A very interesting piece in BusinessWeek caught my eye last week, and while we typically stay away from politics on this blog, I’m going to post about this because it isn’t so much about politics as it is about monitoring–and how applying intelligence gained at a very small level can add up to a sum far more than the separate parts. (It’s also interesting to me to see how campaign processes in elections find application in traditional PR and marketing. The logic behind the candidate “coffee,” where a candidate would attend an event at the home of a local person who was typically well-connected and answer questions, in hopes that those in attendance would go out and tell all of their friends about the candidate–is at the heart of programs called “grassroots marketing” or “peer marketing.”)
The article, titled “Obama’s Re-Election Path May Be Written in Will St. Clair’s Code” looks at how the President’s re-election campaign is using the massive amount of data available a bit differently. They’ve hired a software engineer, and while they (for obvious reasons) won’t go into specifically what he is tasked with doing, it boils down to essentially making the data collected useful on a small scale. A *very* small scale.
“Microlistening,” as it is called in the article, allows the campaign to approach different classifications of voters in a highly targeted style. An example from the piece notes that a person who voted for the president in the last election but is now a “disenchanted voter” wouldn’t be hit up for a donation–instead, that individual would be “wooed.” The significance of this cannot be understated: if a campaign is able to gather that level of information about specific voters and actually apply it, this takes “micro-targeting” to a new level.
By looking at data on such a small scale, the campaign may be able to appeal to voters in a far more personal way–which mitigates the risk of alienating a voter in a way that wasn’t possible before. It also means it might be possible to be far more responsive on an individual level than ever before too–which could mean more effective GOTV (Get Out The Vote) efforts. As close as some elections have been in recent years, sometimes turnout is the difference between a win and a loss.
Of course, it remains to be seen how effective “microlistening” will be in the election. One thing is fairly certain though–presidential campaigns (all political campaigns, really) are a marketing effort of a different sort. Depending on how effective it is, we could see “microlistening” seep into traditional marketing. Of course, behavioral advertising does this to a certain extent already, but in my reading/interpretation of what they are looking to do on a campaign level is quite different, and could potentially have an impact on the way marketers work.