By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group
During the course of this series on strategic communications we have evaluated various voter outreach approaches. As we are sure you concluded, the best means of voter outreach for one activity is not necessarily the best means for another. For example, though direct mail is very effective for voter education, it is less effective for voter identification.
Therefore, in order to help our clients assess the efficacy of different approaches under different circumstances, we have developed the Communications Strategy Matrix. This matrix is used to evaluate various voter outreach methods and charts them on the basis of cost and effectiveness as determined by both quantitative and qualitative research.
The quantitative research we use is comprised of both research that we have conducted ourselves and research from other sources. Where quantitative data is not available, we use qualitative research based on the collective experience of our consultants. Specifically, following are three matrices to evaluate voter education, voter identification and GOTV efforts.
Exhibit 1 below demonstrates how voter outreach methods such as door-to-door canvassing, direct mail, phones, new media, social media, earned media and paid media compare on cost and effectiveness when utilized for voter education.
You will see that door-to-door canvassing is the most effective form of voter education but is also the most expensive. This is because interacting with individual voters creates a dialogue through which issues can be addressed and questions can be answered. However, this type of communication is labor intensive and is expensive as evidenced by its cost per voter contact.
As another example, you will see that direct mail is very effective as a voter education tool due to the ability to target individuals and the propensity of voters to read their mail. Although direct mail is not as effective as door-to-door canvassing, it has a lower cost per voter contact.
Phones are less effective on this measure because voters are typically not inclined to speak to people at length about an issue over the phone. This can change significantly, however, if calls are made to individuals from local people that they know.
Earned media is most effective for establishing credibility, especially through editorials, but rates low on this matrix because this remains a very difficult medium for targeting your voters. Paid media is an efficient way to reach a large number of voters despite the fact that it only provides a 30 second window to deliver your message.
Additionally, both new media (e.g., websites, blogs, email blasts, etc.) and social media (e.g., Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) offer a very effective and low cost way of reaching voters. This is because new media and social media provide an easy way to target your voters and because people are spending more and more time online.
Next is our voter identification matrix as illustrated in Exhibit 2. Once again, door-to-door canvassing rates high on this matrix due to the ability to personally interact with voters. Direct mail falls in terms of effectiveness as a result of the low response rate from reply cards and other calls to action. However, phones rank higher on this scale due to the effectiveness of phone identification programs.
Earned and paid media rank even lower on this scale because neither provides a means of interacting with voters. But, although new media and social media are both interactive in nature, new media rates significantly better than social media on this measure due to its ability to qualify voter interest on your issue.
Our third matrix, as shown in Exhibit 3, evaluates voter outreach methods for GOTV activities. The ranking of these activities is based both on our own experience and the findings of Yale researchers Donald Green and Alan Gerber.
Not surprisingly, door-to-door canvassing is again the most effective, and costly, voter outreach method for getting out your vote. This is followed by phones which are most effective for these types of activities if local volunteers are used. Direct mail and earned media lack effectiveness on this measure as they are poor motivational tools. Paid media fares better due to its reach, while new media performs even higher in light of the targeting capabilities it provides. Social media is less effective because of the limited ability to identify your voters.
The examples above are by no means exhaustive. That is, they neither include every type of voter outreach method nor every relevant strategy and tactic. However, using a Communications Strategy Matrix will help you develop your overall campaign strategy by evaluating the cost-effectiveness of each method you consider.
Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 781 831 2494.