You may have noticed that the 2020 US presidential contest has been plodding along for more than a year (for some it’s been three years) and has another year to go. At last guestimate there were 16 Democrats, three Republicans, and some as yet obscure number of third party and none of the above candidates. Many potential voters have been so far been able to ignore the pre-electoral noise and save their attention for later in 2020. These political abstainers may even surpass the 45% of eligible voters, who, according to CNN, didn’t vote in 2016.
From its extensive database of media spending, Politico estimates that 2020 will be the most expensive election in US history. $2.8 billion for the presidency alone. (Yet another case where paying more doesn’t mean getting more.)
To acquire close to $3 billion, the candidates and their parties are spending more time and effort than ever on an escalating treadmill of fundraising. They have a marketing problem. They are trapped in an ever tightening spiral of fund raising. Few are doing it well and at least five have already dropped out, citing financial challenges. This is a classic marketing problem.
For small donations, fundraising is a mix of direct selling: store fronts to street corners and doorbell ringers mass media: print and broadcast targeted media: email, direct mail, social platforms, interactive media, and SEO.
In any of these, the marketers face a challenges of optimizing yield. How much should they spend to reach out how frequently should they accost prospective donors?
Too Many Knocks on the Door
Consider the following experiment: donate a nominal amount to ten mid-tier candidates. In practice this meant Democrats. Had this been 2016, I’d have chosen Republicans. This was not an experiment about parties or the respective merits of particular candidates. I excluded leading candidates of any party, because they had established brands, substantial resources, and large experienced fundraising organizations. This is not to say that they do not also have fundraising challenges.
Within seconds of the donation, I received an acknowledgement message contained a request for an additional donation. As one completed the online contribution, the collection website (all of the Democratic candidates used the same site, actblue.com) asked for an additional donation in the form of a “tip.” The romancing continues with an almost daily email solicitation. Sometimes the message’s subject is a direct request and sometimes it’s deferred until the second or third paragraph. Regardless it’s incessant.
In their zeal for funds, these candidates, apparently failed to test for the optimal interval between requests. Looking at the lackluster boilerplate email copy, They also often fail to brand their candidacy or confirm why they, among a crowd of at times up to 22 contestants, are the best use of voters largesse.
A few somewhat more enlightened supplicants, give the recipient the option of indicating that they would prefer to be contacted less frequently, such as only weekly.
Fundraising, like virtually any marketing, requires experimentation. The availability of cheap or free data analysis tools, means that those campaigns which don’t continually test are guilty of fundraising malpractice.
Whether the goose, i.e., donor, is laying gold, silver, bronze, or chocolate eggs, by carpet bombing the inbox, many candidates are chocking, if not killing the goose. Their campaigns will cease prematurely as they run out of funds.
- With apologies to Aesop
Who gets the unspent raised funds when the candidate drops out? Those billions would do better going to make our country a better place – health care, feed the hungry and house the poor, improve the infrastructure, etc. the time and money spent on politics should be limited.