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Political Campaign Strategy: Lean Method

Lean startup methodology, made famous by Eric Ries’s book ‘The Lean Startup’, is a way of working that works perfectly for political campaigning.

We’ve said it before and we will say it again, political campaigns are not unlike startups and businesses in general. They have a stated goal, they have staff all running around doing things and they are restricted by things like time and resources. Critically, they operate in conditions of extreme uncertainty, as Eric Ries would put it, ie, they don’t know what their voters will do. In order to be successful in a startup or in a campaign, it is necessary to employ the best methods of working and lean startup provides that. Let’s take a look at how it would be implemented.

What’s it all about?

Lean startup begins with the assumption that we don’t know anything about our voters and we will create small tasks for ourselves that will help us to understand what they want and then deliver that to them. A good example of this might be a round of voter surveys, where data can be assessed in order to amend campaign messaging that reflects voter concerns.

Lean startup is really about minimizing the amount of waste (of time or effort) that takes place in most business and campaigns. Small tests are done to see what is working and this feeds into the amount of effort that is subsequently expended on this activity.

A key component of any lean campaign would be the idea of iteration. Each test is small and cycles into the following test. In this way, the campaign team is learning as they go and the campaign should be improving by increment.

The mantra of lean startup is also its process, namely Build - Measure - Learn.

Day 1 of your campaign is characterized by getting buy-in from your team and volunteers into the idea that you are all in this together and are going to learn from the actions that you take.

Step 1 : Build

What you and your team are building is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that you will test to see if it works for voters.

Elements of a typical MVP campaign:

  • Early start. Beginning your campaign a couple of days before election day isn’t going to work if you want to learn about voters and what they want.
  • Campaign Branding. Get some basic campaign materials out into the public domain. Campaign literature, website, photos and so on will allow you to see voter reactions. Voter reactions can be assessed through quantitative metrics like a number of donations received, or by qualitative metrics like voter surveys and canvassing for reactions.
  • Campaign message. Campaign messaging will push out policy positions, taglines and ways of talking about issues to see how voters react. Is there a coherent response that can be garnered from interviews or a rating scale applied? Is the campaign getting negative feedback? This messaging can be tested on social media and through social media advertising very quickly.
  • Surveys. In themselves, surveys of voters, either face-to-face or online, form a critical part of the campaign MVP.
    Email Subject Lines. The ideal candidate for MVP testing is email subject lines, as you can see immediately which ones work and which ones don’t. Test and retest.
  • GOTV. In different areas, different GOTV strategies work better. Try testing for vote pledging, supporter referrals to family and friends, and election day efforts that voters would like to see.

Step 2 : Measure

Lean startup campaigning should be about the concept of ‘validated learning’, meaning that every element of your MVP should be testable and, ideally have metrics associated with it in order to understand what is working and what is not. If you have started early, then you should have a really clear picture of how voters are reacting to each of your MVP elements and be able to amend these to get the best results on election day.

Step 3 : Learn

  • You’ve started early but campaigns have a lot of bumps in the road. Continue testing and learning right up until election day. A small tweak to your campaign in response to a late breaking story can be the difference between success and failure.
  • Campaign branding needs to be figured out in the very early stages in order to have a clear brand image for the majority of the campaign.
  • Campaign messaging may come under pressure to change a lot during the campaign Managing this while maintaining consistency can be a difficult task. However, you will want to build flexibility into your messaging so you are not caught flat-footed at any stage.
  • Survey results will allow you to understand voters. Ideally, you will start early in your campaign with broad surveys and then narrow it down to capture the detail contained in the main topic areas. Surveys will also allow you to zero in on ‘swing’ areas or segment your voter bloc and address them in a more targeted way.
  • Email subject lines will change a lot also during a campaign. Personal subject lines like ‘A quick word’, mixed with hot topic items, mixed with area specific issues will all yield results and should demand close attention from one of your team. Email open rates are proven to lead to online research and visits to your website so make sure these online properties are coherent and your branding and messaging is powerful throughout.
  • GOTV is very specific in different areas. Sometimes offering a bus service to the polls is the solution, other times it will be targeted social media ads or poll-striking. Vote pledges and community influencers can be hugely successful also. Figure out what will work in your area and have a strategy in place for election day.

Hopefully, this helps with lean startup methodology for campaigning and we would be happy to provide any further materials you might need to implement this on your next campaign or show you how our software works to help you in this regard.

Happy campaigning!

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