The Obama campaign famously built the largest data team in
political history to integrate data gleaned via social media and
the web with offline data, such as shopping information and
voter-file data. As early as July of 2011, predictive-modeling and
data-mining analysts were in demand for the in-house analytics
department in Chicago.
Key to that team's success, wrote Michael Scherer in Time , was
this "single massive system that could merge the information
collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer
databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main
Democratic voter files in the swing states." That data fed into
many strategies, from helping media buyers find unconventional --
and thus, less expensive -- TV buys (FX's "Sons of Anarchy" was
one), to figuring out which celebrity messages were most likely to
get high-value fundraisers to open their wallets.
Obama's team tapped social data for get-out-the-vote efforts,
and it sought to build its list of Facebook supporters using
clever, if simple, data-driven apps. In one case, the Obama camp
suggested Facebook users find out how many others with their same
first names had voted. If a curious user followed the link and
allowed it to connect to his Facebook account, the Obama campaign
then asked the user to contact a list of friends in swing states to
deliver get-out-the-vote messages.
The Romney team, too, looked to harness unwieldy data sets and
close the gap by tapping a platform from data-management company
Lotame to house all of its information. The platform stored and
filtered a variety of data it then used to target online ads to
Hispanic moms or likely GOP voters who would be difficult to reach
"Having a standardized data-management platform created
efficiencies that far outweigh their cost," said Mitt Romney's
digital director, Zac Moffatt. "It's the only way we achieved some
level of parity," he said.
Both parties used offline data from publicly available voter
files to segment voter groups and better target online messaging to
them. The practice certainly was not new for 2012, though it did
become more pervasive this time around, said Mr. Bassik.
For political campaigns, offline data often flows in from field
volunteers conducting door-to-door canvassing. Democrat Elizabeth
Warren, who won the Senate race in Massachusetts, used offline data
gathered by volunteers to get the right messages out to potential
"We were able to make online ad-buying decisions based on what
[volunteers] would see in the field," said Mark Skidmore, partner
and chief strategist of Bully Pulpit Interactive, which worked on
the Warren campaign. Information about supporters, including
demographic and ZIP code data, informed online targeting, he
It's a lesson that could apply to any local marketer with a
bricks-and-mortar presence. "I could actually see retail stores
using product inventory data they might have to target their ad
units," Mr. Skidmore said.