The Research Insighter Podcast Interview Series 2013 Volume, Episode 1

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1 The Research Insighter Podcast Interview Series 2013 Volume, Episode 1 Guest: Gillea Allison, Client Manager, Blue State Digital (Former Digital Operation Vote Lead, OBAMA FOR AMERICA) About The Research Insighter The Research Insighter is a special interview series dedicated to delivering the intelligence edge from experts and leaders in consumer, marketing and media research, analytics and insights. The Research Insighter is produced by the 2013 Future of Consumer Intelligence Conference synthesizing insights, analytics and relational database strategy taking place May in San Francisco. For more information or to register, please visit: Gillea, what is Blue State Digital for those who don t know? Gillea: Great question. Blue State Digital is an agency that builds communities and activates audiences online. Most people know us for our work on the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign. Our CEO ran the digital department in 2008 and was a chief digital strategist for the campaign in So, what we do is apply a lot of the lessons we learned there to a variety of clients with the strict emphasis on rigorous testing, analytics, and documentation to really drive concrete actions for organizations and create change in their sector and their sphere within their organization. This includes clients ranging from Ford to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Sierra Club and beyond. You can check us out at but it s a great continuation of the work that I did on the campaign and I m really excited to be able to talk to you about that today. Let s talk about the campaign. Digital played a starring role. In fact, microtargeting was something that people are still talking about in the wake of the President s victory. What was your role in the campaign and how did it fit into the larger organization? Gillea: I was a member of the Digital Organizing Team which, in the Digital Department, was about 200 people in the Chicago Headquarters. Within the Digital Organizing Team I ran the Digital Constituency Team. We were tasked with developing

2 concrete, innovative and effective programs that would turn out our key constituency groups that ultimately led to President Obama s victory. So, think women, Latinos, African Americans, LGBT Americans, and young people, of course, who were critically important the list goes on. There were about 20 groups in all. Our team was responsible for coordinating every single aspect of the digital program that these groups would encounter, that we would create outreach for and engage them with. This included coordinating with our in-house team, with designers, with developers, building sites with the video team to create effective messaging, with our tech team Very few decisions were made that weren t based on testing, modeling and understanding what type of content and program would be most effective in reaching these key audiences and demographics to run really creative and effective programs. And then through that entire process, the thing that tied it all together and these different elements of the digital program was analytics. So, very few decisions were made that weren t based on testing, modeling and understanding what type of content and program would be most effective in reaching these key audiences and demographics. Specifically, in what ways did data drive your decisions? What was its role within the campaign more broadly? Gillea: I know a lot of people heard that this was the most data-driven campaign in all of history and really that s why we won. But we did it with heart. In my daily role and my team s role we used it for a number of reasons. Number one was to make sure that we were communicating with the right people and that we were meeting them where they were. So, really having a deep understanding of who these people were, what previous actions they had taken, where did their interests lie and where could we meet them to really generate the most desirable action from our perspective that we felt they would be most inclined to take. When you are running so many different programs that are based on certain issues and certain ways that people identify themselves, having this information and understanding how to optimize it is key to really driving an effective program. I think that this is something that companies and organizations of any scale can really learn from in terms of paying attention to who your people are, what they are doing, where are they interacting with you and then creating customized programs to meet them where they are and generate the desired action. This took shape in many forms. Here at BSD we used the backend tools that our team creates and that organizations use currently. They are called BSD Tools and it s a real

