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Stealing a page from Bernie Sanders’ SMS playbook

By
June 20, 2016

Dan Slavin is cofounder/CEO of CodeBroker

Dan Slavin is cofounder/CEO of CodeBroker

By Dan Slavin

Admit it—if someone told you how a little known 74-year-old socialist from Vermont would run a tight race against a former senator of New York and secretary of state who has been on the national stage since 1992, you would have laughed in their face.

But that is exactly what happened in the current battle for the Democratic ticket for president. And although Senator Bernie Sanders will fall short in his bid for the nomination, his surprising success – racking up almost 10 million votes at last count – remains a worthwhile achievement. This was a case of David falling just short of defeating Goliath. How did he pull that off?

Regardless of your political leanings or how you feel about Sen. Sanders, those seeking business success can learn a lot from this campaign. Because while government often gets a bad rap for moving slowly, election campaigns are an entirely different animal.

The ruthless competition involved in elections forces campaigns to quickly adapt to new ways of doing things.

These contests provide fertile ground for observing what does and does not work in marketing. Presidential elections are about getting the best results from the least amount of resources. Ignore innovation at your own peril.

In fact, presidential campaigns are leading the way in many marketing areas.

As Dan Wagner, chief analytics officer of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, noted in his South by Southwest presentation, political campaigns are “strangely the most data-driven industry [in America right now].”

What Sanders did right
Like David in his battle versus the formidable Goliath, the Sanders campaign was quick to embrace and use new technology. Except in their case it was not a slingshot they used to almost undo a giant. One of the weapons they used to great effect was SMS text messaging.

As recounted by The Daily Dot, the Sanders campaign early on seized upon the use of software to initiate and manage large amounts of text message conversations. This mobile marketing software proved extraordinarily useful in assembling a large group of volunteers in a short span of time.

As regional field director Zach Fang recounts, four volunteers sending out text messages over the course of three days brought 381 people to the Sanders campaign’s first official event in Oklahoma. Three days later another 338 people attended an event in Tulsa, a significant turnout in a state where the population is only 3.8 million.

According to Fang’s count, 95 percent of the turnout in Tulsa was attributable to text messages. Phone calls and knocking on doors could not have turned out a similar number.

According to Mr. Fang, a good organizer can make 200 calls in a day and if 10 of those people show up, it is considered a great success.

Using text-message-marketing messages in Oklahoma, six staffers made contact with 8,000 contacts in one week. To make that many contacts would typically take two months and 30 volunteers working around the clock.

Sen. Sanders went on to win Oklahoma by 10 points.

Breaking through the din
What is the secret behind SMS marketing? It is a message that breaks through the din faster than any other channel of communication and it is the method people regularly turn to when a message is urgent and needs a fast reply.

If you move quickly to answer text messages, you are not alone.

Consider for a moment these statistics from VentureBeat and a United Kingdom marketing publication :

• People read 98 percent of text messages
• Ninety percent of SMS messages are read within three minutes of delivery
• The average response time to an SMS message is 90 seconds

SAP published a white paper called “The SMS Advantage” and reported these findings:

•Sixty-eight percent of consumers check their smartphones at least hourly
• Twenty percent check their phones every 10 minutes
• An average of 75 percent of people believe SMS communication improves their experience of interacting with organizations
• Sixty-four percent of consumers believe organizations should use SMS more

This amazingly high response rate from text messages stands in stark contrast to the declining influence of email.

The evidence indicates people are getting “list fatigue” from too much of email.

When used for impersonal blast communications, the industry standard email response rate is only 2 percent.

A SURVEY conducted by OpenMarket showed that 75 percent of millennials would rather lose the ability to talk than lose the ability to text. Texting is “less intrusive” than talking on the phone.

Perhaps, surprisingly, the Sanders campaign discovered that text message marketing is not just for kids anymore or for the so-called “mobile millennials.”

Surveys show SMS marketing services are found to be successful among all age groups. Even those over the age of 40 are more likely to actively engage in extended conversations using the medium.

This high response from all age groups proves that text message marketing might be the ideal way to reach everyone – and come close to winning the presidency.

Dan Slavin is cofounder/CEO of CodeBroker, Belmont, MA. Reach him at dan.slavin@codebroker.com.

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