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Mobile marketing in Washington: Where is it?

July 5, 2013

Lauren DeLisa Coleman

Lauren DeLisa Coleman

By Lauren DeLisa Coleman

When observing mobile marketing and branding tactics today, the commercial world typically takes the spotlight. But “brand” politics and advocacy have been quietly beginning to test out the mobile strategy waters by turning-up professional discussions and analysis. It is all about getting onto the mobile fast-track to better engage constituents and citizens on important issues.

While it may be a bit early in the game, the potential is staggering, the perils moderate. But the possibility of becoming irrelevant is already real in this fast-moving arena, as lifestyle continues to intersect with mobile at a lightning pace.

SMS, not SOS
Mention mobile and the political and nonprofit worlds and immediately such images come to mind as President Obama attempting to announce his vice president pick via SMS or the American Red Cross seeking donations for Haiti via SMS.

But there seems to be a bit more curiosity and expansion that is taking place now among Washington powerati.

In fact, at a recent GOP event called the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference – whose keynote speakers included such notables as Donald Trump and Sarah Palin – technology panelists held the attention of enraptured attendees as they listened to past experience and advice from such seasoned individuals as Sara Fagen, a former senior aide and White House, political director for President George W. Bush and a champion of micro-targeting.

A fan of future devices that will further enable the convergence of the digital and television space, Ms. Fagen is currently analyzing upcoming avenues for the GOP in an exciting manner.

However, present opportunities abound with the devices we have today.

Capitalizing on the consistently strong usage of phone and tablets during television viewing, for example, can provide exponential return-on-investment of real-time television ads and enrich messaging via more creative integration of mobile tactics including SMS codes.

“People care about what’s on their phone or tablet, not traditional TV ads,” said Scott Fornsler, another panel attendee and mobile veteran.

Indeed, a campaign and nonprofit can also build a vital mobile database via just the simple incorporation of SMS codes, given the strong connection that mobile makes.

Organizations are beginning to see that they can use budget more effectively by connecting with people again and again not only for messaging but also for donations, and this combination is becoming more sought-after among the DC cognoscenti.

However, maximizing this possibility is, as always, about integrating mobile into an overall plan that progresses, not simply as a standalone option.

Cartney McCracken, a Democratic political strategist, said, “Congressman John Garamendi made history when he took telephone town halls a step further and held a mobile town hall with the app Visible Vote. It allows constituents to view video of the telephone town hall, look up legislation, track a representative’s votes and post their own video to their representative.

“Nearly two years later, though, it’s time to pump up the video engagement factor on mobile,” she said.

“Simply viewing parts of a town hall on your mobile device isn’t going to cut it anymore. Representatives need to provide a convenient [and new] ways to be in touch with younger constituents and tie it throughout their entire communication strategy. This is what so many people are focusing on now.”

The fact that 49 percent of millennials voted in the last election is certainly not lost on politicos planning for the future. In fact, one in five voters was between ages 18-29.

Add to this information the fact that this demographic also coincides heavily with that of those who out-index in mobile phone usage and mobile strategy becomes the must-have tool, not only for political campaigns, but also for issue advocacy and cause marketing.

Change agent
M. Dane Waters, political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, told Mobile Marketer that the organization just recently started using mobile technology to expand its support base and advocacy efforts.

“We’re beginning to use mobile technology to notify supporters of actions by lawmakers at the state and federal level and encourage them to take action asking their lawmaker for a yes or no vote on that specific legislation,” Mr. Waters said.

“This is either done by delivering an email to their mobile device or via a text message,” he said. “We also use mobile devices on election day asking voters to vote a specific way for candidates or ballot measures.”

In addition, Allyson Chapin, co-author of “Social Change Anytime Everywhere” echoes this sentiment and takes it another step.

“The importance and possibility of targeting supporters via GPS [will become even bigger],” Ms. Chapin said. “Knowing where a supporter lives helps organizations segment their messages so that they can send geographically relevant messages to suggest, for example, that they attend an upcoming event that organization is planning in that area. Have someone on your team that gets this, without a doubt.”

The next step for these arenas just may be in expanding the strategies to more seamlessly blend into constituents’ lifestyle by creating strategic alliances with media and entertainment partners to deepen the engagement, while also paying keen attention to strategy variations for different ethnic groups.

Naturally, whether nonprofit or political, it is important, as Ms. Fagen noted on her panel, to have the right team for execution and to hire those with expertise when a particular campaign manager or nonprofit may not have it.

“It’s all about strategy, and we need these people at the table and always at the table,” she said.

At the table, but also ready with creative and effective mobile ideas.

Advocate cause
In fact, given the fragmentation of the market today, the cost-benefits of mobile and the proliferation of devices and usage, the opportunity seems right and the future appears unparalleled.

“I believe that mobile technology is clearly the future of lobbying and public awareness,” Mr. Waters said.

“There is no easier or better way to get advocates for your cause to take action in real time,” he said. “Also, candidates for office can quickly respond to opposition attacks even before the attack gets any traction and thus shoring up support from their base.

“Advocates for legislative reforms can find out in real time from their lobbyist if a key lawmaker is leaning in the right or wrong direction and needs a push and so those advocates can, in real time, go door to door in their district raising awareness and also, via their mobile devices, do patch through calls from the front door of an advocate to that lawmaker urging him to vote the right way.

“There is no limit to the possibilities that integrating mobile and advocacy can achieve.”

Indeed, winners in the race for mobile will be those who jump in or expand their efforts now, test what works and keep cultural sensibilities at the forefront.

Lauren DeLisa Coleman is digi-socio trend analyst and consultant at Viceroy Holdings, Washington. Reach her at

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