You probably landed on this page because you are planning on setting up, helping to, or at least interested in how to set up a political campaign. But the terms Smart campaigning, political strategy mapping, A/B testing and stakeholder analysis don’t ring a bell? Well then, let me guide you through the maze that is setting up and executing your very own successful political campaign.
These are the steps:
Set your goal
You want votes! But what is it exactly you want people to vote for?
Your party? Your candidate? Your initiative? Or your referendum? Or against a certain initiative, or candidate?
Whether you want people to advocate for a CAUSE (initiative, referendum) or a PERSON (candidate, party) will determine all the further steps to be taken. It will define the story you’re telling, the strategy you’re applying, as well the kind of tools and support you make use of.
Of course, the first thing that comes to our minds when considering the possible aim of a political campaign is always to get votes. Campaigning can be a strong tool for your overall communication and marketing. Collecting votes is most of the time the main goal of political campaigning, however, it can be considered as an instrument to simply raise awareness for your subject, build up your grounds for an election further away, or restore your image after a crisis.
Only when your goal is crystal clear to you and your team will you be able to tell a story and build a strategy based on it.
Tell a story
What are elections and ballots actually for? To harmonize and align politicians and their agenda with the citizens’ demands. The average citizen is very attached to their right to vote. Why are they convinced that their voice matters (even though promises don’t always hold after elections)? The answer is: because of Storytelling.
An election is a big storytelling competition. Does this mean that you have to lie to your voters? No, of course not! Much rather than a deception method, the process of storytelling is a way of sensemaking. If you tell your story and connect it with your opinion and perspective, you demonstrate your moral compass in a simple way. Your voters can easily relate. You establish a sense of “us” and a political enemy, the “them”.
People can relate to real stories, instead of empty metaphors. That’s why we talk about things that happened to us and about the people we met. We create identification. By saying “this happened to me” a politician puts herself or himself on the level of the voter and presents as “just as ordinary as an average citizen”. People like to relate to each other, and automatically have a more positive opinion towards people they feel similar or connected to.
By incorporating your cause or person into a narrative context, you basically deliver a news article to the media on a silver tablet. No need for them to research and construct a context around you, they can just take over your story! Due to common editorial restraints such as limited resources, money and time, news media houses are much more likely to pick up and push your story when you make it as convenient as possible for them to tell it.
Since you have no physical product to sell in a campaign or ballot, the reason or purpose of you advocating for a certain cause or person, or, as Simon Sinek would call it, your WHY, is more important than ever! People “buy” your ideas. And these can be conveniently formulated in a narrative.
Identify your allies and activate them
Your political campaign is now ready to be outlined. The first step has already been taken by creating the story you want to tell and identifying your supporters. However, a proper stakeholder map, the first step in your outline, not only has to indicate the parties with a favorable attitude towards you. As important as those who root for you, are the ones that don’t! A stakeholder map essentially identifies the position and connections between all the forces that are concerned with your matter or persona. It is a visual tool that gives you an overview of everyone involved, and your position within this spider web of connections. It serves as a foundation for you to know which thread to follow, to strengthen, which new ones still have to be spun, and which ones might have to be cut in order to free yourself from unwanted associations or influences.
Who is going to help you tell your story? To reach and convince as many people as possible?
Try to first find people that are in this with you. Find your allies. Can you form a coalition, are there lobbies supporting your cause or ideas? Can you find people that can act as ambassadors for your cause? That can multiply your voice and spread it across different population segments and geographical locations?
Another question you should be asking yourself is: Do I, myself, or my campaign team have the knowledge and time in order to spread the story? Or do we maybe need help with this?
If the latter is the case, outsourcing is always an option. This can be even more efficient than trying to DIY when as a matter of fact you could be focusing on the essential while letting a marketing and communications agency take care of what they do best: getting your story out there! More often than not, this even saves money in the end!
Communicate your concept
Break your concept down to Lasswell’s communication model. It encompasses all the essential questions you should be concerned with in one simple, yet incredibly wholesome and multi-adaptable way.
Short, but sweet, it inquires:
“WHO says WHAT to WHOM through which CHANNEL with what EFFECT?”
WHO: What makes you, you? What are your specialties, your weaknesses, your strengths?
WHAT: The goal of your campaign?
WHOM: Who are you trying to reach? What is your ideal voter persona? Target group?
CHANNEL: Based on who you’re trying to reach, what is the best medium to do so? For instance, if your target group is people above 60 living in elderly housing, Instagram might not be the way to go when choosing your channel through which you would like to bring your message across. But if you are trying to convince Gen Z that taking up smoking is a bad habit and super unhealthy, Instagram might well be just the way to go.
EFFECT: This is also linking back to the goal you formulated in the beginning. The important distinction of whether you are trying to get people to vote for or against a certain cause, candidate or party, or whether you are initiating a political campaign in order to restore your image, raise awareness or to build up ground in order to be successful in an election further away can decisively change the type of strategy you implement in order to trigger the intended effect within your target group.
If you can answer all of these 5 questions, you have the blueprint of your political construct. Now, you are ready for the next step: Collecting data, which you can base your strategy on.
Make use of the available data
At Enigma, we are convinced that proper strategies should be built upon data, rather than estimations and gut feelings. Data beats opinion. Always. No matter if you have a Ph.D., or just graduated high school.
