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Lessons from 2020 Voters: Conversational Campaigns Win Elections

How smart conversations yielded higher election turnouts and what managers need to do to maximize mobile campaign messaging moving forward

Can Conversational Campaigns Win Elections? Pre-pandemic, political campaign communications were an elaborate mix of direct mail, voice calls, and in-person events, but these options are either not as effective or not possible in 2020. This year we saw hundreds of millions of text messages sent to voters asking them to vote, volunteer, contribute, or support a candidate.

The text messaging strategy of an election candidate is assuming a make-or-break significance for campaign managers. That’s because the outcome of elections amidst a polarized citizenry, could be determined by base turnout. Add to this the fact that text messaging is now the primary channel for outreach.

Despite its significance, campaign text messages are very basic and far from being as effective as they can be.

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Most messages include some form of appeal such as “Vote now” or “Donate now” along with a link to a payment gateway. This content maybe useful for the partisan supporter that needs a simple reminder but is entirely inadequate to persuade the swing voter. Some recipients will complain about excessive text messages, begin to tune them out, or opt-out altogether in extreme cases.

The solution is to make text messages more engaging, interactive, and personalized. Imagine if each message was not a presumptive appeal to act but an invitation to engage in a conversation. Conversations are inherently engaging. Users control the flow of the conversation to get their specific questions and issues addressed. The responses can be personalized based on many criteria: what stage of the persuasion cycle the user is in, the geographical location of the user, prior history of conversations, voting history, social connections, etc.

For example, instead of “vote here” or “donate now,” suppose the text message said: “click here to talk to the candidate.”The user can then learn more about issues, ask questions, receive breaking news updates, get details about voting methods, order a mail ballot, find voting booth location, volunteer, refer friends, donate money, report voting status, and more. It’s as if the user is talking directly and continuously with the candidate or the campaign manager. Since the user controls the conversation flow based on personal preference, she is attentive throughout the conversation. She can focus solely on the issues she cares about without being distracted by the information she’s not interested in hearing. Also, the conversation history influences future conversations that become even more relevant and engaging over time.

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These conversations can help turn out the base and have a real shot at persuading swing voters and others. Smart conversational campaigns can counter fake news and negative stories with personalized counter-points.

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Campaign managers can get real-time intelligence on the questions users ask, target the issues they want to focus on, and analyze key messages for efficacy. Marketers can better target single-issue voters with the appropriate depth of content for their specific issue. Advocacy groups can collect social referrals and build up word-of-mouth support for their candidate. As the votes get cast, instantly, campaigns can get real-time counts of the votes cast by their supporters, giving them early insights. If “all politics is local,” a conversational campaign enables local/personal engagement on a mass scale in the social distancing era.

Personalized communication becomes even more critical as public discourse is getting more fragmented and noisier. Voters are consuming only the public media they already agree with, reinforcing their pre-existing confirmation bias. In this context, perhaps the only option to change minds is to engage in personal one-on-one conversations. People usually tend to be more reasonable and open-minded in private conversations but vulnerable to groupthink peer-pressure in public discussions.

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Technology to do this is available today and deployed commercially, but political campaigns haven’t realized its game-changing potential yet. Just as social media has transformed real-time mass communication, conversational messaging is about to change real-time personal communication. Political candidates that master this new tech will inevitably stand to gain big. The impact of tech on politics has never been more significant, and it continues to get even more so with every new wave of innovation. It’s time to ride the next wave because conversational campaigns win elections.

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