• Ladder of Engagement - Watch That First Step. It's a Doozy

    Most people have heard the term "Ladder of Engagement" as it relates to political campaigns and issues advocacy organizations. It is the equivalent to a sales funnel in marketing. Using ladders of engagement an organization can attract the curious and develop them into supporters, supporters into volunteers, volunteers into donors, ambassadors and voters.

    Typically the first ask is easy such as "Like our Facebook Page" or "Follow us on Twitter." When you see a "Sign the Petition" ad in your timeline, that campaign or organization just wants your email address. When you see "Text #FightFor15" to 308308, they just want your cell number. Email is still king for online fundraising. Given the very high open rate of texts, cell phone numbers are the Holy Grail for mobilization.

    Whenever I advise a campaign or organization I monetize or assign a dollar value to an email address or cell number. It is the only way to measure the return on investment of money and time expended to acquire n email address or cell number.

    400.jpgIn this time of COVID 19 many of the traditional field strategies of political campaigning are no longer viable. One of these is collecting nomination signatures to get on the ballot. You can't go door-to-door and if you set up a table at the local supermarket you are probably not going to attract a lot of people to sign.

    Yesterday, I saw a Facebook Ad encouraging me to help get a certain candidate on the ballot for US Senate. I clicked on the link and was taken to a Google Form where I give my information and presumably be sent a nomination form to sign and return.

    Obviously, the campaign would require my name and address to mail the form to me. However, both Email Address and Phone were required fields. The problem is that neither of those data points is actually required for me to take the action the campaign wanted me to take.

    So I didn't fill out the form. The campaign didn't get my signature, my email or my phone. 

    Why? Because I wasn't even on their ladder of engagement and they were asking me for my personal contact information. I wasn't interested in getting the fundraising emails or calls and texts to get involved. The first step was too high.

    I understand the value of email addresses and cell phone numbers to a political campaign. As I mentioned above I set a value for each to be able to measure the campaign's ROI. I also understand that this campaign was trying to build its organic contact list. But at what cost?

    Let's assume the campaign is spending $100,000 prior to getting on the ballot. The cost of not getting on the ballot is $100,000. Now let's assume that the value of an email address or cell phone number is $5.00. The campaign would have to collect at least 20,000 to make it worthwhile to risk not getting on the ballot.

    There are a number of options here. The first would be to have the same form but not make an Email Address and Phone required. You could also A/B test the form by having one where they are required and one where they are not. If there is no difference in conversion rates (The number of people who fill out the form) then make them required. Based on my experience that would be highly unlikely. To be fair the campaign may well have done that.

    My preference would have been to have a form without requiring an email address or cell number that, when I click the SUBMIT button takes me to another page where I can then "Sign up to get updates on our signature drive progress!" or "Text Signatures to 30303 to get updates." You could even send a mailer to everyone who sends in a signed nomination paper with "next steps".

    I think the most effective Ladder of Engagement is one with a very low first step. Focus on what your campaign absolutely needs then give your supporters a rewarding path to what your campaign ultimately wants.



    If you’re thinking about running for office, now is the time to start moving. But before you “move” in any direction, it would serve you well to “think” about where you are, where you want to go and why it’s in anyone’s interest to help you get there. 

    Before Marston Digital Solutions takes on any new clients, we ask candidates to answer many key questions. Each of our questionnaires is candidate-specific, but whether you’re running for local school board or President of the United States, there are ten basic points that must be addressed. Clearly, the answers to these questions make a difference, but the thought process they trigger is even more critical. In business and politics, strategy must always precede tactics. Our questions and subsequent feedback will help you and your team develop a winning strategy.

    While our customized “Q & A” often includes up to fifty questions, here are ten that apply to virtually any campaign:

    1. Why are you running for office?

    This sounds basic, but you need to answer honestly. If you’re running because you need a job, don’t bother...Amazon is hiring. If you’re running because you like to “help people”, avoid the hassle and volunteer for a charity. Your public “answer” needs to be compelling, but your private motivation needs to be both noble and sincere. We already have enough career politicians who like to spend other people’s money. Think about it long and hard before answering. This question will come up dozens of times during your campaign.