Ways of collecting the data you need in order to make informed choices range from interviews, focus groups, and qualitative field studies such as shadowing all the way to an automated survey or online behavioral data collected through your google analytics. Getting data is one thing, but how to use it and how to decide which data is actually relevant to be collected, is another pair of shoes.
Define your strategy
You need one for absolutely anything. Because it all has to be planned out to the last detail and whatever could possibly go wrong has to be foreseen and eliminated beforehand. But no matter how overused this terminology might be in some fields, it cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to managing your communications. Having a communication strategy is most definitely what will get you one, if not five steps ahead of your strategy-less opponents in winning your political campaign.
Our mantra for building a successful strategy is the following:
Getting the right MESSAGE to the right PERSON at the right TIME.
We call this process smart campaigning. That is what you actually need the strategy for. You have established all the necessary components in the steps beforehand, but now it is about putting the puzzle together and ensuring the smooth transmission of information. Furthermore, smart campaigning comprises three characteristics that I will elaborate on here.
Steadiness: Enigma will start your campaign earlier than a standard communication agency would. This way, you can get ahead of the game while the other parties or your opponents have not even reached the starting line yet. Further, we are convinced the continuous campaigning is the way to go.
Closeness: The proximity, in terms of tone of voice, interests, geographical location and appeal to your voters could be what eventually makes the decisive difference.
Timeliness: Interact with your voters! Respond quickly, be always up to date about what is going on around you. Anticipate possible topics or problems that might come up along the way. And foresee the biggest opportunities for you to plan an action, make a statement, proof to people that you are there and ready to be heard and make a difference.
One of the techniques we use to fulfill the demands of our mantra is targeting. Targeting will allow you to provide people with exactly what is relevant to them at that specific moment in time. Read more about targeting in our blog post on tools to make your political campaign successful.
With a winner strategy and concept in your pocket, telling you when to do what, all you have left to design and decide upon is your content. But don’t be fooled even though it seems like you’re so close to being ready, creating your content will be quite a bunch of work.
First of all, you have to decide on your Name and Slogan. This part of your ‘political (corporate) identity’ is crucial to the outcome of your political campaign since it will ensure the consistency of your communications. People are being exposed to thousands of messages, ads, and faces on a daily basis, both online and offline. In order for you to be memorable to them, your presentation not only has to be catchy and eloquent but also consistent. There are even psychological theories such as the mere exposure effect that claim that just by seeing the same message over and over again, it starts to appeal to us.
In order for you to know which message exactly appeals to most people, we will use another of our special techniques, called A/B testing.
Once you have decided on a message, we will have our design team draft different versions of it, using various colors, fonts and illustrations, and pictures. Based on your feedback, they will perfection your political identity in cooperation with you.
Now that you have drafted your message and chosen your colors, it is time to see where your target group is getting their news from, what they are building their opinion based on. Do they read the newspaper? Are they active on social media? Do they watch TV? Do they commute? Usually, a mix of online and offline media is the way to go in order to reach the most people possible. But: A mix is a very unclear term. It can mean 95% online and 5% offline resources, but it can also mean 50/50. Enigma will find the perfect media mix for your political campaign, by analyzing the information about your target group obtained in the data-gathering phase and work out the possible options based on your available budget.
Make yourself visible
Last but not least, you really have to make sure that your message also reaches your target group. And for this, visibility is key. There are numerous ways through which it can be reached, all connected to a different kind of effort in terms of time and money.
Website: Having a well-functioning, SEO-optimized website is essential given that we live in the digital age where people get most of their news online, google almost everything and never leave their smartphones out of sight. We recently published a series of articles on our blog that treat the topic “website”, with a special focus on setting up websites that meet the needs of digital natives and the even more demanding Gen Z that are now starting to become politically active and reaching 18 years, and with it the right to vote. Take the online test to see which kind of website you need to start your campaign or learn everything you need to know about websites in this article!
Ads/Media space: Media space can be bought, for instance, if you decide to do paid advertising. But as Trump showed us in his presidential campaign, media space can also be ‘earned’ by making provocative statements so that the media will want to report on you. Read about the age of outrage in our article!
Of course, you can also have organic in-house media space, such as social media platforms or a blog, where you can advocate your cause. However, for that point to be successful, you have to be even more avid in SEO and creating traffic towards your organic platforms.
Guerilla Marketing: Guerilla marketing can be a great technique for political campaigns in order to increase public awareness of their cause, party or candidate. It encompasses basically any idea, online or offline, that is unconventional and aimed at getting people’s attention. Did you know that Vodafone, for instance, once hired professional pickpockets to slip ads for phone insurance in people’s purses and pockets of their pants? They wanted to show their clients first-hand how easy it is to steal their devices and this way get them to purchase insurance. The same mechanisms can work in the political field. Think of your cause, think about how you could visualize it, how you could make people experience the difference, make them feel the positive change that would be caused by your campaign being successful. Or what negative consequences could follow if your campaign isn’t accepted, if you are not elected.
Do you feel more prepared now to start your next political campaign? Do you have all the resources? Could you identify which step you’re at? Where you are struggling? Where you might need help? In order to summarize the main points of this article and make it easier for you to keep your cool, we created this free booklet for you to download now!
Do you want to dive deeper into the topic and read more about it? Then head over to these articles and find out more:
- Read this article if you want to learn more about specific tools for your campaign
- If you have all the components and tools ready to launch your political campaign, it’s time to think about concrete planning!