During IPDI, I had a number of campaign consultants speak to me about various companies and their technologies. In the course of the conference, I discussed database solutions (e.g. voter file database management like Aristotle and NGP), web content management solutions (e.g. DIA, OrchidForChange, civicspace, iStandFor, GetActive), bulk email services (e.g. ExactTarget, WhatCounts, Sparklist, ConstantContact), blogging and podcasting services (e.g. TypePad, Blogger) and contribution services.
While all of these technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, the real magic is not specifically in the technology. It is in the process behind it – how does one use the tools in an effective manner with the right content and respoinse system behind it?
The best contribution engine coupled with the easiest bulk email system will do very little if:
- the content is not compelling,
- the response to customer needs are not met, and
- if the campaign does not “interact” with the constituents.
The Internet and the type of interaction that people expect from an Internet site is at a higher response level than what has previously been assumed. The Internet (like the McCain-Feingold Finance Laws) brings everyone down to a common level and can bring power to individuals that were previously unidentified as strong influentials. But, in order to handle the change in dynamic, campaigns need to get the tools (read: technology) and the talent (read: people with process). The question is: how do you find the right process to improve your interactions to generate what you want (read: donations, volunteers and votes)?
Don’t Be Impressed with Bling
For the most part – I offer the following advice: do not be impressed with showy design and flashy technology. Good design is incredibly important, cost is paramount – but performance on key metrics matters most. I have seen terrific success with some of the most basic looking websites (one of my favorites is Chris Bell’s site from echoDitto).
Ask your consultant a couple of questions:
- What is your conversion rate? How many visitors did it take to get a signup? How many to get a contribution? How did you improve the performance?
- How do you guarrentee my message is getting “out there”? What are the tactics you have used to make it happen? How did you measure performance?
- What is your open rate and click thru rate on emails? What are the tactics that you suggest to improve performance? How do you resolve “list fatigue”?
Technology is meant to address scalability – it does not solve the interaction problem. It is similar to assuming that any old television ad with a candidate’s face splashed on late-night television in every market will be as effective or better than an effective, well-written, engaging ad that calls voters to action with proper production values and proper placement into the right cities. Knowledge of the viewers, knowledge of the market and know-how of how to engage people online is not as easy as publishing a web page and sending out emails. With the Internet, the process of engagement and feedback becomes all the more important.
While the process of managing your Internet channel is supposed to be an easy one, would you want to surrender the success of your campaign to a consultant without understanding what you wanted to happen?