Cover Story: The Direct Marketing Election
The firm uses third-party data generated by other sites in its retargeting efforts as well, he says.
Micro vs. Macro Targeting
Web behavioral targeting is only one way the campaigns are trying to make election marketing personal. Both Obama and Romney also are employing "microtargeting" tactics—analyzing increasingly large databases that contain specific information about particular voters, such as party affiliation, frequency of voting, contributions and volunteer history, combined with their buying habits and other activities compiled by vendors such as Acxiom, Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Americas and InfoUSA.
Microtargeting uses analytics to identify issues within that data that are important to those voters who are likely to be receptive to messages from the candidate. The campaign then sends them targeted messages about the candidate's positions on those issues via email, direct mail, text messages, telephone calls or home visits.
Obama uses Washington. D.C.-based Catalist LLC as its microtargeting firm and Romney uses Targeted Victory in Alexandria, Va., according to the FEC website.
Austin James, vice president for digital strategy at Gridiron Communications in Granger, Ind., says microtargeting can sometimes backfire when campaigns make faulty assumptions, such as believing a small business person or a veteran who twice voted for a Republican candidate will automatically dislike Obama's every position.
"In some instances, you may actually have a Blue Dog Democrat who voted GOP, but they actually like Obama," James says. "If you send an email blatantly attacking Obama on issues, you may turn off that person."
Microtargeting is very akin to fishing, he says. "Analytics give us our best guesses where there is going to be interest, so we can put out on email for a call to action—but in the end, it's really just our best guess."
Republican pollster David Hill in Auburn, Ala. says microtargeting is "a very polarizing topic."