Direct Mail – A Powerful Tool in the Political Process

It’s all about digital these days, right? That’s the mantra in many media articles following the 2012 presidential election. And, as per usual, the media got it only half right. While the spotlight has been on the digital efforts of the Obama camp, and the failings of the Romney digital efforts, overlooked is the vast outreach both campaigns engaged via direct mail.

Social media and electronic outreach are a vital part of modern campaigns. But, consider the following – a Pew Research study conducted in February of 2013 found that 95% of coveted high turnout 55+ age voters are not on Facebook and 99% have never utilized Twitter. Nearly 60% of seniors do not use the Internet in any fashion. An additional finding showed that while growing, only 1 in 10 voters seek information regarding campaigns from social media.

Digital outreach is an excellent way to communicate with supporters and make them feel they are part of the campaign team. Younger voters will expect a robust digital presence from campaigns, but how they actually process and prioritize campaign information will be largely dependent on a broader media effort of television, radio, phones and direct mail. Of these more traditional tools, direct mail can offer the most targeted and cost efficient means to reach into the homes of voters.

It is estimated that 18% of all campaign dollars spent in 2012 were deployed via direct mail. Television, being the most expensive vehicle, garnered the lion’s share of campaign dollars. While television can provide a high level of exposure, it is an expensive — and for campaigns on a tight budget, cost prohibitive — means of doing so. Direct mail provides a cost efficient alternative in expensive media markets. And, direct mail can be more tightly targeted to motivate or persuade actual voters the campaign has determined to be of the highest value to reach.

Direct mail can bolster the effectiveness of messaging through other avenues. Television and radio campaigns frequently find a greater depth of penetration with voters when the voter has already been receiving information via direct mail. Persuasion is only one aspect of direct mail. Direct mail is a critical component to successful advance ballot efforts. Making certain that your supporters have a convenient means by which to request an advance ballot is key, and direct mail can be employed to provide voters a nearly effortless process to do so.

Direct mail also raised far more campaign dollars in 2012 than online efforts. A main driver of the disparity is likely due to direct mail being a more viable platform for prospecting – i.e. recruiting new supporters into the campaign, while online fundraising tends to have its greatest success with those already inclined to support the campaign. Prospecting online can be successful, but is limited by the ease with which unsolicited electronic messages can be quickly ignored by the recipient, or caught in a spam filter. A well-crafted direct mail solicitation will draw in the recipient and provide information educational to the voter targeted toward his or her interests.

As noted previously, a campaign’s media strategy should be coordinated to integrate all of the campaign’s media tools. Direct mail, for example, is an excellent vehicle by which to drive traffic to the campaign’s online media to view videos, download apps, and ultimately convert voter contact into voter action by signing up new volunteers or new donors.

The death of direct mail has long been predicted by those pundits at the margins. Those actually engaged in the execution of political campaigns know direct mail is here to stay and a powerful platform from which to reach voters, donors, and to augment the success of other campaign media tools.