Micro-Targeting, Liberalist and the Liberal Party’s opportunity.

Bullseye Communications

Bullseye Communications

Today, I sat down in the morning to check out the news, and found two articles in the Hill Times about, and by Conservatives, that are extremely revealing to the careful reader. I joined the Liberal Party last year when they created the Supporter category of membership, because I saw immediately that they were (finally) waking up to the fact that large reams of actionable data on the electorate was the ultimate key to electoral success. By this I mean that they had created a national database, (Liberalist) where information on Canadian voters could be collected and collated, and they had figured out a clever way to fill it with email addresses and lots of data on Liberal supporters (the Supporter category). It seems a shallow basis for throwing my support behind a political Party, but hey, I have always been liberal at heart, even when I was a Green in practice. All I needed was some reassurance that it would not be a waste of time putting my efforts into a dying Party.

So I will get straight to the meat. The first Hill Times article is entitled: “Conservatives must be better at microtargeting voters and communicating ideas to win more seats: data experts“. The article is largely based on a Poly Sci Prof. (Professor Turcotte), and a  data expert (Mitch Wexler of Politrain Consulting) who addressed the Manning Centres big Conservative do in Ottawa on Friday. They presented critiques of broadcast media messaging, and hammered home the theme that direct communications, to a targeted audience would be the key to building on the Conservative Party’s majority come 2015. In a nutshell, the article describes how Government advertising through broadcast media ( whether by TV, Radio, or Newspaper) was in essence a waste of money. You just cannot dribble a sound bite sized message into the eyes and ears of masses of random people, and expect them to take anything home from the message. You need to hit them with a message that is not filtered through media. You need to hit them with a message that speaks directly to their own personal bread and butter interests. The database dude was more specific. He addressed the theme that data management presented the opportunity to segment the electorate according to demographic variables, so that you could tailor your message to ever shrinking, but more closely targeted groups of people. The article itself was a little disingenuous. They talked about segregating data based upon broad demographics like house ownership status, religion, and ethnicity. For some reason (lol) they did not get into the meatier criteria for segmenting, like affinities for ideas and ideals, or professional designations, union memberships etc, etc.

The way I would present the argument to the Liberal Party is with an analogy. You can tell the entire electorate that your Party favours more mental health care spending through a press conference. The media filters and presents (on page 6), whatever part of your message they feel like, and a million Canadians yawn, while a few thousand say ‘great, at least someone is talking about it’. Sounds familiar? That’s because this is how the Liberal Party does politics. An alternative to that is to filter out a list of Canadians from your kick-ass political database. Create a list of people who have a family member or friend with a mental illness, plus perhaps mental health professionals. Create a custom email with a specific message that the Liberal Party is proposing a mental health care strategy that will create new mental Health care centres, hire many new mental health professionals, and fund it through measures A, B, C, etc. etc. etc. The email contains links to  a Liberal website with forums to discuss, and detailed discussions on and around mental health care in Canada. Both the email, and the issues based website will have direct calls to action to donate money to help promote this policy. Membership, and supporter sign up buttons; The all important,” Invite your Friends to join the conversation” button; Volunteer page links etc. So tell me, which communications policy do YOU think would be more effective? The press conference that reaches a million Canadians, or the highly targeted email blast that reaches 10,000 people HURTING from a dearth of mental health care options? Please, stretch your mind a little bit, and imagine other policy areas, and ways to gather names of interested people. There are as many equally powerful different segments as there are policy areas and issues in Canadian politics.

The second article in the Hill Times was centred on Jason Kenney’s address to the same conference. It is entitled: “Kenney recalls Dief’s historic 1958 majority election win, says Conservatives can win even bigger next time too“. You have to filter what he says a wee bit to take home something for the Liberal Party, but it isn’t too difficult if you have absorbed what I have to say. Kenney points to a ‘hostile media’, that is opposed to Conservative values. What he is really saying is that when he spins his web of lies, the media dares to publish articles that do not parrot his message. They filter it, and critique it, instead of presenting it un-watered. Kenney then goes on to describe specific Conservative values, and messages that have gone a long, long way to capturing specific immigrant, and ethnic communities for the Conservative Party. Slamming ‘queue jumpers’ who wafted through the immigration system collecting freebies is a typical hit policy for the CPC. It is a hit because many immigrants got into Canada the hard way. They really resent people who milked the system, and this resentment is easy to capitalise on. Now what Kenney did NOT discuss so much is the mechanics of creating and selling these ‘hit policies’. No worries though, any Canadian who follows politics knows how Kenney, the acknowledged master of segmented political data usage does it. He works really hard on outreach to very highly targeted groups. He speaks again, and again to Religious groups, ethnic press, specific cultural associations. Basically, any targetable group with a common identity, and he collects names and email addresses. Relentlessly he collects contact data on more and more Canadians. Petitions in favour of policy prescriptions. Borrowed’ membership lists to invite to events. Assistance in internal election campaigns for non-profits, community and professional associations, which yield a bonanza in data on policy preferences, and actionable email lists, etc.  Sure, it is a lot of hard work, but what he ends up with is large numbers of email addresses, connected to names, and merged into the Conservative database (CIMS), with an electronic definition of what turns that individuals crank.

