The presidential campaign season has provided plenty of remarkable moments, many of them cringe-worthy. But regardless of what takes place on stage, behind the scenes candidates and organizations alike are pursuing digital marketing strategies that all companies can learn from.

“Since Obama’s campaign, candidates have realized that a digital media strategy is an absolute must,” says Kirk Olson, a vice president at Horizon Media, a full service media agency based in New York. "Millennials and Gen Xers take a more digital, social, do-it-yourself approach to understanding candidates and issues” than the generations before them, he adds.

Horizon’s recent online survey of more than 3,000 adults found that 67% of Millennials cite social media among their top three sources for information about candidates, and nearly 80% engage in political discussions on such platforms, with healthy numbers of Gen Xers and Boomers doing the same. Search engines such as Google also play a major role in helping voters find the information they need. 

When it comes to making a name for yourself online, entrepreneurs can take a cue from what’s working in this election season. Here are five tips.

1) Do what it takes to grab people's attention 

People now curate almost everything they read or watch, basing their consumption on "likes" and other recommendations. What this means for politicians--and marketers--is that content has to earn its way into public attention, generally by being entertaining.

Hillary Clinton has done this well, says Lucien Etori, a vice president at Salt Branding. For example, she borrowed the “mean tweets” concept made popular by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, and enlisted Minnesota senator Al Franken (also a comedian) to create a video describing the pushback he got on Twitter after endorsing Hillary. “You can tell she has Millennials advising her with something like that,” says Etori.

By contrast, the notoriously stiff Ted Cruz became the butt of late-night jokes when he offered a downloadable portrait on his site, a sign of what Etori considers "stunning tone deafness" on the part of his campaign. (To his credit, however, Cruz did create a fairly hilarious video showing a Clinton look-alike and her posse smashing a data server, an Office Space spoof with the tag line “Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Clinton” that has received around 1.3 million views on YouTube.) 

2) Go for feeling over facts

Many companies fear that an emphasis on entertainment will detract from the seriousness of their message, but experts say they need to get over that. "We like to tell ourselves we are thoughtful, rational, careful and deliberate,” says Alec Beckett, creative director of Nail, an advertising agency in Providence, RI. “If anything, we’re the opposite: impulsive, emotional, even irrational.” That means that, often, what draws in consumers is not a reasoned argument about why one option is better than another; it’s about what makes them feel better.

On the GOP side, Beckett credits Donald Trump's success to the fact that, "He’s not selling a thing, he’s selling a feeling," which is largely anger against the establishment. On the Democrats' side, Beckett considers Bernie Sanders's "America" spot, which has garnered more than 3.3 million views on YouTube, "the most effective piece of campaign communication I’ve seen. It has no content--it doesn’t say what he’s for or what he’s against--it just evokes a really nice feeling.” 

The lesson for companies, Beckett believes, is that “when you’re just trying to get people's attention, go for a feeling" rather than pitching the specific virtues of your product or service. 

3) Expand your Internet domains 

Don't think in terms of a single web site that ends in "dot-com." Today it's essential to have multiple versions of your website that take advantage of new extensions. 

Even as politicians and their parties create punchy URLs that end in ‘dot-vote’ (.vote), ‘dot-democrat’ (.democrat), ‘dot-republican’ (.republican) (such as Ted Cruz with www.tedcruz.vote and Bernie Sanders with www.together.vote) companies now have a veritable universe of relevant domain extensions, from ‘dot-agency’ (.agency) to ‘dot-media’ (.media) to ‘dot-today' (.today), and many more.

This new online trend is resonating with Millennials, an audience every industry seems eager to court. On top of this, adopting these new options, either as your one-and-only home on the Web, or as part of a strategy to claim multiple domains, can help you win more search traffic and also provide what you might call a defensive buffer zone.

For example, Jeb Bush failed to register jebbush.com; it now serves up nonsense but at one point it re-directed viewers to Donald Trump's site. Likewise, tedcruz.com directs to a website urging support for President Obama, although the Cruz campaign appears to have wised up because they now use tedcruz.vote as well as tedcruz.org

And then there is Michael Gallagher, a stay-at-home father of four now running for Congress against incumbent Charles Rangel in New York’s 13th district. He secured about two dozen domain names overall, including michaelgallagherforcongress.com, michaelgallagher.democrat, and ny13th.vote, along with some that incorporate the names of his opponents so that they can't use them.

“Given my need to raise my profile and introduce myself to thousands of voters, I thought using top level domains was efficient,” Gallagher says. “I saw the introduction of new top-level domains as an opportunity to maximize SEO in the race to be found.”

The larger take-away for businesses: Think more strategically, and creatively, about which domain name(s) you operate under.        

4) Don't just broadcast: Engage

Remember that the point of digital platforms is to create the opportunity for dialogue. “It’s not about putting out your talking points,” says Horizon’s Olson. “It’s about saying something relevant to an issue and then inviting people into a conversation.  

Consider voter.guru, a new website that tracks candidates’ public statements and voting records to help users determine who they should vote for. Launched with backing by Horizon, some 6,000 people per week are taking a 14-question quiz that helps match their viewpoint to candidates’ platforms, says co-founder Ben Krakow. Naturally, the results are easily shareable on social media. "Think of it as a simple yet nuanced dialogue between voters and the candidates' platforms and voting records," Olson says.

Of course, oftentimes digital dialogues are anything but nuanced. When businesses invite engagement they open themselves up to comments of all kinds. That means you have to be prepared for negative responses, and have a smart strategy for responding.

First, says Etori, resist the urge to hide; instead, respond as quickly and as sincerely as possible (while, as he says, resisting the practice of certain presidential candidates to respond by attacking your critics). The next step is to be accountable. Even if you have a social media team that normally handles your posts, make sure they reflect your voice and truly take responsibility for whatever went wrong or was miscommunicated. Step three is to step back. "Get in front of a complaint or other issue at the beginning and then let it go," says Etori. "You don't have to keep apologizing over and over."  

5) Know how to chunk

When it comes to the content you push out via multiple websites, think small. The Sanders campaign, for example, operates a standalone site, together.vote, that houses just one video and some downloadable images. 

Similarly, Etori, says, companies should create multiple microsites that highlight a single message or facet of their business. "Create a family of independent microsites that all have a specific identity," Etori says. "Put a new video on them every few weeks and you could get some interesting buzz going. It's also better than forcing people to navigate around a larger website." Especially as people consume more content on mobile devices--a single-message mobile site can function much like an app, with no scrolling required.

Your web site(s) can pack a multi-faceted marketing punch, so it's important to consider all the ways you can maximize that opportunity, from grabbing a new “not-com” domain name that perfectly describes your business to thinking about how using that strategy across multiple sites can get your name "out there" in a very positive way. Your customers vote every day, not just once every four years, so you need a digital marketing campaign that's always out front.

To explore the expanding world of domains, visit Name.kitchen for a menu of new "not-com" options and a search bar to help design your perfect website name.

Published on: Apr 28, 2016