Running for Office as a Digital Candidate
by Julie Clarke-Bush, on May 10, 2019 9:38:13 AM
There’s no reason, other than lack of knowledge, a political candidate can’t leverage the same marketing tools utilized by the world’s biggest brands.
For me, my brain starts churning when I see online marketing that isn’t living up to its potential. So, I founded a marketing firm. I help companies find their voice on social media and transform lackluster websites into engaging eye candy.
After the 2016 election, I discovered a new passion: helping women revolutionize their online marketing to win elections.
Powerful marketing tools should not be an elite club accessible to a privileged few. There’s no reason, other than lack of knowledge, a political candidate can’t leverage the same marketing tools utilized by the world’s biggest brands.
As longtime senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said, "One of the most important ways we can expand opportunity for women is to help each other succeed."
You don’t need amazing computer skills or expensive software to rise above the digital noise. There’s a single online marketing strategy used to sell countless cars, hundreds of hot tubs, and years of yoga classes. Once you know how it works, the execution is simple.
Unfortunately, very few political candidates use this successful strategy. Most candidate websites are little more than interactive flyers, but they could be so much more.
Keep reading if you’re interested in building an election-winning website and an online presence to help voters know, like, and trust you.
Let’s Get Notorious--
Whether you’re a professional who’s new to politics or an established candidate, you no doubt understand the importance of a strong online presence. Gone are the days when people opened their mail, answered their phone, or watched television commercials. Voter behavior has changed, and politicians who want to win must change too.
Failing to evolve makes you a “late adopter.” Continuing to do things the old way is just a waste of time and money — and a big risk.
Word of mouth
Here are a few late adopters you may have heard of:
- Borders Books
Something else to consider: Donald Trump had no knowledge of established political strategy. He used marketing techniques that made money for his hotels and golf courses. I just wish he would have become president of the American Marketing Association instead of president of the United States. But I digress…
What’s that you say? You are a candidate running for office. You’re not a golf course, a hotel, or other commodity. You’re a person, not a product.
If thinking about your candidacy as a product seems unconventional, you are correct. Consider this: you can’t be a game-changer if you play by the old rules.
Here’s the good news: digital marketing is more efficient and effective than the “old way.” Digital tools also allow you to save time and money and empower your biggest supporters.
How to Leverage the Internet to Win Elections
Here’s a birds-eye view of the the digital tools you have at your disposal:
- Your website
- Social media
- Third-party news sites
By cross-promoting a consistent message across all of these channels, voters can get to know, like, and ultimately support you. For example: you might capture a voter’s attention with a social media post or interview on a local news site. The voter subsequently Googles you and visits your website to learn more about you and your campaign. After reading about your experience and positions on important issues, the voter decides to follow you on social media and subscribes to your newsletter.
As the graphic above illustrates, your website is the key to everything. Without a website, you’re relying on sporadic social media posts and whatever a third-party news site decides to publish about you. A Facebook page is an essential part of any digital marketing strategy, but it’s no substitute for a website.
What’s the Secret to Winning with Digital Communication?
Wouldn't it be great if you could clone yourself? While you attend to the various number-one priorities in your life, your clone could work hard promoting your message and goals to the local community 24/7.
A good website and social media presence can do exactly that: be the “extra” you. While you’re knocking on doors, your website is connecting with voters and collecting emails. When someone tweets a question that requires an answer longer than 280 characters, you can reply with a link to your website where your position is explained in detail.
Your website is critical to winning votes. It’s the first place where voters, media, and donors go to learn about you. Unlike a social media profile, a website allows you to explain in detail:
- Who you are
- Why you’re qualified
- Your position on important issues
- Your plan to improve the community
Most importantly, a website unlocks the three rings of victory.
What are the three rings of victory? I’m so glad you asked.
Three Rings of Victory to Convert Strangers into Supporters
- Traffic: Drive people, as many as possible, to visit your website using social media, targeted ads, SEO techniques, etc.
- Leads: Persuade website visitors to subscribe to your email newsletter by offering valuable information.
- Lists: Engage and inspire your email subscribers with compelling content.
This proven strategy is used to sell, well, you name it. My company has used the three rings of victory to sell forklifts, wealth management services, moving containers, and trips to see polar bears.
Digital marketers call it “inbound” or “content” marketing. When done right, the process takes a consumer who is unaware of a product and converts them to a buyer. Along the way, the consumer gets to know, like, and trust the company who sold them that product.
The same methodology can be applied to voters. A community member visits your website, gets to know you, then becomes a supporter and fan. It’s hard work and takes time, but it works.
If you’re like most candidates, time is your #1 commodity. Would you rather invest in a proven strategy or just hope for the best?
I believe it’s essential for women to be part of the political conversation, which is why I want to share this method with women who are running for office. When women’s voices are heard, change happens, and you can’t do that with social media alone.
Political candidates need a professional website.
Investing in good website is like buying a nice pantsuit and getting fresh highlights. Your website is a visual representation of who you are, and it has to look good. What does that mean? What is a good website?
First and foremost, a good website has something that speaks to each visitor. In marketingspeak, we call these “personas,” groups of people defined by what they want from your website. For a political candidate, your personas are: strangers, supporters, and unconvinced voters. A good website has something to offer each of these groups.
