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Political Texting
What can we learn from how candidates are using SMS messaging?
Posted Jul 24, 2008
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If your goal as a politician is to put your message in a constituent's hand, and have confidence that it will be read, mobile marketing -- specifically texting or SMS -- is made in heaven. Limbo conducted a one-million-SMS campaign for the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns, which produced some impressive results according to post-campaign research:

  • 56 percent said they were happy to receive the messages (the 25-to-34-year-old age bracket was happiest)
  • 6 percent said they changed their voting intentions a lot
  • 22 percent said they changed their voting intentions a little
  • 14 percent came away with a more positive perception of the candidate
  • 37 percent paid more attention to news coverage about the candidate
  • 13 percent would have preferred not to see SMS advertising from political candidates.

Statistics help us to understand the landscape. But let's take a step back: How effectively are each of the presidential candidates using the 160 characters in a text message to communicate and motivate? The following are my observations, uncorrupted by preference because as I sit here, and in the interest of full disclosure, my vote would go to throwing the bums out -- every single one of 'em.

Senator Obama's staff is using SMS effectively to support his campaign and their overall message. They have concentrated on database building, exploiting the viral potential, and their use of language is inspiring:

"One voice can make a difference. Make that voice yours. Fwd this msg and make sure all your friends vote today for Barack."

Or:

"People who love their country can change it"

This is in contrast to Senator Clinton's campaign, which appeared to use text as an afterthought, with more of a directional or logistical approach:

"Election Day -- don't forget to vote! Every vote counts in the race for the nomination. Thank you so much for your support."

Constituents were also invited to cast their vote via mobile for the Clinton campaign song.

While Senator McCain's Web site requests your mobile number I was unable to find reference to or examples of any cellular engagement.

The campaign of former Senator John Edwards pushed the mobile marketing envelope, using mobile in concert with other media and promoting interactivity. Most interestingly, the Edwards campaign launched a site dedicated to posting his text messages while he traveled the country.

I expect everyone reading this has a cellphone within easy reach -- we are, after all, a mobilized nation. Thus, I believe communicating through the mobile device can be the most powerful medium there ever was. What can we learn from the examples of the presidential candidates?

With apologies to Mr. McLuhan, the medium is also a message. Political campaigns that embrace and use mobile are reaching out -- sometimes lurching out -- to communicate with (for the most part) a younger generation. They reveal themselves as cognizant that people are communicating in new and preferred ways.

The message is critical -- and you've got about 15 seconds. Mobile messages that are clumsy or mass media do damage. Strategies that engage the recipient in a dialog, that reveal something of the other individual, are inspiring and viral, and lead the recipient to the next point.

I see a glimpse of mobile's true potential. Look, this is very personal. The customer is in total control. The cellphone is each individual's remote control for life, integrating the physical and the digital worlds, giving the individual the absolute power to turn on, or off, a private network of information at any moment.

For SMS and mobile to become an indispensable political -- and CRM -- tool, we must get on, and stay on, that Network of Me. Here's what it's going to take:

  • Bring value to the customer (as the customer defines value).
  • Bring value to the brand (and I see candidacy synonymous with brand).
  • Be distinctive, compelling, and memorable.

Each time, every time.

About the author
At Hornstein Associates (www.hornsteinassociates.com), Scott Hornstein, a consultant, lecturer, and author, works with clients in all phases of marketing development and implementation to create happier customers that stay longer and buy more. He can be reached at 1-203-938-8715 or via email at scott@hornsteinassociates.com
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