I have blogged repeatedly on what the Liberal Party needs to do to effectively contest elections in Canada. THE most important thing that will need to happen is to implement a far more sophisticated approach to populating, managing, and deploying their electoral database; Liberalist. In this post I shall strip down the task to its fundamentals. In order to compete, the Liberals will need to build up Liberalist with many hundreds of thousands of individual names and email addresses. They will need to engage those people ever more deeply with the Liberal Party, and they will need to effectively mobilise resources from their database. There was a fortuitous article in the Globe and Mail that supports, and illustrates much of what I have to say. It is, after all, the Conservative Party who parlayed these techniques into a majority government, so both their successes and failures should be closely analysed if the Liberal Party is to match and surpass their record.
BUILDING THE DATABASE: In order to communicate directly with the electorate, the Liberal Party needs to acquire the means to do so cheaply, and effectively. With the adoption of the Supporter category of membership, the Liberals have clearly determined that the acquisition of a LOT of email addresses is a major priority. The attraction of communicating electronically ought to be obvious to all. Such communications are managed through sophisticated databases, such as Liberalist. There are all sorts of nifty applications available for targeting to, and then measuring, and quantifying reactions to electronic communications. And over all other considerations is the fact that sending emails is essentially FREE. The basic pre-condition to employing them is that you need to collect email addresses for as many people as possible. An analogy that everybody is familiar with is that of print media, building their circulation. The more people who are receiving the publication, the more rewarding advertising in the publication will be. This allows the publication to charge more money for their advertising. The same rationale applies to a political database. The more people who you have email addresses for, the more people are available to you for delivering whatever message it is you wish to convey. The supporter category has proven to be pretty useful tool for the fundamental task of making the initial contact with several hundred thousand Canadians. While that is a good start, it is still only a tiny fraction of potential supporters for the Liberals. The Liberal Party should expand upon the supporter category, and embark upon a continuous, ongoing program to acquire as many electronic contacts as they can. There are many ways to populate a political database with newly acquired contacts. Petitions, event attendees, Leadership and nomination contests. This should be the most basic of tasks for political activists and organisers, to collect the names and means to contact people, so that you can direct future calls to action to them.
ENGAGING WITH SUPPORTERS: The bare fact of regular email communications will start to establish a deeper engagement with the contacts within Liberalist. The Liberal Party will want to carefully start gathering more information about what is of interest to each specific person with whom they have contact. With every email sent, there should be carefully worded calls to action that will tell us something useful about those who respond, and even who do not respond to them. For example, a call to action that requests a small donation to support a specific policy event will identify any people who make a donation as people who feel more strongly about that issue than those who do not respond. In the future, those who donated should definitely be on the distribution list for communications about that issue. Those who failed to respond can be dropped from that list, and the Liberal Party can attempt to engage them on a different front. It is a demonstrable fact that regular feedback and communications is the key to building a relationship, and can be counted on to yield an improving relationship in terms of votes won, money raised, volunteer hours offered, and pretty well all the things that a political Party needs to secure from its supporter base to be competitive.
CALLING SUPPORTERS TO ACTION: The call to action is basically the point of purchase for the Liberal Party. Liberalist will ultimately be used to harvest many different good things from the individuals within it. There will be GOTV emails to get Liberal supporters out to the advance polls. There will be asks for donations to EDA’s, the Central Party, and presumably a number of issue specific funding requests. There will be requests to volunteer for specific, or more generic tasks (like phone banking to support a by-election campaign). In short, the Call to Action is how all the hard work in building Liberalist pays off. As such, it should be designed to do more than just gather donations, or register to attend an event. A properly conceived call to action will quantify and enhance the level of engagement of the recipients, by asking for several things at once. For example, readers can be invited to visit a web page to find out more about the issue. Then a second ask to sign up to receive updates about that particular issue as it develops. Then the meatiest ask of all, to volunteer, or donate to support the activity. This will provide the means to measure more than just the raw fact of who donated, and who did not. It will start to flesh out a more nuanced understanding of where supporters stand on specific questions, and help to target future communications to those most receptive to the message. It will be the means by which people are more effectively engaged in a dialogue with the Liberal Party.
So you can see that effectively building and exploiting a national database is the key to building up the capacity to contest elections in Canada. There are a great many different initiatives that can support these objectives, and I shall be blogging on exactly that in the future, but the fundamental reality is that the key to victory in the next election is to do these things, and to do them well.