So a second concrete example for you on HOW this won the last election for the CPC. Have you ever wondered just how it is that Kenney, and the CPC has simultaneously won over Christian religious fundamentalist, major Jewish groups, and Islamic organisations at the same time? The answer is simple, they narrowcast separate messages to each group through targeted ethnic press, and even better through direct email communications. You can call it talking out of both sides of your mouth at once, or more accurately, out of ‘n’ sides of your mouth, where n=the number of different segments in your database. Jason Kenney can send an email message to relatively right-wing Jewish groups correctly claiming that Likud has never had a better friend than the CPC, and that the Conservatives will support every effort to grind those lousy Islamo-fascist Palestinians into the dirt. Ten seconds later, he can hit the send button on an email to Conservative Islamic groups and mosques cheerleading for Conservative backbenchers efforts to legislate abortion back into the criminal code, and slamming same-sex marriage. I can tell you, neither of those messages would work very well if they were delivered through the broadcast media! Boy, would they get ‘filtered’ before presentation on the pages and screens! Now imagine, if you dare, if the Liberal Party ALSO had actionable, and segmented databases with the same, or similar distribution lists. How difficult would it be to send a copy of the ‘we LOVE Israeli’s Likud party and down with Palestinians’ email to the Islamic lists? Then turn around and send a copy of the anti-abortion message to LIBERAL  Jewish organisations that Conservatives stand four-square against legal abortions? I am not proposing that this should be the exact modus operandi of the Liberal Party, but it sure would be nice to have the option, wouldn’t it?

So these are the fruits of my Saturday mornings news fix. And, as usual, I have specific suggestions for you to take away and ponder. The Liberal Party is just finishing up the most succesful recruiting drive in its history. The new(ish) national database, Liberalist has been stuffed with a quarter million new names and email addresses of people with a self-declared affinity to the Liberal Party. Why not take a page from Kenney, follow the advice of Professor Turcotte, and leapfrog directly over the CPC’s commanding lead? First of all, do NOT STOP recruiting supporters now. The more names are attached to email addresses, the more opportunities there are to strike a chord within the hearts of individual Canadians. Appeal directly to Canadians to support the specific things that turn their crank. Invite them to become supporters, not strictly based upon broader demographic criteria, but on specific policy prescriptions that touch them deep down, where they live. Circulate online petitions in support of specific Liberal policy goals. Segment people, not only by the colour of their skin, or the address where they live, but by what they care about. Above all, collect their email addresses, so that the Liberal Party can speak directly, without the interference of broadcast media reporters and editors. Establish point persons who can make it their business to collect and collate reams of actionable data in specific policy areas (and yes, broader demographics as well). Imagine 15 or 20 Jason Kenneys, whose mission in life is to build communities of like-minded people through free email and electronic communications. Create the simple tools, like forums, and dedicated issues based websites to engage Canadians and involve them in discussions, and positive actions to support their dearly held beliefs and political objectives, all WITHIN the Liberal tent.

P.S.   The reason I write these blogs is that I am fundamentally a liberal. I want to be a catalyst to promote effective organising tactics to my fellow Liberals. I have requested, on three separate occasions to be included in the Liblogs blog roll, without ever receiving a response. If you know who actually administers Liblogs, and you think this is a conversation worth having, could you prod them to include my blog there? In the meantime, please do share this post with like-minded friends through the social media share buttons below!

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Trudeau gets it too: Introducing the next Prime Minister.

Justin TrudeauI just followed a link to a Globe & Mail article: “Inside Justin Trudeau’s war room“. I was elated at what I read, because it confirms my belief that the Liberal Party is going to re-write the book on electoral politics in Canada. That is not a shallow conclusion based upon Trudeau partisanship. It is a conclusion arrived at after nearly a decade of close observation of, and occasional close involvement in political organising and electoral politics. There are a range of considerations underlying my conclusion.

I have blogged repeatedly on the significance of the supporter category to the Liberal Party. I start from the simple and obvious premise that electoral politics is no longer about ‘broadcasting’ a one size fits all message through traditional media channels. Broadcast politics is quickly being replaced by ‘narrow-cast’ communications, direct to the voter without the inconvenience of the media filtering, massaging, and altering the message before presenting it to the electorate on the screen or headline.  If this is indeed the case (and the success of the CPC amply proves it is), then the corollary is that no political party can hope to succeed without possessing the means to communicate directly, one on one with masses of people. Enter the Supporter category of membership introduced by the Liberal Party early last year. As I blogged here, and here, by creating a dead nuts simple method to collect the name, email address, and location of people with an affinity for the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party has managed to create a direct channel to literally hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

This first step, of creating the tool, (Liberalist), and populating it with data, (through the leadership contests massive Supporter recruiting drive) is not the end of the road by any stretch. The process is actually pretty dynamic. As the communications tool is utilised, with targeted email communications being directed at Supporters, the responses, and feedback from the recipients of the communications serves to enrich, and broaden the information the Liberal Parry holds about a growing number of Canadians.  To illustrate my point, let us consider a putative email that relates to a specific policy message. The policy message does not matter, but hypothetically, let us assume it is a call to support democratic reform, in the shape of a preferential ballot in future elections. The call to action could readily be to donate a few bucks to fund a policy workshop, and advertising campaign supporting the concept. Every supporter or member who responds to the call to action has now been identified and quantified within Liberalist, as an issue advocate in this policy area. This broadening of the data allows future calls to action in this policy area to be directed specifically towards those Liberals, and Canadians in general who are passionate about the issue, and are most likely to support the principle with their money, volunteer hours, and policy expertise. Multiply this across different policy areas, and you have multi-channel communications medium, direct to the electorate, with simple feedback mechanism continually enriching your data.