    2. Is your spouse or significant other “on board” with the idea?

    Politics is an often nasty and always time-intensive business that places huge demands on relationships and marriages. Your family should always be more important than your political campaign. If you don’t put your family first, we don’t want you as a client; and if your spouse or significant other is not fully “on board”, you will probably lose anyway. Communicate. Address any of your partner’s concerns before you even think of announcing. If he or she “buys in” fully, you’ve not only secured your most compelling campaign “salesperson” but you’ve also reduced the chances that you’ll end up being banished to the couch for the next year or so!

    3. Will your next-door neighbor support you?

    Now, it’s quite possible that your next-door neighbors are completely insane (it happens), so let’s extend this scenario to your street and neighborhood. Bottom line: If you can’t persuade the people who know you best, you’re not likely to persuade total strangers. Reach out. Make friends close to home. Ask for their input and make them feel like a part of your team even before you have a team.  If you play your cards right, these folks will ultimately join your family members as some of your most loyal and active supporters. 

    4. Can you afford to run? 

    With very few exceptions, successful candidates view their political campaigns as full-time endeavors. Can you and your family survive for a year or more without an income? Can you take a leave of absence from your job? Can you loan your campaign “seed money” to get off on the right foot or are you totally dependent on donations? Volunteers are terrific, but at some point early in the process, you’re going to need paid staff. Where’s that money coming from?

    5. Have you recruited a Fundraising Chairperson?

    The four “M”s of any campaign are MONEY, MUSCLE, MESSAGE and MOMENTUM. Without money, most campaigns flounder, regardless of the candidate’s resume, policy positions or personal charisma. Securing an early commitment from a fundraising chairperson is absolutely essential. This person should agree to raise a predetermined amount and recruit at least ten others (e.g. “Finance Committee”) to do the same. After your spouse, this is the most important “sell” you’ll make during your campaign. If you can’t “close that deal”, you simply should not run.


    Is this a joke?

    No. In fact, if you are running for office, it is very serious. Our hope is to briefly explain how digital strategy and field strategy no longer operate in separate “silos”...and how the campaigns that best merge the two will be more efficient, effective and ultimately, more successful.

    So back to our two candidates. They both walk into a bar and inside are 100 people who live in the district. Obviously, they both want to do the three jobs of a candidate; meet voters, secure votes and raise money. The challenge is that they only have 30 minutes. 

    One candidate starts working the room introducing himself and, hopefully, listening to people’s concerns. That is traditional “field.” Candidate 2 [C2] knows that of the 100 people in the bar, only 80 are registered to vote. Given that they are running in a primary, C2 also know which of those 80 voters are members of their party and so can vote for them. C2 also knows which of those voters have voted in at least three of the last four primaries. C2 knows who of those 20 or 30 voters own their home, have a net worth over $500,000 and have donated to past political campaigns. C2 looks for those specific voters and starts implementing her strategy. That is effectively merging field and digital.

    Who do you think used their thirty minutes most productively? 


    ...What they do is fail to plan.

    In the private sector, startup companies often spend months developing business plans. That intensive but necessary process includes a significant amount of research...and that research is critical to the development of effective strategies and tactics.

    Most political campaigns are like business startups and the candidates are essentially new “products.” We published a blog post a couple of years ago “Ten Questions To Ask Before Running For Office.” Assuming you can ask and adequately answer those questions, the next question is “Now what?”

    The answer? Plan, Plan, Plan.

    The first number you need to know is “Votes To Win.”

    Do your due diligence. How many registered voters are in the district? What is the typical voter turnout in the district for your type of race? Keep in mind that turnout for the last Presidential election isn’t necessarily a good indicator for your City Council primary though it can be informative regarding your total universe of potential voters.

    There can be a lot of variables, especially in primaries with multiple candidates or in a race against an incumbent who has not faced a serious opponent in years. You may have to look at proxy elections. What was the turnout in your district for the latest State Rep. or Senate campaign? What was the turnout in the Congressional primary? The information is there. You just have to figure out where to look for it...then interpret it properly.

    Now, what is it going to cost to win?