Now Obama’s campaign is aiming to be ahead of even the GOP’s standard in applying sophisticated data mining techniques across the board, supported by all the traditional canvassing, door-knocking and other work it’s been doing. The campaign is collecting some of the most helpful data on its own. For example, aides can track what time you open e-mails from them, and if you show a consistent pattern, they’ll start sending them at around that time of day. “The marginal benefit of sending some people an email at 2 o’clock vs. 3 o’clock vs. 4 o’clock might not make sense [at first],” said Michael Bassik, a Democratic consultant with MSHC Partners, the firm that did John Kerry’s online advertising in 2004. “But once you start getting an e-mail list that’s 3 million, 4 million, or 10 million people, increasing the returns for a fundraising e-mail by 5 or 10 percent means additional returns of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
If you’re one of the 1 million people who have a login on Obama’s social networking site, they know how often and when you visit, and they can use that to gauge how committed you are to the campaign. A few months ago, the campaign sent out a three-page survey asking people about their voting habits, how often they go to church, which groups and issues they identify with and whether they’ve given money to political candidates in the past. The point of all of the online gadgetry is to get people to show up for offline events. “We’ve tried to orient the tools less as a social network and more as a mobilization network,” said Joe Rospars, Obama’s online director. “We’re creating opportunities for people to get out there and do things — the campaign is election-outcome oriented.”
Offline, volunteers are canvassing neighborhoods where they think they’ll find supporters, or getting contact info at Obama’s big rallies, picking up chunks of similar data. Unlike with previous campaigns, Obama’s aides dump all the information they get into one centralized database. So if you give the campaign $50 from an online solicitation, then show up at a rally organized offline, the campaign knows that. Likewise, if you join Obama’s Facebook group (approximately 1 million strong), then later buy an Obama ’08 umbrella, aides file that away for possible use later.
And they’ve also gotten into sales promotion: Donate between now and July 31st, and you could win tickets to the big stadium acceptance speech.
Regardless of whether you like Obama or not, do you find all this data mining a bit creepy for a political campaign? It’s not new, but it’s been taken to an entirely new level.
He’s got one sale to make in November. People will either buy it, or not. And he’s got a savvier marketing team than any retailer or credit card company. Are consumer marketers paying attention to this?