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TRG Blog: Analysis from TRG Arts


Post-Election Lessons for the Arts

Rick Lester | November 14, 2012 8:47 AM
Photo via flickr
The billion dollar campaign that won the presidency on Election Day was the ultimate direct marketing strategy.  The outcome provides part lesson, part forecast about our future in marketing and raising money for the arts.

Big Data is not the future – it is now.  

In 2004, political consultant Joe Trippi reinvented politics by applying a few crazy ideas learned from a consulting gig in Silicon Valley. Governor Howard Dean used websites and elementary data tools to collect contact information about voters, volunteers and solicited donations on-line. These guys started a revolution.

In 2008, the Obama campaign built a massive database of some 13 million supporters and their email addresses.  When connected with new social media tools and a barrage of emails, then-Senator Obama raised a half a billion dollars from small donations and went on to win his first term in office.

For 2012, the Obama reelection campaign squeezed victory from a race that appeared to be very tight. The strategy was built on growing their sizable 2008 database into a 21st century set of database tools.

They hired a data scientist to lead a talented team of 150 data geeks. This, the campaign’s single largest department, began by collecting traditional facts on individual identity.

They acquired public record voter history files, appended consumer data with purchase histories, demographic and psychographic attributes.  They collected information from personal interviews conducted by telephone and on front porches across America.  They asked visitors to the campaign website to log-in using their Facebook account so that data miners could gain access to the public information stored in each account.  They matched all of this information with issues of interest gleaned from visitors’ web page analysis.   Finally, they tracked supporters’ computers to other sites they visited.

This vast Obama data set allowed campaign volunteers to begin every conversation with considerable knowledge about how the targeted person was living their life and what issues were important to them.

Big data drives micro-targeting.

Size matters in the world of big data.  The bigger and more robust the data set, the better the predictive tools become.  That’s why direct marketers can now pinpoint targets while simultaneously understanding who is not the target.

For the Obama team, this meant a series of concentric targets.  They were able to precisely segment loyalists from those least likely to vote.  Highly motivated Obama supporters were asked to give more and do more in carrying the Obama message across their circles of friends.  Less likely voters were cultivated as friends and successfully lead along the path toward casting a ballot.

Micro-targeting works wonders…

Obama’s database-driven ground game focused less on winning “swing states” in favor of winning “swing counties.”  Obama reportedly won every targeted swing county and in doing so, won most of the swing states.

Identifying potential new Obama voters using predictive models was the key.  Data- directed programs got them registered and then matched them with issues that resonated with each voter.  Finally, data-driven social pressure and social media insured they were “fired-up” and “ready to go” vote.

…and reveals the changing face of America.

Photo by Todd Hryckowian via flickr
Team Romney believed that conventional wisdom was fact.  In this case, no president in a century has won re-election with a share of the vote larger than his first time around.

In 2012, the Obama campaign’s generated an African-American turnout that increased from 11 to 15 percent, a Latino share that increased by an all-time high of 10 percent. President Obama won both segments by larger margins.

As NBC News analyst, Chuck Todd opined the morning after Election Day, “Make no mistake: What happened last night was a demographic time bomb … that blew up in GOP faces.”  

The president’s team correctly understood that a plan based solely on attracting white voters, to the exclusion of people of color, was a losing strategy.

Lessons for arts managers:

Of course, the Obama data-driven campaign machine is not scalable or affordable for the arts …yet.  But here’s what we can take away:
  • Big arts data that’s already available is transformative.  It’s redefining the selection of target markets and offers.  It’s able to impact a wide range of business and artistic decisions that extend far beyond the traditional realm of marketing and development.  Knowing your patron’s transactional history is no longer enough.  You need to know everything possible about their activities with you and when they are not in your venue. 
  • Ignoring the shift in American demographics is a recipe for failure.  The “browning” of America will be challenging, especially for traditional Anglo institutions whose costs, artistic mission and business models are locked in place.   And, as Boomers fade from the scene to be replaced by Generations X and Y, finding and retaining audiences and donors becomes another critical consideration.  Success comes from knowing who your audience will be, not just who they are now.  
  • New predictive models and improved methodologies will drive how we engage with patrons and prospects – to create relationships with them.  These tools will reduce business risk and improved efficiency as we seek to build patron lifetime value and loyalty. The good news?  Technological advancements make micro-targeting more affordable and accessible to all of us.  With that, direct contact – in all print and digital channels – becomes a means every organization can use for building loyalty.

What did you learn from the last campaign?






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Prediction for 2013: Big Data means Big Changes


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