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New tech gets personal with voters

A young mother standing in line to vote who pulls out her iPhone to browse through Facebook might see a custom campaign ad aimed squarely at people matching her demographic at just that location.

Or she could receive a text message reminding her of the name of a candidate in a down-ballot race for the Legislature or Congress when her car pulls into the parking lot of a designated polling location.

Reaching Voters Where They Are

Micro-targeting messages to motivate voters in this year’s elections has made leaps-and-bounds advancements from the days of voter outreach being limited to television sets, mail and even robocalls. Campaigns, just like business marketers, are breaking new ground in using the technology called “geofencing” to deliver digital ads to people in areas as specific as a church or a school.

Political campaigns also are buying information on voters from telecommunication and marketing companies that sell their customers’ cell phone-generated location data that can be mined to determine where they shop, work, play and pray. Campaigns use the information to create profiles of voters who might share their political philosophies and public policy issues they care about like health care, education and roads.

Geofences can be drawn as small as the property boundaries of a school, library or church used for a polling precinct, said Nicole Hudson, owner of Inbound Lead Solutions, a Royal Oak-based digital marketing firm.

With geofenced digital advertising zones, Hudson said, “you can start to showcase last-minute ads that are incredibly relevant to what you’re trying to make a push on.”

“You’re literally being delivered ads in real time. It’s absolutely going to happen,” said Hudson, who declined to reveal the political campaigns her firm is working for in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

As voters cut their cable cords or mute their television sets during the barrage of political advertising in this year’s record-breaking spending binge, campaigns have turned to different digital media to both identify and reach voters.

“What can be done online and geotargeting is much more efficient than blanketing a neighborhood with fliers,” said Mark Gilman, president of Pitchnoise LLC, the strategic communications division of Inbound Lead Solutions.

Political campaigns certainly haven’t abandoned print mail advertisements, which filled the mail boxes of active Republican and Democratic voters all summer ahead of the August primary and resumed in late September as absentee ballots began arriving in the mailboxes of senior citizens who routinely vote by mail.

Handing out pencils at the polls with the name of a candidate “isn’t going to work in a congressional race,” Gilman said.

“But they sure are going to work for somebody running for water commissioner or judge,” he said. “You still can’t get rid of all of the traditional stuff.”

As pollsters have found out this election cycle though, fewer and fewer voters are answering their phones, making voter-irritating automated robocalls even less effective, Gilman said.

“Robocalls are just wholly ineffective anymore,” he said.

Hudson and Gilman said the technology has practical applications to marketing business services and consumer products, especially because millennials seem more inclined to receive text messages than answer a phone call from a telemarketer.

“You can target specific messages to people rather than doing the old Gatling gun where you spread messages across an entire group and see what hits,” Gilman said.

Both parties experimenting

Before political campaigns started using the technology, the service industry and restaurants were the earliest adopters of micro-targeted digital marketing using geofenced data, Hudson said.

For example, the data can show whether a particular consumer eats out for dinner every Friday night — based on the cell phone’s location — and restaurants in their area can use the data to send them micro-targeted ads on Friday afternoon when they may be deciding where to eat that night.

“When you think about it, it captures the intent of what someone is doing,” Hudson said. “As we’re on our phone looking for a restaurant, a bar or happy hour special, that location and geofencing has been so important for the local restaurant and or national franchises that actually have the money to purchase the ads.”

Michigan’s two major parties have been experimenting with the technology to lure in their own customers.

On Election Day in 2016, the Michigan Democratic Party geofenced a handful of precincts in Detroit with high numbers of likely Democratic voters to send them messages at the polls with the names of Democratic-nominated Supreme Court justice candidates to vote for on the nonpartisan portion of the ballot, state party chairman Brandon Dillon said.

“It’s a way to get you at the last minute,” Dillon said.

Last year, the Michigan Republican Party geofenced a skilled-trades education convention at the Lansing Center convention hall to gather the internet addresses of the cell phones of every participant and vendor who attended, said Jonathan Duke, political director for the state GOP.

The Michigan GOP then used the information to send digital advertising to those people who talked about Republican support of funding for skilled-trades programs, Duke said.

Republicans also have been geofencing mega-churches in West and Southeast Michigan on Sundays to identify evangelical voters who attend church on a weekly basis and may be receptive to the GOP’s conservative stance on social issues, Duke said.

The churchgoer’s IP address is matched with other consumer data the Republican National Committee has purchased to pair with Michigan’s qualified voter file to create profiles of voters and assign a score that’s used to determine the likelihood a person may vote for a Republican.

Regular churchgoers aren’t being sent digital ads during church, but at other times throughout the election cycle, Duke said.

“When we get those device IDs, we can target them for all sorts of ads at different times,” he said.

Campaign of the future

Hudson and Gilman believe future political campaigns will increasingly rely on geofencing for real-time intelligence about voters.

“It’s incredibly efficient, especially when you only have so much money to spend,” Hudson said.

Dillon, the state Democratic Party chairman, said the technology remains expensive.

But if Dillon had his way, he would use geofencing to send voters text messages alerting them when a Republican legislative candidate was knocking on doors in their neighborhood and arm them with questions to “ask so and so why they voted against funding for schools.”

“You could do that,” Dillon said. “That’s how crazy this is.”

This piece was written by Chad Livengood and originally published by Crain’s Detroit Business. 

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Digital marketing and communications veterans Nicole Hudson and Mark Gilman have launched Pitchnoise – an integrated strategic communications firm – as a division of Detroit-based Inbound Lead Solutions (ILS). With this merger, ILS becomes one of the few full-service Digital Marketing and Strategic Communications firms in the Midwest, with two-fold benefits: Pitchnoise clients now have new tools to make smarter decisions when measuring and managing the impact of digital and traditional marketing efforts, allowing a broader range of services to meet their marketing, communications and business development objectives; and Inbound Lead Solutions clients now have a larger selection of experts to develop communications strategies, key messaging, written content, brand storytelling and deeper relationships within the media.

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