3 Lessons on Metrics and Data Analysis from the Hillary Campaign

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As you read this, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will be fighting for every heartbeat of love and relationship they can find. I’m working on the Hillary campaign (you can read my reasons here) and I haven’t a clue what’s going on in the other camp. But I do know that that the Clinton campaign is following closely in the footsteps of the Obama campaign by using metrics, data analysis, and data science every step of the way. They can tell you exactly how many people it takes to knock on the right number of doors to get the right number of conversations started to get the right number of people to show up at the polls to win the New Hampshire primary.

That’s an impressive demonstration of data analysis that every marketer and professional communicator can learn from. Here are three more lessons about metrics and data analysis I’ve learned from the Hillary campaign:

#1: Never stop learning.

The politics: Team Obama blew everyone out of the water with their data analysis techniques in 2008. So one of the reasons that the Hillary team is so data-driven is that they will never forget how they got out-analyzed by that upstart community organizer from Chicago. They will not let it happen again. So they went to work for Obama and took very careful notes. They learned from mistakes in 2008 and improved in 2012. They learned a lot in 2012 and are now applying it in 2016.

The lesson for communicators: Corporations, brands, nonprofits, and other organizations are you listening? If you’ve adopted a measurement system, it will only make you greater if you learn from it. Too many organizations put metrics in place only to demonstrate successes, rather than to point out failures and learn from them.

#2: Stay focused on the goal.

The politics: One of New Hampshire’s time-honored traditions around elections is “visibility” – i.e., standing on high-traffic street corners in freezing weather, preferably a blizzard, to wave a poster in support of a candidate. I’ve done it myself, standing in front of polling places for hours on Election Day, greeting voters frequently by name, and hoping to persuade them to change their minds.

Guess, what? It doesn’t work. According to campaign data, relative to other volunteer activities, visibility has very little impact on whether people actually vote.

We know that most New Hampshire voters make up their minds in the last five days before the primary. Also that, by the time they’ve turned the key and started driving to the polls, they know who they’re voting for. So it is a much more effective use of a volunteer’s time to canvass and talk to voters in-person, and offer them a ride to the polls if necessary.

The lesson for communicators: Don’t confuse activity with results. What the campaigns know is that the only outcome that matters is a vote for their candidate. If communications professionals would be as focused, they’d save themselves a ton of headaches and late nights in the office. Instead they tend to measure a lot of activities without ever taking the next step to evaluate whether those activities actually help accomplish the goal.

#3: Once you have data, use it to say no.

The politics: As I mentioned, visibility is a time-honored tradition, and there are a number of longtime volunteers who are loath to give it up. But you can’t run an effective campaign without rules and discipline. When I volunteered this year, the coordinators were very clear that if you wanted to help Hillary win, you wouldn’t waste time on visibility.

The lesson for communicators: Leaders of communications teams need to be tough. When the data says that a particular strategy or tactic doesn’t work, you need to take people, resources, and budget away from that tactic.

It’s not hard to convince leadership with data that a tactic that isn’t efficient or effective needs to be dropped. It’s a lot harder to convince a longtime valuable employee to stop working on a pet project because it won’t help achieve the goal. But, to quote Cormac McCarthy: “It’s like scraping it right off your shoes, it had to be done.” ∞

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.

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