Clients use it to create models that find people who are similarly minded or likely to contribute. Aristotle then helps them deliver a targeted message to individuals who match the criteria through various channels, including TV, direct mail, email and social media. The more sophisticated campaigns were doing this in the last election cycle, says Aristotle.
"What we're seeing in 2012 is much more effective use of real-time access to these databases. You know as contributions are coming in who else to email of a similar demographic," he says.
"Digital is no longer a separate division in campaigns," says Patrick Hynes, president of Hynes Communications, a consultancy specializing in online and new media communications strategy that currently serves as an adviser to the Romney campaign. "It's cross-portfolio -- everyone has to work in a digital environment."
But the next election cycle, he says, will be all about mobile. "Mobile will be first in the minds of everyone" -- for everything from polling to press releases, sentiment measurement and fundraising, he says.
Mobile is already changing the game, particularly in the area of door-to-door campaigning, where canvassers are increasingly taking advantage of mobile apps and the Square mobile payment service.
Square offers a small card reader that attaches to a smartphone, enabling the user to accept payments anywhere, at any time. Canvassers who use the device can take campaign donations right on voters' doorsteps.
As campaign volunteers go door to door, they might rely on mobile apps for customized messages about specific households. They could look at profiles that not only indicate whether an individual is a Republican or a Democrat, but also offer guidance about how much of a donation to ask for based on the person's past history of campaign donations. In addition, canvassers can use apps to capture details of interactions with voters and upload that information to the campaign database, thereby providing continuous, real-time feedback.
"The Obama campaign has taken it up a notch," says Engage's Ruffini. "They're recording what people say when they knock on doors. They make thousands of phone calls every night. They do text analysis, and then make decisions on TV and ad spending." (Obama for America did not return calls asking for comment.)