As the recount between Al Franken and Norm Coleman in the MN-SEN race moved along, Franken's lead attorney Marc Elias claimed that his candidate was winning and that the numbers would eventually prove him right. The pundits and talking heads laughed at him initially; I hoped that he wasn't just bluffing and they really had gotten as organized as I'd heard. As the numbers began to swing towards Franken taking the lead, it became apparent that the Franken campaign had done a brilliant job preparing for the recount.
This weekend, Netroots MN had a panel entitled Clicks to Votes: Integration on the Franken for Senate Campaign. I attended to learn anything more I could about what I think was an extraordinarily tech-savvy campaign. I wasn't disappointed because in addition I learned more details about how well-organized the campaign was.
The panelists were Dan Cramer of Grassroots Solutions and JD Schlough. JD was in charge of all online activities (he's now a principal at Well & Lighthouse LLC). Dan came on board the campaign as a consultant in September.
Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall in the Franken for Senate campaign office. It's about six weeks out from election night ... around the low 20s of September 2008. Stephanie Shriock, the Campaign Manager, calls a meeting with the senior staff including Dan and JD.
She explains that after almost needing a recount in the Montana Senate race in which Jon Tester defeated incumbent Conrad Burns, she didn't want to be unprepared again. Tester ended up beating Burns by just outside of the percentage that would have required an automatic recount.
You can imagine the consternation and protests. "What!?!", you can imagine someone saying, "we're going to win by larger than that ..." Dan recalled that he was among the defiant ones who didn't think this was necessary.
"I was wrong ... Oh. So. Wrong," Dan said.
I'll pick up the story again on election night. Their polling was showing that the race was going to be really close. Staff had been told to stay sober and ready for anything.
At 1:30AM it was clear that the race was heading to a recount.
Many of you can probably imagine the mindset of the campaign. Long hours, tremendous tension. A grueling campaign for which many, many people had put their lives on hold, had made enormous sacrifices was supposed to be over. Suddenly, a campaign that had begun on Valentine's Day of 2007 was going to last months and months longer.
JD was given a few hours to pull together lists of donors who were lawyers, paralegals, related to them or any connection. They needed attorneys at every recount site. They would need staff to train volunteers.
An already large campaign doubled in size in a matter of days.
They also had to figure out how to deal with the massive amount of data they'd be processing. They would track the election judges original decision. The original assessment of 150 attorneys and volunteers morphed into first 300 then 500 then 800 then 1000. Two or three thousand people ended up working or volunteering for this effort. They established a "pony express" to relay the data back from the far flung corners of the state.
And all of this in a matter of days.
Here's an interesting anectdote for all you recount geeks out there:
"You all probably recall how intense and passionate Marc Elias was, right?" Dan asked. "Well Marc paces constantly, he never stops moving. We actually had to ban him from the data room. He'd stop in every 5 seconds to ask where are we at now?"
So ... you might be asking yourself at this point (or maybe not) ... how were they able to have all this data at the tips of their fingers?
Long-tail nanotargeting is the answer.
They knew that Al Franken had very high name recognition and many hurdles to overcome. High negatives, an entrenched incumbent, few undecided voters and an Obama Deficit were a few of the challenges.
The Obama Deficit was the voters who said they were supporting Obama but were either undecided for Franken or supporting another candidate. They had to find ways to target these people with messages that would persuade them.
So here's what they did:
Thanks to Democrat Al Franken’s Senate campaign, we now have a proven model to move beyond [the old campaign voter targeting] strategies. We do it by tapping into the concept of the "long tail," an Internet marketing theory popular in the corporate world. It’s based on the idea that the Internet audience is extremely fractured. So, instead of identifying the most universally persuasive messages and broadcasting them to a wide audience, in the long-tail model you take the most persuasive messages and nanotarget each one to the right niche.
People don’t go to one place, looking for one thing. Their whims take them to a million places. The trick is to be everywhere, with tightly targeted messages. It’s about showing them highly relevant factoids/ads tailored to the whim they’re currently indulging, which if clicked, will redirect them to a relevant part of your website or related off-site content. In short, long-tail nanotargeting takes those little gems—be it an endorsement, video, news story, or ask—and shows it to the people who would care. To this end, we ran more than 30 million impressions for the Franken campaign across five horizontal ad networks, two vertical networks and dozens of local news outlets.
We nanotargeted more than 125 niche groups, with more than 1,000 pieces of creative, for less than $100,000. On Google alone, an acquisition budget of less than $20,000 got us more than 20,000 clicks, 5,500 active e-mail sign- ups, and more than 2,500 donors. We were able to reach persuasion niches (this is akin to someone opening up and reading a mail piece) for a fraction of a penny per impression, and less than 50 cents per interaction.
They targeted geographic and demographic niches online. They tested messages to see what worked best. Here's an example:
In real terms, Minnesotans who were searching for cheap gas or researching fuel-efficient cars saw ads about Franken’s plan to lower gas prices.
They worked on every conceivable niche group with online ads tracking what worked and what didn't. What ads convinced viewers to click on them and view the message from the campaign. What messages from the campaign convinced viewers to donate and/or volunteer.
They tracked every kind of piece of information they could about the voters with whom they interacted.
And this is how in just a few days they pulled together a massive recount team of attorneys, newly hired staffers and volunteeers. They had the people power and the foresight but it was all made possible by how they tracked voter data from the start of the campaign.