Data “Driven” vs. Data “Informed” Messaging — Hillary Had an Algorithm But No Message
It’s already been said: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign had an algorithm, but no message.”
So when a Politico Magazine analysis piece by long-time Democratic messaging and direct mail expert David Gold appeared earlier this month, I took notice. After he helped eviscerate a gubernatorial candidate for whom I served as press secretary well over 20 years ago, I exhaustively reviewed his campaign’s TV, radio and mail to examine both their positive and negative messaging frames.
Their cumulative messaging was simply better, more focused and more effectively integrated. Chalk it up to a learning experience.
Gold knows his business on both the positive rationale and “comparative” messaging sides, and his piece, “Data-Driven Campaigns are Killing the Democratic Party,” hit a nerve in the DC advocacy and campaign communities.
In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat at the hands of Donald Trump, it stoked ongoing commentary among Democrats that data is superseding message and storytelling in their parties’ political campaign discourse.
Gold’s smart take: “For four straight election cycles, Democrats have ignored research from the fields of cognitive linguistics and psychology that the most effective way to communicate with other humans is by telling emotional stories. Instead, the Democratic Party’s affiliates and allied organizations in Washington have increasingly mandated “data-driven” campaigns instead of ones that are message-driven and data-informed. And over four straight cycles, Democrats have suffered historic losses.
“We Democrats have allowed microtargeting to become microthinking. Each cycle, we speak to fewer and fewer people and have less and less to say. We all know the results: the loss of 63 seats and control of the House, the loss of 11 seats and control of the Senate, the loss of 13 governorships, the loss of over 900 state legislative seats and control of 27 state legislative chambers.
Yet despite losses on top of losses, we have continued to double down on data-driven campaigns at the expense of narrative framing and emotional storytelling.”
In my own corporate and campaign work, we surely depend upon data to help shape messaging. To do otherwise is malpractice. But I prefer to use the phrase “data-informed” messaging in regard to the paid, earned and owned media I create in the form of speeches, testimony and video content.
Yes, team Hillary knew which voters she had to turn out — but lacked the intensity to get them to the polls. Intensity — both positive about your candidate and negatively about the opponent — is developed and achieved through narrative framing and emotional storytelling. Period.
As Gold notes, issues are to a campaign message what ornaments are to a Christmas tree. Ornaments make the tree more festive, but without the tree, you don’t have a Christmas tree, no matter how many ornaments you have or how beautiful they are. Issues can advance the campaign’s story, but without a narrative frame, your campaign doesn’t have a message, no matter how many algorithms, issue ads or position papers it puts forward.