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These innovators are taking microtargeting in startling new directions.

By Christie Findlay



lex Gage is a fidgety man. In the first five minutes visiting his office, you’re likely to see him slide back in his chair, run his hands through his thinning red hair, flip random- ly through his 2004 Florida research, and

then lean forward to make his next point. All the while, a steady breeze blows in from his office’s deck overlooking the Potomac River. It’s the luxe office you’d expect of the guy credited with inventing political microtargeting. And the restless spirit of someone who knows he’s got a lot of new competition. “We’ve made most of the mistakes that can be made,”

he says about the ongoing research at his firm, TargetPoint. That’s what it takes, though—a ton of trial and error. And Gage is determined to push the envelope in order to stay a few steps ahead of the young turks who all, now, say they do microtargeting. “Everybody’s microtargeting this or microtargeting that these days,” he says wryly. “When we started doing it, it was a series of analytical processes. Now people use the term in a way that is far beyond its simply being a technique. Now it means everything.” The basics of what Gage and other pure microtargeters do is still the same. Survey several thousand people about their views. Add consumer data (purchased from corpora- tions like InfoUSA and Experion) and proprietary infor- mation (gathered by the campaign or political party). Do some smart things with math to develop a profile of differ- ent groups of voters (aka clusters or segments). Then map those clusters back to the full voter file and, voila! You can suddenly see what sorts of voters are out there, what they probably think, which party they’ll probably vote for, and what messages may interest them. Easy, right? Not so much. Especially if you’re looking for a

revolutionary idea that will catapult a candidate far past 50.1 percent on Election Day. Since 2008 is the first U.S. presidential primary to use microtar- geting, we decided to look for the “next big thing.” And the innovations we found might just change everything.

Real-Time Targeting and Influentials

Gage’s firm is the granddaddy of them all for a reason. In 2004, TargetPoint’s data mining work in Ohio was largely credited with delivering the state—and the election— to George W. Bush. In the 2008 primaries, TargetPoint worked for Gov. Mitt Romney, whose 2002 gubernato- rial campaign was the first field test for Gage’s targeting techniques.

The Republican firm is now devoted to finding a way

to do real-time microtargeting. “In 2002 and 2004, we took the data we had on June

1, we delivered the campaign a product on July 1, and they used that product from July 1 to Election Day,” says Alex Lundry, the firm’s research director. “It was never refreshed with new data from voter ID calls, door knocks and so on.” Microtargeting 2.0, he says, will be when a campaign calls

Jane Doe and everything she talks about is instantly uploaded into the microtargeting database. Although these instant feed- back loops are already standard in the business world, Lundry says they won’t be common in even presidential campaigns for several cycles. But TargetPoint recently took the first baby step with one of its political clients. “We’ve been working with something called microtracking, which is essentially ap- plying microtargeting processes to a nightly tracking study,” says Lundry. TargetPoint is also the only political firm using net

promoter scores to find high-value voters known as “in- fluentials.” Promoter scores are straight out of Harvard Business School, and represent how likely (on a zero to 10 scale) a person is to recommend that someone buy a given product. “You capture an attitude that was previously hard to

measure, like voter enthusiasm for a candidate,” Lundry says. “It’s also indicative of word-of-mouth buzz, peer-to- peer persuasion efforts, and so on. But then you can apply it to something like microtargeting, because it can help find influential groups.” Last summer, TargetPoint found a group of voters in Iowa likely to recommend Rom- ney. The campaign says targeting that group—religious white males with a strong interest in technology—helped Romney win the Ames straw poll.

Motivationally Speaking

Most microtargeting models focus on issues and likeli- hood to vote Democrat or Republican. But that wasn’t necessarily going to help Bobby Jindal win his 2007 gu- bernatorial race in Louisiana, where most voters are reg- istered Dems who typically vote Republican. Strategists realized that to avoid a run-off, Jindal needed 42 percent of culturally conservative Democrats to vote for him on Election Day. So Republican Blaise Hazelwood, who heads Grass-

roots Targeting, built her model around that core group. “Usually when you build models, you are building them

on everyone [in a district],” she says. “But the cultural con- servatives were our target universe. We actually did survey

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