It’s difficult to know what should be the minimal or essential direct mail outreach, frequency and mailing cycles necessary at a local level. What is the correct political mail strategy to use when you can’t do everything? Here is our “real world” insight into how to make this happen?
First, political mailings are unique from other types of mailing because – in a very short period of time with little “real estate” on the postcard – you need to get the recipient voter households to know you, like you, believe in you and trust you with their vote. Your strategy is admittedly challenging: you sometimes have to educate while attempting to gain awareness. It’s a lot to ask of a single mailing. Thus, single mailings, without recurring context, look more like a “Hail Mary” forward pass than political strategy action plan. Simply put, it’s very hard to get the electorate to vote for you from just a single mailing, so we typically suggest a minimal three-cycle approach for most campaigns.
As Dr. Piotr Winkielman, Professor of Psychology at UC San Diego states, “Repetition is one way to increase visual fluency and hence appeal. The more people see something, the more they like it.” However, practically speaking, we all know that too much political mail (we call it “overmailing”) can flatline voters’ enthusiasm and drain precious financial resources which were otherwise available for online voter ads. One important and recent 2017 study about minimally effective campaign effects in general elections, authored by Stanford Professor David E. Broockman and UC Berkeley Professor Joshua Kalla, showed that many campaigns don’t see many results, if any, for their hard-work efforts, particularly regarding polarizing issues or persons. As Prof. Kalla notes “There’s a case to be made that too much money is being spent in the same ways and on the same people.”
This discussion, therefore, is to help you change this and get real results, yourself, and not to going about mailing the same old way. We can show you from our decades of experience how to undertake the essential, effective yet minimal, 3-cycle or 4-cycle card approach for most primaries and general election campaigns. You can always Contact Us for more details, but here’s an overview on how you could do it yourself:
Card #1: Get-to-Know-You / Meet the Candidate
With every card, the most important thing is to get people to like you. We start with this concept and try to build on it with each card in a cycle. If the voter households receiving any direct mail cards don’t come away liking you, then nothing else you put in front of them is going to matter. In fact, they don’t have to agree with you yet, but they do have to like you.
Since likability is job# 1, so we tend to recommend a large 6” x 11” card to introduce you to the voter populace. In it, we want you to have several interesting pictures of you (smiling of course) with your family, relaxed, or in talking to others (preferably not staged). Your first homework assignment is to think ahead about getting pictures wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself – it’s too late to be running for public office and then hope that friends and neighbors can magically come up with some go smartphone pictures.
One of the pictures we’d use is, again, one with you in a large social setting talking to a crowd. This shows your authority to lead… people in the audience are presumably paying attention to you, and people reading the card will see themselves as members of that audience. The take-away from this first card is positivity about you (the candidate), your comfort in yourself, your ability to lead.
You gets this card? It does depend upon the election type and size of the electorate. For a countywide or town supervisor race, we would likely recommend a minimal, householded “mid-prime” profile.
Card #2: Issues Card
It is likely that if most people spend more than 2 – 3 seconds on the first Meet-the-Candidate card, they are spending even less time reading your “Issues” card. So, how do we get them to read it?
- Use a different size (for the second card) such as 6” x 9” or 5” x 10”. It is very important that you space this card out from the Introduction Card (at least 7 – 10 days) and try to “mix it up” right away so that people don’t think they already got this second card.
- Keep the Issues down to 1 or 2 (preferably 1) Critical Issues.
- You must have a good image or good images. People read text mostly when they are interested in the photo or picture.
- Keep down the text – that’s what Facebook and your website are for.
Don’t forget! People still need to like you!! Make sure that even if you have a very serious demeanor with this card, you still come across as likeable.
Card #3: [Optional] Testimonials Card
If you don’t have any major issues to speak about, then you can skip the “Issues” card and send instead a “Testimonials” card. There’s no secret here: get someone (who everyone likes) to say nice things about you. CRST even did a testimonials card from a son for his mother running for judge in Westchester County. The testimonial card was tastefully done, and landed well. It was also interesting… it looked like a copy of the original letter and was printed on an 8 ½” x 11” flat.
If you are in a countywide race, then consider pick different people from each area of the county – the card doesn’t have to be the same person. Testimonials can come from groups (Garden club members, seniors, high school classmates, Boy Scouts, volunteer org. members) or simple acquaintances (the paperboy, neighbors, former politicians, family members, spouses, et al.). Oddly, it helps that they are not politically affiliated – non-partyline groups or people will give you less of a partisan charge. Remember: we’re playing to the middle, and… yes, correct, people have to like you (and don’t forget to make the card interesting!). If you have a story to tell longer than a few sentences, then deliver the message in brief on the card and then send people to your website (not Facebook) for the “rest of the story”; it will help with your SEO ranking to keep driving people to the website.
The people who should get this card should be, at least, people in the middle: Independence Party and Unenrolled mid-prime voters (preferably most of the same such households that received the first mailer). We believe that a good number of the voters in the Independence Party are not clear that they are party of a political party, so if you can, include them in your centrist mailer voter profile. It is not necessary to reach everyone in your own party; but if you do so, include only “High Prime” voters. Your party, in theory, already likes you so you shouldn’t (in most cases) have to keep reselling them to like you (in a general election scenario). Finally, assuming you are sending a card# 3, be sure once again to give yourself 7 – 10 days spacing minimum from the previous card.
Card #4: GOTV (Get-Out-The-Vote) Card
This GOTV (Get Out The Vote) card is sent to the Mid-Prime or High-Prime households in your own party, and, perhaps also to the High Prime voter households of the unenrolled/unaffiliated parties. Here, you can keep it really simple. We often use a 4” x 6” or 5” x 7” card printed B/W (both sides) on electric yellow or “Martian Green” cardstock. The idea is to get people to remember to show up. Include your website and maybe your Facebook Page. Again, the purpose of this card is a kick-in-the-pants.
We have also used full color 3 ½” x 5” cards in the past. The idea here is to combine novelty (the card size, the smallest size that the USPS regulations state as allowable for automation presort mailings) with critical message. You can even combine a testimonial here in having a respected member of the community to remind the voter audience to get out and vote for you.
Mail this card 5 to 7 before the primary or general election, assuming your regional USPS BMEU will allow a politically presented mailing 5 days before the election.
In summary, political mail is a great, non-invasive approach for getting your message across to the people who most need to hear from you: your constituents (or potential constituents) who have a stake in their communities as expressed by their voting habits. Your take-aways from this discussion are:
- Make sure people like you with each political mailing card
- Mix up sizes of campaign cards to keep it interesting
- 3 or 4 mailings cycles are enough in most campaigns to provide sufficient exposure to the electorate
- No excuse for not having good images of you
- Space out your cards by at least 7 days each where possible
I hope this overview has been helpful. Please contact us for your next political mailing campaign and/or online campaign.