3 Digital Trends to Watch in the 2016 Presidential Election

Customer Engagement
It's no secret that presidential candidates spend massive amounts of money on political advertising. But TV commercials and billboards are no longer enough.

It's no secret that presidential candidates spend massive amounts of money on political advertising. But TV commercials and billboards are no longer enough. Next year's presidential hopefuls will be facing off on a highly digital stage, giving candidates new opportunities--and challenges--to engage voters. Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was lauded for its use of digital tools and data, which helped Obama get his message out at an unprecedented scale. However, we can expect every candidate to have a digital strategy moving forward. Yesterday, a panel of political marketing experts at Ad:Tech NY identified the top digital trends that they predict will shape ad campaigns during the 2016 presidential election.

Smarter Targeting
Just as marketers try to deliver relevant content, expect to see more political ads that are tailored to individual interests. "When you're running a TV ad, you're showing everyone the same ad," noted Stephanie Grasmick Sager, partner at Rising Tide, an ad agency that advises political campaigns and non-profit organizations. "But online you can talk to different audiences about the issues they care about."

Jenna Golden, Twitter's head of strategy and sales development for politics and advocacy, agreed that candidates have many more targeting capabilities than they did in 2008. Campaign strategists, for instance, can easily do a keyword or hashtag search for the issues that people are tweeting about and segment that data by age, gender, and more.

With so much granular data at their disposal, candidates will take a "deep and narrow" approach to courting voters over the next 10 months, she said. Indeed, "the one area where politics is ahead of the commercial market is the addressability of what they're trying to do," said Chase Mohney, a client partner on Facebook's government and politics team. Political campaigns have clear demographic groups that they need to target and a data behemoth like Facebook is well-positioned to help politicians reach them.

Facebook already allows campaigns to upload information from voter profiles and supporter databases to compare with user data and serve targeted ads. Over the last year and a half, Facebook has been working on layering additional data through a partnership with Acxiom.

Campaigns can thereby access a wider range of data insights to do things like segment Facebook users by a "persuasion score" and "run more efficient campaigns," Mohney maintained. And this week, Facebook unveiled a new tool that allows campaigns to find "political influencers" such as people who share content from political parties, like a lot of political Pages, and click on political ads.

Customizing Content by Device
Mobile and video will both play huge roles in the upcoming election. While TV commercials are still important, candidates will need to produce content specifically for smartphones and mobile videos. But candidates must understand the different uses of each device. Unlike television sets, smartphones and tablets are considered personal devices. People also consume content differently on a mobile device compared to a television set in their living room. "Understanding that video is consumed differently on mobile versus a TV will be very important," Mohney noted.

Omnichannel Engagement
In 2008, the Obama team was ahead of the times by simply having accounts on Facebook, Twitter, (MySpace!), and its own website, My.BarackObama.com. Today, it's common for candidates to manage multiple social platforms. Savvy political strategists will tailor their campaign messages according to the nuances of each platform as well as streamline their communications across other parts of the campaign. "You don't set up Facebook and Twitter and walk away," noted Laura Olin, principal at Precision Strategies, a consulting firm. "It has to be integrated with the rest of your campaign."

At a time when public opinion is heavily influenced by online content, the stakes are high for political candidates to get digital communications right. However, just as marketers are still experimenting with approaches for driving loyalty and revenue, political campaigns have a steep learning curve ahead of them.