Following the re-election of Barack Obama to another 4 year term to the Presidency, pundits, politicos, and journalists have been pouring over information and gathering intel from the Obama campaign to learn how they won and what went in to their historic win over Mitt Romney. I say historic because no president has won re-election where unemployment was above %7. One such organization, Engage DC has released their 93 page report.
The staff at Engage researched, infiltrated, and interviewed news articles and online resources, the Rootscamp Unconference last month (How is the organizing going for our side?), and key individuals in the actual campaign. If there was ever a time to read something this would be it. You should head on over to their website to download your copy too.
I won’t regurgitate everything in this post. I don’t want to spoil the fun in your quest to see beyond the typical “smoke and mirrors”. Actually from the reading of it there was no smoke and no mirrors to this campaign, only lots of innovation going on in a political campaign.
The chief message that this report sends is the Obama campaign made digital a much bigger priority in their organization and they didn’t hire a typical campaign staff type of person. Many of the people at the top had no campaign experience at all. They came from Internet startups, research firms, and science firms. I reckon that their outside the usual campaign experience helped bring a whole new perspective to the organization. By contrast, the Romney team hired campaign insiders to manage data and targeting for their campaign. They also doubled the number of digital staff in 2012, 200 from around 100 in 2008. Their analytics staff had 50 while Romney’s had less that 8.
They used Analytics in a holistic way. They used the technique for not only standard campaign issues, but for logistics and the allocation of resources. Most astounding was the fact that the team ran 66,000 simulations of the election each day to test possible outcomes of the election. That’s one heck of a War Room scenario. These tests allowed them to come within .2% of the actual Ohio win, .4% of Florida’s and 1% in Colorado. The Romney campaign I don’t think had tested in this way at all during the campaign. For instance the model the team predicted the Hamilton County OH (Cincinnati) early vote to be 57.68%. It came out to actually be 57.16%.
Their social media analytics were so well developed that they affiliated 50,000 twitter accounts. Amusingly, the mentions of @BarackObama were not reliable because most mentions of @BarackObama were from critical conservatives. At least the Twittersphere was being heard!
Obama’s campaign already has some good material on their email campaigns, but in 2012 they were heading into a challenge, to be the first campaign to raise 1 Billion dollars in campaign. To make that goal they tested everything, subject lines, copy, design of the emails, everything. The way articles read, they tested non-stop. The top story in the email marketing campaign was that they raised 2.5 million dollars from one single email. The subject line was “I will be outspent”. From Engage DC’s report the take home is that you need to send a lot more email, test everything, and make people think they were going to lose.
On the online side they retooled their fundraising approaches. First they created a “Quick Donate” feature. You could easily donate anytime from your phone, through email, or the web. and they even developed a browser extension so that you could give the campaign five bucks anytime you felt the urge to give Barack some cash. They redesigned their website from a “control” aspect to a “sequential” aspect. In other words, the control is the form all in one page, you know name address, etc, amount, credit card info, employer, all in one place. By contrast, the sequential method led you through a series of tasks. They made it quicker. They saw a 5% increase in donations when they made the user experience faster.
Republican campaigns have “Super Saturdays” where they try to call as many people as possible and get as many doors knocked as possible. In the Obama campaign they held disaster days where they would continually test scenarios where data centers would go down or things would go hay wire at a moments notice. This ensured that the organization could still function in a trying time.
There were lots of development of new tools and platforms. The biggest two was the Dashboard Web App, and Narwahl. The Dashboard app was the campaigns defacto campaign office. Anyone with a cell phone and a computer could make calls, collect data, and be part of the campaign. Narwahl was the tool the campaign used to get out the vote.
Most impressive though with all the bells and whistles I am still amazed by the Obama campaign’s simple, effective design of their website. Using pictures and text Obama’s campaign site almost made you do what it wanted you to do. Read this text, Give this money, tweet this, share that, Like this. It was all very effective.
Patrick Ruffini and the team at EngageDC deserve a lot of credit today. They went above and beyond to infiltrate and straight up ask campaign staff how they did what they did. This report is what I would consider a clarion call and shift in the way campaigns are run and how campaigns now should approach what they do. With the advent of Big Data techniques Campaigns are going to look different, feel different, and behave differently. Conservatives face a challenge in looking at how the Obama campaign ran and making some of the aspects of his campaign into account when developing ours.