At this moment in time, the Liberal Party is re-tracing ground covered by the Conservative Party years ago. That of building direct contact lists of  Canadians complete with enriched data about their political tastes and preferences. The Liberals are able to catch up with, and overtake the Conservatives by virtue of the fact that the Supporter category is free, electronically based, and offers value to subscribers by gifting them with a vote for the next leader. I have argued recently that the ability to build a massive actionable database of supporters is far too important for the Liberal Party to discard once the Leadership race recruiting drive comes to a close. It will in all likelihood be expanded, and continued over the coming years to continue the dynamic process of building and enriching the communications link directly onto the screens of Canadians. The explicit exchange of value currently offered is for Supporters to be rewarded for providing their contact information to Liberalist, by receiving in exchange the right to vote for the next leader of the Liberal Party. An historic opportunity now exists for the Liberal Party to move beyond catching up with a clever twist, and innovate their way into a truly awesome juggernaut.

Trudeau has proposed that the Liberal Party can make a connection with the Canadian public by selecting ALL Candidates through an open and contested nomination process. Well, that is not a bad idea, and I am sure that it would help by mirroring the success of the supporter category in 338 local contests, but IMHO it has serious limitations. To whit, it does NOT create a continuous process of building Liberalist, enriching the data on Canadian voters and engaging the Canadian electorate. It is basically a one-off gimmick, that will come and go the same way the leadership Supporter drive is about to end. It`s a slick, and potentially rewarding tactic, but because of it`s transitory nature, it is empty of strategic significance. What is needed IS a continuous process, that chugs along day and night yielding positive outcomes.

Please indulge me for a moment in fast forwarding to a hypothetical Fall 2014 policy convention. Server after server is coming online as the number of viewers and participants ramps up 100,000 – 200,000 , 350,000. Joyce Murray, the Liberal Party’s Democratic Reform advocate has taken the stage to speak in favour of the preferential ballot election plank. The petition to the policy convention is presented. 217,000 pledges from Proportional Representation Supporters pledging $10 each to support the Prop Rep plank in the 2015 campaign. The tension is palpable, the votes are being counted…. Victory! In an historic moment, the Liberal Party has adopted the preferential ballot plank for their 2015 election campaign! The pledges are being redeemed quicker than they can be counted, and slowly the blurred numbers on the screen are settling down to readable numbers. $3,500,000 raised in 1 hour! Justin Trudeau takes the stage to announce Marc Garneau, the Liberal Party Employment and Jobs strategy advocate speaking in favour of EI reforms to provide skills training for 1.2 million unemployed Canadians… The number of viewers drops by 100,000 then starts to ramp up again, as unemployed Canadians flock to their computers to cast their supporter ballots, and redeem their pledges…

Does this sound far-fetched to you? Well maybe it is unlikely, but it is not a difficult outcome to achieve if the will and leadership is present, and the reason is pretty darned simple. People have an affinity for political brands, but they are well and truly motivated by policy issues that strike closer to home than that. The Liberal Party, under (I presume) Justin Trudeau is going to want to keep building their supporter lists, and in Trudeau’s own words, will be looking for ways and means to reach out to Canadians, and entice them into the Liberal Party fold. To quote yesterdays Globe article:“Organization is key,” Mr. Trudeau says. “To me, it means creating a structure in which every single citizen can connect directly and easily if they want.””. Now that can mean a lot of different things, but it is further re-inforced by a second quote from Gerald Butts, a senior Trudeau strategist: `Mr. Butts says, that the traditional levers of government have become ineffective and the only way to make change is to “develop and maintain a national, grassroots, volunteer movement.”`. I will take them both at their words for now, because enlightened self-interest is going to drive the Liberal Party to extend and expand upon their recent success with the Supporter category, and I cannot think of any stronger motivational tool and process than an explicit bargain to mutually support the Party on the one hand, and the policy aspirations of Canadians on the other. The mechanisms for achieving the kind of outcome I envision are actually pretty simple. Think of Jason Kenney, but spread your mental wings a little and multi-task with an even dozen Liberal policy advocates. Each advocate is going to have to work pretty darned hard networking, and making contact with advocacy and interest groups. They will need to have online tools to foster participation, and the consequent policy development, but the prospective rewards are significant.  The focus, as with Kenney is to build up the Party database with a rich collection of policy preferences of large numbers of Canadians, and with the correct focus, it is entirely possible to leave Kenney and the Conservatives eating Liberal  Party dust.

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