Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Should campaigns hide LGBT people?

I worked for No On 8, and one common criticism of the campaign was that it didn't show ads with same-sex couples. Many people said that Prop 8's passage showed the mistake in this strategy. The campaign strategists who made this decision, however, pointed out that No On 8 might have lost even more badly if they had shown LGBT people in ads. They argued that the ads targeted a narrow "movable middle" of people who hadn't made their minds up, and that these people were uncomfortable with images of same-sex couples. Showing supportive straight people, the argument went, would build support; showing same-sex couples would actually have been harmful.

Who was right? We'll never know. But there is a better way to answer this question than focus groups and "expert" consultants: randomized controlled testing.

I'm helping design a randomized controlled test for Equality Maine, Maine's LGBT advocacy group, that will look something like this. They'll randomly select 30,000 Maine voters, and randomly divided them into three groups of 10,000. (10,000 happens to be the number necessary for statistical significance.) Group A will receive a piece of mail with a photo of a same-sex couple and text trying to convince voters to support same-sex marriage. Group B will receive a piece of mail with a photo of a straight couple and similar text to Group A. Group C will receive nothing.

A couple days after voters receive the mail pieces, a survey company will call all three groups and ask them if they support same-sex marriage. (Shameless plug: If you run a survey company or a call center, check out my company's predictive dialer, Impact Dialing.) Based on the survey results, we'll be able to see which mail piece is the most effective. We'll also be able to see if some groups of people respond better to one message, and some groups better to the other message. For example, maybe older voters have so much ingrained homophobia that images of same-sex couples will make them less supportive, but images of straight parents of LGBT people will appeal to their sympathies. And perhaps younger unmarried voters who see images of a committed same-sex couple that can't marry will be able to relate more to that mail piece.

We'll never know if No On 8 made the right strategic choice by not showing same-sex couples. But going forward, we have better tools to figure out the answers to this and other questions. Leave a comment if you're working on a voter contact or fundraising campaign and want to test a message, a medium, or anything else.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You are being watched (or, Free burritos)

I usually hate junk mail, but the other day, I got a coupon for a free burrito in the mail. Thanks, Chipotle! Every once in a while, I'm pleasantly surprised to get something I wanted that I didn't ask for. What if all of your unsolicited mail was for things that you wanted? You'd be pretty excited - you'd get less in your mailbox, and you'd actually look forward to the things you did get. And marketers would be pretty excited, too - they'd spend less money on their mailings, and the ones they did send would produce the results they wanted.

To realize this vision, though, marketers would need to know more about you. They'd need to know what kinds of products you purchase (mexican cookbooks?), what magazines you subscribe to (food magazines?), your income (do you have enough disposable income to eat out much?), your family size (do you have a spouse and kids to feed?),... and the list goes on. How would you feel about them having that kind of information about you?

Well, if you're not comfortable with that, I've got bad news for you. Data companies already compile all this information and more. I'm browsing through a catalogue from one of the biggest data companies, where I can buy lists of people who have allergies, who buy organic food, who use credit cards, and who vacation in Canada. There are over 1,000 different data points on almost every US consumer.

A couple posts ago, I wrote about how non-profits can use modeling to better target their donor acquisition strategies. Such modeling is only possible with the use of these vast sources of individual-level data. This data can also be used to target voter outreach; for example, my company is helping run a project to figure out what people can be persuaded to support marriage for same-sex couples. (More about that later.)

But is it worth it? Are you comfortable with data companies tracking you in exchange for free burritos? Does it seem harmless - there are over 220 million American consumers, so who could possible care about you except as part of a large cohort? Or does it seem dangerous - what if somebody is out to get you, and uses this data as blackmail? Leave your comments below!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Article in NY Times

Short post today for the holidays. There was a great article in the NY Times a few weeks ago about the use of testing in political campaigns. Here's a nice excerpt:
The growing use of experimental methods — Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, calls them “prescription drug trials for democracy” — is convulsing a profession where hunches and instinct have long ruled. Already, experimental findings have upended a lot of folk wisdom about how votes are won. The most effective direct mail might not be the most eye-catching in the mailbox but the least conspicuous. It is better to have an anonymous, chatty volunteer remind voters it’s Election Day than a recorded message from Bill Clinton or Jay-Z. The most winnable voters may be soft supporters of the opposition, not the voters who polls say are undecided. (“Undecided” may just be another word for “unlikely to vote.”)
Check out the full article at Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding new donors

A really fun project I get to work on is consulting for Donor Services Group. DSG is a phone fundraising firm that raises money on behalf of non-profits; they're unique in that they place a huge emphasis on staff retention, which means that, while they're more expensive because of their higher salaries, they raise way more money than any other firm, and end up netting higher and not "burning" your list the way that many cheaper firms do. DSG retained me as a consultant to help them design a program to acquire more donors for non-profits. Parts of the project are under wraps, but I've learned some really interesting stuff that I'm excited to share.