3 understanding of our digital world. Then, we worked with our digital analytics team to gather data from what was happening in the field and offline and using modeling lists. So, really effectively combining of all these different data streams to create understanding really led us to create super effective programs that turned out record numbers. Clearly you had some sophisticated analytic firepower behind you. Shifting tracks for a sec, you touched on something that everyone talks about but whose meaning is fairly subjective: engagement. What did successful online engagement look like for the campaign? Gillea: Online engagement is a term that is used pretty broadly. Everyone talks about engagement, but I think it s really important to understand what that means. We define of engagement as the opposite of inaction. So if something will not generate an action, we wouldn t do it. Engagement was the name of the game, but it really was about driving key actions that were either around fundraising (getting people to donate), messaging (getting them to read a piece of content and to share a piece of content that would influence others, because we needed our Everyone talks about engagement, but it s really important to understand what that means. We define engagement as the opposite of inaction people to be messengers) or to organize to take key actions, whether that is registering to vote, whether that is making a phone call or signing up to go to a house party or attend an event. There were very key performance indicators and specific actions that we needed our people to take on different levels. That was engagement to us. So, if it wasn t driving toward one of those key things, then we just simply wouldn t do it. That was an over-arching question that we asked ourselves every day and with every move we made and with every bit of resources that we dedicated to certain programs. It had to tie back. What s great about that is that actions online, especially, are all trackable. It s all measurable. You can really know where things stand, where to improve and then just how to create the most effective program and the highest level of engagement possible. How did you approach youth mobilizing and organizing in 2012? In what way was that different from what you did in 2008? Things change very rapidly nowadays

4 Gillea: The story was that in 2008 Barack Obama had two million Facebook fans; this time we have about 35 million. Of those 35 million, they were friends with 98% of the U.S.-based Facebook population, which is actually more than the number of people who vote. So, within the reach of just our Facebook presence, we were able to target 98% of the US population, which is just an astounding fact when you think about it. Within the reach of just our Facebook presence, we were able to target 98% of the U.S. population Also, to counter the background of 2008, Barack Obama was the hot politician that the youth rallied around. That was really the story that surrounded his nomination and his election. In 2012 we were facing a very different climate and the over-arching mediascape was saying that the youth weren t going to turn out. Well, spoiler alert: they did 1.25 million. More young people voted in 2012 than in But I think the campaign, the way we embraced it from a top-down level, the power of social media to really convert this army that we had of 35 million followers and when you include Twitter and Tumblr and all the other digital properties, we just knew that we had to turn these people into advocates. We ll go into this in the presentation some more, but our Facebook Targeted Share App is a great example of how we focus resources on social for this demographic the year-olds. We actually didn t have phone numbers for 50% of them. So, knowing that traditional methods The Targeted Share App was built toward the end of the campaign and enabled them to turn brand ambassadors into true advocates with stunning results of phone calls and door-to-door weren t going to succeed here, we knew we had to take it to where they were, which was Facebook. The Targeted Share App was something that our analytics team, our data team and our tech team built toward the end of the campaign. It had some stunning results that I ll be sure to share with your audience. We can talk about what the implications are for this, what people can learn and how an organization large or small can really turn these brand ambassadors these people who simply like your page into true advocates with have some stunning results. We think this tool really affected the election. So, the narrative changed a little bit between the first and the second election. The second go-around, the digital winner was Facebook. Is that a key takeaway or is there more to the story?

5 Gillea: I don t want to just limit it to Facebook. I think there were a lot of wins in terms of our testing optimization, our Quick Donate tool, our sophisticated fundraising program I think it all played into the overall success. But I do think that when you are thinking about this demographic, in particular, and getting them to take the key actions that we needed them and their friends to take because we knew that a majority of our list were supporters who were registered to vote we needed their friends to register to vote; we needed their friends to turn out. So, I think the way that we utilized Facebook to achieve those goals is something that was unprecedented and will just be the standard moving forward. Well, congratulations on a fantastic job and thank you for providing us with some insight into what was certainly one of the most historic campaigns from a digital marketing standpoint in history. Gillea: Thank you for having me. We ll see you in May. That concludes this episode of The Research Insighter. Gillea Allison will be presenting The Youth Vote and Future Consumers: What Marketers Should Learn from Campaigns at The Future of Consumer Intelligence conference May in San Francisco. For more information or to register, please visit Until next time, I m Marc Dresner and you ve just heard the insight scoop. ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER Marc Dresner is IIR USA s senior editor and special communication projects lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for marketing, media and consumer researchers and insights professionals. He may be reached at Follow

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