Direct Mail Rocks
Let’s talk about campaign advertising. As part of your campaign budget, you should be setting aside from 60% to 70% of your money on paid advertising.
It’s important to tailor your advertising budget to your particular district, candidate or ballot issue, electorate and size of the campaign budget. Different voters are accessible using different modes of communication and it is important to strike a balance.
Political campaigns have six basic choices when deciding what kind of advertising to purchase: direct mail, television, radio, newspaper, paid phones and digital. None of these mediums are the “best” and it is important to recognize that they are simply tools in your toolbox. As you run your campaign, you and your team get to choose the right tool to apply to the problem.
This is the first in a series of emails about these different mediums and the important choices you’ll be making in your campaign or Independent Expenditure effort.
Here are our thoughts about… Direct mail.
Direct mail is one of the oldest tactics of political persuasion. Politicians in the English House of Commons first used direct mail in the 17th Century. In America, the “franking” privilege – sending mail for free to your constituents – first started with the American Continental Congress in 1775 and the First Congress wrote it into law in 1789.
The persuasive impact of direct mail can be proven in studies by groups such as the Analyst Institute, which has conducted more studies on direct mail than on any other mode of communicating to voters. Our own studies, covered in a previous email, have detailed this as well.
Advantages of direct mail:
- Reach. The single largest advantage of direct mail over any other kind of voter communication is that nearly all registered voters are reachable via mail since their addresses can be sourced directly from the voter file. This is especially true in vote-by-mail states where you know the ballot is sent to the very same address.
- Targeting. Another big advantage is that targeting is very easy and accurate. Sending a piece to seniors, certain geographies, women, targeting highly engaged voters, etc. is very simple for all campaigns.
- Sophisticated Targeting. For larger campaigns, testing using Experience Informed Programs, or EIPs, helps campaigns further refine lists. We’ll discuss this more in a later email as well. However, a critical use of EIPs is to remove voters from universes who will ignore or reject your messaging is crucial for running cost-effective programs and eliminating backlash. Depending on the quality of list enhancements, micro targeting and modeling are also great as more sophisticated tactics to send your message to the most persuadable voters.
- Unusual sizes and formats. Direct mail allows you to create interesting interactive formats, such as scratch-off cards, interactive games, feature peel-off stickers or it can be sent in designs and packages that make it appear as official, government-produced messages. Direct mail can be in packages, envelopes with live stamps and handwritten addresses. In addition, direct mail also can be personalized at the voter level, using a digital printing technology to create personalized voter report cards or other customized creative presentations.
- Multiple candidates or initiatives. Mail can carry messages for more than one candidate. Voter guides are a useful tool for informing voters about multiple things at once! And, especially for complex ballot issues, mail allows for voters to learn about the nuances of a ballot issue at their own pace.
- Unlimited Frequency. Unlike digital or television advertising, mail never runs out of inventory.
- Youth. Despite rumors to the contrary, recent studies have shown that young people actually do read their mail. And, voter returns in 100% vote-by-mail states like Washington and Oregon prove they do as well – it’s the only way to cast a ballot.
Downsides of direct mail:
- It takes time. The creation, printing and delivery process can take as short as 3 days but typically longer. Other mediums might be better for “rapid response.” The last mail piece must be mailed six days before the election or pay a much higher first-class postage rate.
- Diminishing returns. Like all media, the first piece of mail has the greatest marginal effect, while the second piece will have a bit less effect, etc. However, there are also decay factors and a cumulative effect of pieces. Once mail programs get large, perhaps increase the size of the print run or sub-target groups.
- People move and pass away. About 11% of Americans move each year; these numbers are significantly higher for people under 30 and lower incomes. Another 8% die annually. Voter lists are relatively accurate these days but are by no means perfect, and there is a lag factor in cleaning up and updating these lists.
- Quality of list enhancements. Political parties, labor unions and other groups enhance voter files with information from commercial list vendors to learn more about voters. These enhancements can include information on race or ethnicity, if they have children or even if they have a pet in their house. However, these enhancements can be inaccurate. Surname matching for race and ethnicity may not always be accurate. For example, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was classified as “white” in their voter file, because he had an Anglo first and last name. A long story to say that sending mail to some of these subgroups can be problematic.
- Saturation. Toward the end of a campaign in a targeted district, voters can and do receive multiple pieces of political direct mail in a day. Studies have shown that these pieces still have an effect, but obviously it’s preferable to have the mailbox to yourself!
We’ll cover more of the paid advertising methods (tools) in later emails. The most important takeaway from this is that you find the tool that best matches the problem – not the other way around!