The group matched up the data with the state voter list, and began identifying "high-value groups" it wanted to reach with targeted email and Facebook ads, says spokesperson Dennis Willard. But with a small staff and limited budgets, it didn't want to waste time and money paying someone to identify all of those Facebook fans and then link them to the organization's database.
"Asking people to self-identify in creative ways is less expensive and faster," he says.
Messaging for each group was refined with A/B testing to determine what would produce the desired response. The group learned that emails with no styling consistently performed better, and that in most cases embedded images and videos didn't increase its response rate. It took the lessons to heart -- and response rates went up. "Our open rates were double and triple what a normal campaign experiences," Willard says.
But in a small organization, there are limits to what can be accomplished with micro-targeting. It's easy to get fascinated with technology and create too many segments and too many different message streams that must be tested. "This is why most new media programs in politics fail," Willard says. "The most important thing to do is prioritize every action according to its ROI."
That said, though, the desire for more data -- and real-time feedback -- is likely to grow. Already, the messaging feedback cycle has accelerated to the point where changes can be made almost up to the last minute, Quinn says. The 2010 election cycle was the first time Catalist clients analyzed early voting data -- which tells who voted -- and adjusted their messaging and target segments in the remaining days leading up to the election. This year more states are offering early voting options. The challenge, Quinn says, will be to gather, analyze, interpret and respond to those early results quickly enough to sway voters.