Is there a better example of pipeline management than the 2012 election? Big data is being heralded as the difference maker for the Obama campaign – a highly disciplined effort that drove overwhelming response from key constituencies. What are the lessons for higher education?
First, both camps early on put out all encompassing RFPs for CRM software – what better way to build deeper relationships with constituents, in this case voters.
Well, actually no this isn’t what happened and ultimately is one of the key missteps that separates the winning Obama camp from the challenger.
According to Judith Hurwitz writing for BloombergBusinessweek, “the Obama campaign seemed to have a strategy and plan for not only how data would be collected but how the information would be used.” The Obama campaign early on decided what questions needed to be asked in order to get deep insights and identify predictive outcomes.
At a recent conference I attended, much of the discussion centered around “MOOCS” (Massive Open Online Courses) and the anticipated impact on higher education. One speaker noted the amount of data that would soon be available about students – how and when they are engaged in the course.
Yet, for many institutions this data is already available from existing learning platforms (e.g., logins, content engagement), portal activity (e.g., enrollment, payment) and campus behavior (e.g., dining halls, building access).
The issue is not a lack of data or technology but rather a strategy of what to do with it.
Both camps attempted to use big data as a strategic weapon. The Obama campaign began building their prospect pool some four years ago after the 2008 election. While mass advertising can be effective for finding people you don’t already know, communicating to those that self-identify and express interest is better. Communicating in a relevant way is the best. As Gordon Crovitz writes in today's Wall Street Journal:
When the Obama campaign emailed supporters to join a $40,000-a-ticket dinner in June at the New York home of actress Sarah Jessica Parker, journalists at ProPublica noticed something odd. They uncovered seven versions of the email solicitation for the fundraiser, some mentioning a second fundraiser that night, a concert by Mariah Carey, others that Ms. Parker is a mother, and still others that Vogue editor Anna Wintour would be at the dinner.
Who got which email depended on "big data"—information about each fundraising prospect and how different people react to different messages. In this year's election, it looks as if the Obama team's use of such data was one of its biggest edges over the Romney effort.
Now consider the DemandEngine research we released this summer. In a secret shopping exercise of 127 institutions and their undergraduate admission offices, we received over 1,200 direct mail pieces and email within a three-month period. Only 41 messages - yes 41 messages - out of the 1200 referenced our student's stated academic preference.Execution
For both campaigns, the technology was to be the secret weapon to get out the vote. Yet, both campaigns didn’t execute equally.
One of the difficult lessons the Romney campaign learned was that if you don’t execute well, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated your technology is. The Romney campaign built a Big Data system intended to track which supporters had voted and which ones needed to be contacted, writes Hurwitz.
However, the campaign was tripped up by people, process, and technology challenges. The software couldn’t scale to the needs of the volunteers and volunteers had trouble accessing the system.
We call it managing the funnel or pipeline in higher education. It’s the ground game for political campaigns.
The overall lesson? Strategy before technology
In our secret shopping research, many of the institutions are "doing CRM" using software from well-known, higher education specific vendors. Yet, software alone does not a relationship make.
“The Romney campaign put its faith in a sophisticated technology engine believing that would compensate for a weaker ground game. In contrast, the Obama campaign had the luxury of a well-tested Big Data strategy combined with a strong ground game. Managing data is not a simple exercise. You can’t depend on either technology or process alone.”