Too often, campaigns start with the assumption that the candidate (or campaign manager, or media consultant) knows what the best message for the campaign is – without polling, without focus groups, without even running the idea before a few trusted advisers. No public campaign activity should take place without testing – and re-testing – the message involved.
For more information on what a campaign message is and how to develop one, check out these articles:
One of the first tasks that every campaign must undertake, from the start, is determining what issues to concentrate on and what messages surrounding these issues work best. By taking polls, focus groups, and informal volunteer-run surveys, your campaign can determine the mood of the electorate. Using this data, and comparing it against your candidate’s views, and the views of his or her opponent, the campaign can decide which issues and messages to emphasize, and which to downplay.
Testing, however, should not stop with the campaign’s first salvo. Everything your campaign does should be tested in front of a portion of the voting population before it is released. Of course, every campaign has different resources. Some large campaigns will be able to use professional polling firms to conduct surveys and focus groups. Other campaigns will use volunteers to make survey calls and staff-led focus groups. Each of these options is viable. The important thing is that everything is tested.
Let’s be Practical
What does this rule of thumb mean for the average campaign? It means that every time you design a brochure, direct mail letter, radio spot or newspaper ad, you put together a group of voters to review it and comment on it. It means that every speech is tested in front of a group of trusted advisors, and that every addition to the website is seen my multiple pairs of eyes.
Of course, simply testing your message is not enough. You need to get feedback from those you test with… be it by phone survey, or in person. Take what you learn from each test and apply it – go back and re-write your speech or mail piece. Refine your message. Review your assumptions. Take to heart the comments and guidance you receive, and if it is viable, make the necessary changes to ensure that your message is well received.