Reaching Your Audience

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The first experiment was that they created a local GOTV [get out the vote] drive in New Haven and had voters get a reminder from a postcard, a canvasser, or paid callers, and then had a control group, who got nothing. And we learn there that the phone call group had no increase in voting, mail had a small increase, and there was a big boost from the in-person contact.
I think this observation applies not just to political contests, but to marketing in general. This amazingly simple experiment might seem obvious, but it raises the bigger question; How do you reach your intended audience? Face to face interaction seems to be the answer. As a small blog or business, how do you gain traction? How do you get a message, political or otherwise, to the masses?

We may feel like social networking is the way to reach people and create a personal touch. I don’t think it is. The biggest obstacle to Facebook, Twitter and email is the signal to noise ratio. Sure, you can pick up a couple hundred followers for your small business, but is your message reaching it’s audience? Those of us who may follow or have hundreds of friends on Twitter and Facebook can vouch for the fact that a lot of stuff slips through the cracks.

Very seldom do I watch my timelines in real time, preferring to scroll through them leisurely, so if the message is time sensitive, it will be lost on me. Email is worse. I belong to many development, marketing and political mailing lists. I can promise you that I will decide whether or not I am going to read your email based on it’s title*. Add to that the factor of how full my inbox is and I may not read it at all. Or worse, I don’t see it, because it ends up in my spam filter.

Ultimately it is a numbers game, just like direct mail. If I have enough followers and I can reach a percentage of them I will be successful. This is casting a big net for very few fish. How do we leverage social networks to get the word out?

The best way to get movement is to get people to talk to each other about it. I don’t mean having something going viral. Well, not entirely. If you can get a certain number of people to share or retweet your message, your reach expands beyond your normal network. These also roughly corresponds to person to person contact.

Of course making this happen organically is extraordinarily difficult. The Obama presidential campaign didn’t just contact people face to face as a GOTV effort. They also specifically targeted their audiences with custom messaging in an effort to generate donations, volunteers, phone bankers and shares as part the greater political messages. These email messages were designed with the reader in mind.

It would be easy to distill this down to compelling messaging. It’s bigger than that. It’s even more than understanding your own demographics. It is understanding each individual customer and reaching them. You need to build a network of networks. This doesn’t necessarily mean connecting with with the big social network personalities, although that doesn’t hurt. It also goes way beyond “if you build it, they will come.” It is about making the message fit the target enough to have them share or re-tweet your message.

Demographic marketing is nothing new. Direct mail catalog providers have been doing it for ages. Micro-targeting is the ultimate goal. More than just spitting out the message and playing the numbers game. Grocery chains use loyalty cards to identify your buying habits and send you a personalized catalog of coupons and recipes that you will use.

Data mining needs to be deep. You say you have no data? Try crafting your messages for different demographic groups. Use custom links like or to measure your return rate. This is going to tell you a lot about your audience and help you drill into your core demographic. This is a quick non-invasive way to figure out how to generate clicks. If you just want a snapshot in time, try some surveys.

Sure there are other, more creepy ways to collect this data, such as collecting your followers personal data from their pages or purchasing access to databases that contain a shocking amount of information. I think personal privacy is important and you can’t disregard the fallout that can happen if you are using personal information. Customer privacy equals good customer service**.

Using social networking to craft an individual message targeted to your client will never replace face to face interaction, but it can be a good step into that direction.

*This isn’t true of emails I receive. If you have a history of sending me good content I will always read it.

** This is my personal opinion. It can be successfully argued that without this kind of deep data you cannot build your market or brand. That is sort of true. You need to weigh your cost-benefit not just in dollars. 

Some more reading on Project Narwhal, Obama's campaign database:
Targeted Messaging - Slate
Behind The Scenes of Narwhal - Atlantic


  1. Interesting. You use the term "organically" and I agree very difficult to achieve. However; nail down "organic" and you have sustainable?

  2. Great post as always Jay!


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