Shameless plug: if you do phone fundraising, or run a call center of any kind, you should check out Impact Dialing's predictive dialer (that's my company). It's the best predictive dialer in the world.

Let's say you work for a non-profit, and you've worked really hard over the years to build up a base of donors who support your cause. Growth is slow, though: most of your donors have come through events, in which your existing donors brought friends along, and email campaigns, where your members have forwarded your appeals to friends who have donated. There's a way to accelerate your organization's growth without just waiting for more people to naturally trickle in: look-alike modeling.

Look-alike modeling takes a list of donors (or anybody, for that matter) and then tries to find people who, well, look like them. To do this, the modeling firm uses a database of just about every consumer in the US, with hundreds of attributes like age, income, purchases they’ve made, and such. They’ll match your list to their database, and then use statistical modeling to figure out what characteristics your donors have. They’ll use that model to “score” their consumer database, and then you can buy a list of the people with the highest score. These people are then good leads for fundraising efforts to bring in new donors.

Drop me a line at michaelrkn[at]gmail[dot]com if you work for a non-profit that’s interested in trying this out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who am I?

This is just a quick post to tell you a little bit about who I am and what I do. My name is Michael Kaiser-Nyman; I'm a consultant and the founder of Impact Dialing. I help organizations like political campaigns and non-profits with targeting, testing, and technology. Amusingly, they all start with the letter "t". In targeting, I do things like help figure out how to acquire more donors at a lower cost than with traditional methods. I help organizations try different tactics and test the effectiveness of different approaches; for example, I helped design a test of whether a "pledge" robocall increased voting more than a standard robocall (see the previous post). Technology comes mainly from my company, Impact Dialing, which provides predictive dialing services. I also am pretty handy with databases and help organizations manage their data more effectively.

If you're interested in what I do, retaining my services, or just want to chat, don't hesitate to call me at 415.347.5723 or send an email to michaelrkn[at]gmail[dot]com. And if you do field organizing or run a call center, you should be using Impact Dialing's predictive dialer!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Robocalls are exciting for nerds

What an exciting election! Err, at least for those of us watching these things closely. I think more people were excited about the World Series than all the gubernatorial races combined.

To me, the most interesting thing about the elections wasn't any particular race; it was the use of thoughtful measurement to help run more effective races. I'm writing this blog to explore how this measurement works, and how you can use it to run political campaigns more effectively. What if, instead of guessing whether you would get more votes from buying robocalls or from buying billboards, there was a way to measure the effectiveness of one against the other? Or if you could target your fundraising more effectively, so that you spent less money on direct mail appeals and saw great donations? Or if there were a way to figure out who your strongest supporters were and activate them to do more for your campaign or cause?

Here's an example of this kind of measurement that I helped design. I'm pretty excited about it. Many studies have examined whether reminding people to vote (getting out the vote, or GOTV) via a robocall increases voter turnout, and the answer is conclusively 'no'. But there's also research that shows that, if you call someone or ask in person to pledge that they will vote, they are more likely to actually cast their ballot than if you just encourage them or remind them without asking for a commitment. My old boss at Equality California (EQCA), Amy Mello, was buying robocalls from Switchboard to encourage EQCA's members to vote for pro-LGBT candidates. Amy is familiar with the research that shows robocall's ineffectiveness at GOTV, so she knew that the calls were more about generating support for particular candidates than increasing voter turnout. But Switchboard suggested that Amy buy a slightly more expensive call that allowed people who received it to press a button on their phone keypad as a pledge to vote. The recorded message said something like "Press 1 if you pledge to vote by mail, or press 2 if you pledge to vote on election day." Amy had the brilliant idea of testing whether the more expensive "pledge" robocall had a GOTV effect.

Here's how we designed the experiment. 41,000 households were in the target list to receive the call. We randomly chose 3,600 phone numbers that would not be called; this was our "control" group. The remaining phone numbers were randomly split into two categories: one received a standard robocall ("standard") and one received the "pledge" robocall. By comparing what percentage of people voted in the "standard" and "pledge" groups to the "control" group, we could see if the calls had any effect, and whether the "pledge" calls were more effective than the "standard" calls.

So what was the result? Well, this post is just a teaser. We don't have the individual-level voting history in our database yet, so we can't find out. Keep on reading and I'll let you know as soon as I have an answer!