But, let’s begin at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start. I’d like to present: The Voter’s Journey:
The Voter’s Journey
- The Awareness Phase. Voters coming to your website in this phase don’t know anything about you. The Digital Candidate's website should help them quickly and easily find basic information about you by placing your name, where and what you’re running for, and your political party (if applicable) at the top of your website’s homepage. This information will also help with SEO.
- The Consideration Phase. Voters in the consideration phase want to know where you stand on issues important to them, what your qualifications and experience are, and whether you are a good witch or a bad witch. You may never meet these voters in person, so your website needs to have the content there to convert them into supporters.
Make it easy for people in the consideration phase to find out where you stand on important issues and why you’re the best person for the job. No one wants to weed through a wall of words, so use bold text, headers, and sub-headers to make the copy “skimmable.”
Invite visitors to sign up for your email newsletter in multiple areas of your website, including the footer. Describe the informational value of your newsletter (more on this in a moment) and assure subscribers you will not share their email with third parties.
- The Supporter Phase. A supporter is someone who will vote for you, possibly donate, and maybe volunteer. Make sure your website showcases how supporters can get involved with your campaign:
- Place a donation button in several locations on your site, including in the top right corner.
- Add a “Get Involved” or “Support” link in your main menu that links to information on how to volunteer, request a yard sign, etc.
Grow Your Subscriber List & Create Content
Ask any marketing professional about how to structure a marketing campaign and they will all say, “Content is King.” Since we’re marketing professionals promoting democracy, we should say Content is the President Who Won in a Fair Election, but Content is King is a little easier to say.
- Write blog post articles that explain where you stand on issues and current events.
- Post these blog articles on social media and use as content for your email newsletter.
- By posting shareable content to social media, you will increase the number of people who are aware of your campaign.
- Sending out emails on a regular basis (every week or so) keeps you top of mind.
Your blog posts feed the search engines and social media channels that are hungry for content. As described above, content marketing has taken over the marketing world, and politicians can easily steal these methods to reach new voters and find campaign supporters.
What if I’m Not a Writer
Your knowledge, passion, and expertise are all you need to fill the content pipeline. Some people say, “I’m not a writer,” but, in fact you are. The next email you send to a constituent regarding an important issue could become a blog article. When you meet a member of the community who is being underserved, write about them and what their story means to you. What you write doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, if it comes from the heart.
Content is How You Connect With Voters
Every article you write is another page for Google to share with local searchers. Ideally, you’ll have a blog post for every issue a voter would search for.
Through your content, you can tell your story and connect with readers. They say people do business with people they know, like, and trust. I’d say the same for politics. The goal here is to get voters to know, like, and trust you with different kinds of content. In addition to blog posts, this can include:
- Videos on your website
- Facebook Live videos
- Photos of supporters in action
Keep in mind: the value of this content can fold over many times. What you create for your website can be repurposed for social media and for email marketing. Moreover, top-performing content can be reused and reposted over and over. On average, only 2-5% of your social media followers see what you post. If you find a particular article strikes a chord, wait a few weeks and post it again.
Mastering the Art of the Feels
Your website should help voters find the information they’re looking for but also inspire them to take action. Moving someone to take action is all about tapping into their emotions, mastering the art of the feels. Marketers get a bad rap for exploiting this skill, but we can use this power for good.
Our feelings make us go out and march, become an activist, and maybe even run for office. People justify with logic but act on emotion. A voter will tell you they want a candidate with experience who agrees with their values, but that’s only part of it. When the voter puts your name in their yard or front window, it’s because they’ve connected with a human being: a mom, a teacher, an animal lover, a fighter.
The difference between a good website and a great website is how well it can connect the candidate with voters. When I see politician’s websites that are basically an online resume, it makes me crazy. I hope that candidate didn’t pay too much for her site!
Here are a few ways digital marketers motivate buyers to take action:
Tell a Story
A good story shows the way things are now and contrasts it with the way things could be. As consumers, we’re never happy with the status quo. We crave change and love stories of transformation.
Think of aspirational products like luxury cars or overpriced athleisure. The story of these products is basically, “buy this product and get one step closer to your ideal life.”
A political candidate could share a story of how she created positive change. Then, segue to the transformation she envisions for her community if elected.
The Power of Story in Political Marketing
Stories of transformation make people act. Think about the phrase, “Make America Great Again” in this context. It’s about transformation. You don’t like how it is now, vote, (take action) for me, and you will make it great again.
A good story will:
- Highlight the transformation. Call out problems and injustices you see.
- Show empathy. I know it sucks. I get it. I understand how terrible it is. It’s going to be ok. I can help.
- Show authority. I have experience with this. I’ve fixed this terrible thing before, and I can do it again.
- Have a plan. I’m going to show you how to take action and make the change you want.
- Calls them to action. Take this plan and step forward to make your transformation.
There’s a saying, if you confuse you lose. When someone reads the text on your website, they can think one of two things.
- “Since I don’t know what this means, then it must not be for me. I’m an outsider in this world so I’ll leave.”
- “Yes. This is me! I understand this. I will stick around.”
If people don’t understand what you’re doing, they will feel isolated and left out. That’s what I call a #feelsfail.
Are You the One We’ve Been Waiting For?
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I know your time is valuable. Also, I must have written something that resonated with you. Let’s connect.
You’ve already overcome the hardest step — deciding to run. Now, utilize a strong digital marketing strategy to reach voters who share your values.
I want to empower women running for office. I believe women are just as capable as men, and if their message gets heard, they can win.