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The Mobile Campaign: How Politicians are Using Mobile in 2012

The Digital Campaign

83% U.S. adults own cellphones, and 35% own smartphones.  To reach those people where they spend their time, politicians are incorporating mobile more deeply into their campaigns in a number of different ways.

Mobile Advertising

SMS marketing, or text-message marketing, a tactic currently used by many political campaigns, has been a part of campaign toolkits for some time now.  However, this well-used method may not be as effective as is often assumed.  A recent Axciom survey found that only 9% of respondents felt SMS marketing was appropriate.

Though mobile web advertising is still viewed as more intrusive than web advertising, it is also perceived as less intrusive than SMS marketing.  Furthermore, as there are almost 1.2 billion mobile web users globally, failing to get in front of people on this channel is a major oversight.  Obama for America is using mobile web advertising, as are the Mitt Romney and Ron Paul campaigns.  Mitt Romney’s digital director, Zac Moffatt, recognizes that there is significant potential, saying “if we don’t hit them on their mobile phones, we’re missing a huge opportunity for people who are voters.”

Mitt Romeny’s campaign has bought mobile ads through Google AdWords taking advantage of a “click-to-call” feature that allows the mobile user to call the campaign directly from the ad.  Some of the GOP drop-outs have also taken advantage of the unique benefits of mobile advertising.  In the run-up to the Iowa straw poll, which Bachmann won, her campaign made an aggressive mobile push featuring “click-to-call” ads.  Rick Perry’s digital strategist, Vincent Harris, used the advanced targeting capabilities of mobile advertising to serve mobile ads within 5-mile radii of several Christian colleges in South Carolina.

Optimizing for the Mobile Web

While only 9% of mobile users say they are willing to accept SMS marketing messages, 78% are willing to accept email messages.  Email is a tried and true method of campaign outreach, and though it may not seem obvious why this is relevant to mobile, there is an incredibly important connection.  According to a Pew study, 36% of all cell phone users check their email on their phone and 87% of all smartphone users check email on their phone.  Armed with data like this, campaigns must operate under the assumption that any email sent to a supporter is likely to be read on a mobile device.

There are a few major implications of this data.  Emails must be served to render properly on mobile devices, as the likelihood that recipients will take the time to read an email later on their computer is incredibly slim.

There are also important implications when it comes to donations.  Nate Thames, political director for ActBlue, says that “ninety-five percent of online contributions for a normal federal campaign will be driven by email.  However, the tool that potential donors are using for consuming those emails is shifting. And as smartphones continue to gain market share, we are seeing a steady increase in the mobile percentage of our traffic.”

In the final quarter of 2011, over 12% of all website traffic came from mobile.   Emails must link to well-functioning mobile websites and provide the opportunity to donate via the mobile web.  According to recent ComScore data, 38% of smartphone users have made a purchase from their phone.  This number may be surprisingly high, and campaigns should not ignore there is a significant population willing to make a financial transaction over their smartphone.  There exists the potential to get people to donate on their money using their smartphones, and relying exclusively on a follow-up email reminding them to donate later is a mistake.  Donation should be as simple and as frictionless as possible, and supporters who might like to donate via mobile should certainly be given the opportunity.

Mobile Fundraising

Campaign fundraising has come a long way in the few election cycles.  In 2012, online fundraising is a staple of political campaigns, and mobile is the next frontier.

Square, a mobile credit card reader and payment platform, has landed on the political scene.  Square has specially adapted its interface for political donations, allowing volunteers and staffers in the field to collect data such as zip code and employer information, which is mandated by the Federal Election Commission.

So far, both Obama for America and the Romney campaign have adopted Square.  The Obama campaign may even create a custom fundraising app which would be available for download from the Apple appstore.  The app would allow any Obama supporter who has downloaded the app to fundraise for Obama using Square on her own iPhone or iPad, with funds going directly to the Obama campaign.

While mobile fundraising is not going to overtake online fundraising in this election cycle, it could play a crucial role.  Mobile is too important to ignore – and it looks like campaigns are beginning to truly recognize this and act accordingly.

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