (local TV news, newspapers, and radio) is largely dead or too inefficient. Without a budget to spend on early television, the client has really just one option- to spend time and money on digital content and advertising. Good clients are recognizing that focusing on good digital work from day one is absolutely essential to build a strong coalition of voters that will propel them to victory.

6. Our ability to target voters is exceeding our ability to create targeted content.
With the massive increase in the use of big data in campaigns, we have now created a bottomless pit of data on our undecided voters. That amount of data far exceeds our ability to create targeted content. We may know that independent pro-life women are a key demographic for our campaign, but do we have the digital content created and ready to deliver to them. That’s one of the biggest challenges of 2015 and beyond- how do we start generating enough content to make the best us of our massive compilation of data. There’s literally hundreds of different groups we could target; can we create hundreds of different pieces of targeted content?

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