Effective communication is the key to achieving big goals for campaigns, political action committees (PACs), and public advocacy organizations. And the only way to devise the right communications strategy is by knowing how to connect with your target audience. Here, political data can provide the foundation for an effective communications strategy. Read on for an in-depth guide to the political data that stands behind an effective communication strategy.
What Is a Communications Strategy?
Broadly defined, a communications strategy is a tool used by organizations to craft a message for their target audience—a meaningful, cohesive, and goal-oriented message. What precisely a communications strategy entails depends on the goals and needs of an organization. Remember, a political communications strategy should both know its audience and inform its audience.
Six Key Parts of a Strategic Communications
Developing an effective communications strategy generally requires taking a systematic approach. A sloppy or otherwise poorly planned communications strategy is unlikely to be effective in achieving big goals. A proactive approach to communications planning can make all of the difference. Here are six key aspects of an effective communication strategy:
- Know your purpose. Purpose comes first. You cannot develop an effective communications strategy unless you have clear, concise, and realistic goals. You should know exactly what you want to achieve with your messaging—both at a micro-level and a macro-level. A communications strategy without well-honed objectives can quickly become disjointed.
- Research your audience. Campaigns, PACs, and political organizations should put time into researching and understanding their target audience. Who are you trying to reach with your communications strategy? Why are they trying to reach them? Do you know what matters to your target audience? These are all important questions that need to be answered.
- Consider your medium. A philosopher whose work was at the foundation of modern media theory, Marshall McLuhan famously opined that the “Medium is the Message.” Taking from a chapter from one of his most well-known books, the phrase is meant to emphasize the importance of how information is communicated. The content and character of a message will also be affected by its medium—whether that is television advertisements, radio spots, flyers, one-on-one conversations, or social media.
- Timing matters. Timing is a crucial element of effective communication strategies in politics. For example, imagine that you are running a PAC that supports a particular candidate for a federal office. You cannot dump everything that you want to say at once. The order of information matters. Messaging should be well-timed and properly ordered. Getting deep in the policy weeds before a candidate is even introduced to voters is likely a big mistake.
- Empower your primary voters. Effective communication requires empowering people to make decisions and implement strategies. Who is responsible for developing the communications strategy? The actual mechanics of getting a message out to the target audience is an often overlooked part of political communication.
- Listen to your audience. Finally, the importance of listening cannot be overstated. A key part of effective communication—in any context—is listening to what others have to say. Campaigns, PACs, and grassroots advocacy groups need to listen to their target audience. When you listen to your audience, they’re much more likely to listen to your message.
Creating a Data-Driven Political Communications Strategy
We live in the era of ‘big data.’ There is more data available than ever before. Every industry has been changed by big data, including elections and public affairs. Political campaigns, PACs, and grassroots advocacy organizations that are not data-driven and are not comfortable with data analytics are at serious risk of falling behind. How should campaigns, PACs, and other political groups use data? One of the most important ways is in developing communication and messaging strategies. The right political data can help you ensure that you know:
- What voters, donors, and interest groups care about; and
- The type of messaging that elicits a response.
Refine Your Strategy with A/B Testing
A communications strategy should be consistently reviewed and refined. The most successful campaigns and political groups do not pick one communications strategy and stick with it no matter what happens. Instead, they are always evaluating the effectiveness of their messaging. With modern data analytics, there are a lot more opportunities for political campaigns and political groups to test their communications strategy.
As an example, many political campaigns and PACs will use a form of “split testing” when they run advertisements on social media. TechTarget explains that split testing is also referred to as “A/B testing.” It involves the target audience being separated into two random groups. When running a split test, the two groups will get a similar message/advertisement—with the exception that one key variable will be changed. For example, choosing two different subject lines for the same email.
A campaign can then evaluate how the response between the two groups varies based on the two messages. Split testing is often used for headlines to help determine which type of language drives clicks/interest from the audience.
Data Behind a Political Communications Strategy
Political data comes in a wide range of different forms. It is both quantitative and qualitative. Some key political data is publicly available, whereas other useful political data is proprietary. It can include everything from historical information about voters to the current opinion of the public. Here is an overview of the data that stands behind an effective political communications strategy:
- Demographic information. Demographic information is one of the most important types of political data. Demographic information includes core details about people and population groups, including race, ethnicity, gender/sex, age, and educational status. It can play a big role in developing effective messaging.
- National Voter File. Do you know who is going to vote in a primary election and/or a general election? The best way to find out is to look at their registration status and past behavior. Tip: Aristotle has an award-winning National Voter File with data on more than 235 million voters nationwide.
- National Donor File. Campaigns, PACs, and public advocacy groups need financial contributions to keep the lights on, get their message in front of more people, and achieve their goals. Similar to voting, the best way to know who donates and how much they donate is through political contribution records. Aristotle’s National Donor File is made up of more than 163 million unique donations. It should serve as the foundation for any fundraising strategy.
- National Consumer File. Consumer data is another important type of political data that can help to build the basis of an effective communications strategy. Consumer data is made up of many different types of files, including things like consumer transaction records, self-reported product registration cards, consumer surveys, online preferences, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and other public records. Aristotle has a comprehensive consumer database.
- Public opinion polls. Public opinion polls—both ones that are published by national organizations such as Gallup or the Pew Research Center and ones that are kept private by individual campaigns—can provide valuable insight into the minds of the people that make decisions in a democracy. To develop an effective political communications strategy, it is imperative that you know which issues the public cares about and how they feel about those issues. As things can change quickly in the modern political climate, campaigns, PACs, and other political organizations must stay up to date with the latest data.
- Academic research. While academic research often has a reputation for being esoteric, the reality is that there is a wide range of academic studies available that provide reliable, actionable data that can be used to develop an effective communications strategy. When reviewing academic research, Google Dataset search is often a great place to start.
Every political candidate, ballot initiative, PAC, and political advocacy organization requires its own, well-tailored political data. There is an enormous amount of data available—your organization must be connected with the actionable and reliable political data needed to develop a truly effective communications strategy.
Aristotle Is a Leader in Political Data
At Aristotle, we are proud to set the gold standard in political data. With more than four decades of working with clients across the political aisle, our team is committed to providing accurate and up-to-date data. If you have any questions about the data behind an effective communications strategy, we are here to help! Contact us today to schedule your free demo and take your political data to the next level.