Technology changed an election. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. It was 1960 when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced each other in a national debate. While listeners hearing the first debate on the radio (old technology) declared Nixon the winner, those watching on TV (new technology) called it the other way. Nixon didn’t understand the new technology; he didn’t look into the camera, he didn’t use any make-up and wore a suit that blended in with the background. Kennedy on the other hand had a tan and was energetic, animated and extremely telegenic. Kennedy understood the new medium and used it to his advantage.
New technologies continue to influence and reshape elections. Donald Trump’s campaign understood the new technology, social media and blind-sided all competitors, in both the primaries and the general election. Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital director, said that during the 2016 campaign the digital team tested more than 50,000 ad variations on Facebook in their attempt to target specific voters. He made it clear that they understood the new information consummation patterns that emerged as a result of the new technology. Thus, Parscale observed, “Millions of Americans, older people, are on the internet, watching pictures of their kids … If we can connect to them, we can change this election.” Apparently, he was right. By using a new technology correctly and aggressively, particularly when the other side doesn’t, it can clearly lead to victory.
The question can no longer be whether new technology will influence the election or not. It must be, does your candidate/party/organization have the vision to use it correctly? Unfortunately, old paradigms die hard. People, whether because of lack of understanding, fear of breaking with old formulas, profit motive or simply being “too old to change” are easily be trapped in the past. In the era of rapidly changing technology, changes in information consumption and the ability to tailor campaigns based on specific demographics, psychographics and big data, relying on old methods will clearly fail.
In order to succeed in this new information environment, one needs a trusted guide with the experience and knowledge of this new world. Not those mired in the “this is the way it’s always been done” playbook. It requires those who understand that a campaign must base its strategy and message on a solid foundation of data gleaned from solid research. Success is achieved through understanding the voters’ interests and concerns. It requires learning how to most effectively communicate with them. And it means continually evaluating whether the message is being heard and having an impact. Old reliable TV spots are like using buckshot in a laser focused world. Why would we do that?
GSB Strategy brings together a such team. A team – Driven by values. Animated by a passion for positive change. Committed to leaving our nation better than we found it.