Friday, September 5, 2008

Politics, Community and Social Networks

Political marketing is fascinating, and today my inbox is so full of political messages that I can’t resist some comments. There are the usual emails from the candidate, the vice-presidential candidate and various members of the campaign staff. The marketing question is whether they’re overdoing it. In one respect, it’s definitely overkill. On the other hand they don’t have much time, and they have to make use of it. I also got one from the Massachusetts campaign office that’s definitely appealing to community.

The one that struck me most, though, was from the AARP. I used some of their data in an earlier post on seniors on the web and it’s one of the many newsletters I follow. The one today shows just how far we’ve gone—not just the young on Facebook, which gets most of the attention, but their elders via email—in changing the way politics works in this country.

I’m being asked to submit a question for the candidates. That’s becoming standard. But reaching out to your entire email list seems less common. Even more unusual is their promise to give all questions to the candidates—not just a selected few. That’s a powerful appeal and may be especially relevant to this older target audience.

I can’t help also noticing that AARP understands its constituency in other ways. I size-reduced the text in the newsletter so you could see as much as possible; it’s clearly larger than normal newsletters. I’ve compared it to an excerpt from one of today’s WSJ newsletters so you can see for yourself.

The message is short, straightforward, and it’s focused on a single message. They use a powerful (not particularly pretty) color combination with bold and underlining for emphasis. The call to action is emphasized in a box. All good direct marketing techniques.

I don’t pretend to know where this is going, much less where it will end, if at all. However, what I do know is that candidates and organizations are building huge email lists. Many of them have great potential for segmentation. Consider the AARP. “Submitted a question” is a potential identifier of an activist segment. What is the potential for using more advanced segmentation—question included the term “health care” or the term “health care for veterans”? The potential seems enormous if the organization has a use for segmentation at that level.

There’s an exciting communications frontier ahead of all of us. One aspect is to use email better—not to “blast” your email list as politicians do, maybe out of necessity. Segment and deliver relevant messages—that’s the email challenge.

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