Build, Measure, Learn: A Formula for Lean & Local Campaigns By Ben Donahower

By at September 7, 2011 | 6:56 pm | Print

Build, Measure, Learn: A Formula for Lean & Local Campaigns By Ben Donahower

Many political campaigns kick off their campaigns with a big celebration, launch their website complete with all of the bells and whistles and have their first literature piece professionally designed and printed. At first blush, this sounds like the best way to approach a campaign. You don’t want to come across as being unprofessional, underfunded and without support!

The problem, however, is that you’re going to get it wrong. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. You’re better off to produce something modest, test, learn what worked and what didn’t, and iterate again and again. Political campaigns can apply this concept to the campaign kick off, website, lit pieces, and otherwise.

Eric Ries is a thinker in the technology startup space. He has popularized a philosophy, the Lean Startup. Part of this philosophy is the build, measure, learn feedback loop. Learn to use this feedback loop in your political campaign and you will maximize learning about the voters in your district.

For example, having a campaign hand out professional designed and printed costs hundreds of dollars and several hours to manage the project. What if the piece had no impact on voters? The lit piece was a complete waste of campaign resources.

You’re better offer to create a minimum viable piece that you can use to increase your learning about what impacts voters. Imagine that your campaign message revolves around your experience. Design two pieces in house that are the same except one element to test which performs better among voters. For instance, test two headlines:

Vote for the experienced candidate. Go to the campaign website to learn more.


Vote for the candidate with experience. Go to the campaign website to learn more.

Now, hand out each piece to fifty or a hundred targeted voters and see which group goes to the website in higher numbers. Using a split test, you have quickly moved through the build, measure, learn feedback loop.

This is a time consuming process, but in this example, you will realize several percentage point increases in the action that you want voters to take by split testing your lit piece copy a few times, which can mean hundreds of more supporters by Election Day.

You’re a down ticket Democrat. Depending upon the race, you can’t afford political polling. This is your other option. You are going to build, measure, and learn your way to a winning campaign. Using the build, measure, learn feedback loop, you will hone your message throughout the campaign culminating in one that resonates with a majority of voters and you will iterate campaign materials that speak better to your targeted voters than what you could have done without their input.

Ben Donahower is the founder of Campaign Trail Yard Signs, which cuts through the campaign yard sign confusion. What do lawn signs do well? When are they more trouble than they are worth? Just honest answers, so that you order useful political yard signs in the quantity your campaign needs. Ben is an authority on marketing for political organizations and has worked on campaigns from borough council to President

Follow Ben on Twitter  @iapprovethismsg

Management & Strategy

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  • If anyone has any thoughts of wants to start a discussion on this, I’ll be checking in from time to time to participate!

  • Dotty LeMieux

    Hi Ben,

    We do a digital handout piece, very inexpensive to use and can be changed as needed. Still looks good and conveys our message. Candidates hand out at events, house parties, on the stump, at visibility opportunities, etc. Then we hone our message for mail, web, phone and media. Never forget the all important social media, Facebook and Twitter, but know that most voters are influenced by mail, mail and more mail, even though they say they hate it.

    what will we do when the PO goes out of business?

  • Great implementation of this process with the digital handout.

    You bring up a great good point about social media as well Dotty. So long as you are aware of the audience, do only supporters follow your Twitter or is it a cross section of the district etc., you can also make changes to your materials, message, and future strategy based upon empirical metrics from those channels as well such as likes and retweets.