This Politico story about the Trump campaign’s successful strategy of raising money via merchandise – $456,000 just from plastic straws – may pique your interest in making swag a part of your campaign’s online strategy. But before you do, here are some important considerations.
Distribution is Key
The Trump campaign’s success with merchandise didn’t happen by itself. They’ve spent years building their email list to have the distribution in place when they develop a breakout product. The best products even have distribution built into them, like this Adam Schiff t-shirt, which was covered broadly in the media and includes a call to action to grow the supporter base:
Social Media Isn’t Enough
Even if you have a large social media following, there’s no guaranteeing your online fans will turn into offline customers. Don’t forget about the Instagram “influencer” with 2.6 million followers who couldn’t even sell 36 shirts. If you want to drive your social audience to action, you should be focused on driving them to audiences you own, like email, website, and text messaging, where most of your campaign’s merchandise conversion will happen.
Understand Donor Motivations
Donors give to campaigns for many different reasons. Grassroots donors are typically motivated by their opinions of an individual candidate and the nature of the election. If you’re running against a prominent opponent, chances are supporters view your campaign as a referendum rather than a cause and may be less motivated to purchase physical goods. If you’ve built up a movement or a cult of personality, like Beto, it’s an easier sell.
If You Give A Mouse a Cookie
Be careful how you segment your email list when marketing campaign merchandise. If you’ve got a successful online fundraising program in place, you’ll know that many donors are already giving to your campaign without expecting anything in return. Don’t condition your supporters to expect merchandise in return for their gift and risk inadvertently deferring a conversion.
It’s Hard to Be Clever
The Trump campaign has a knack for capturing the social-political zeitgeist thanks to the bully pulpit of the presidency, that will be more difficult for your campaign. Nothing falls flatter than when a corporation or consumer brand tries to latch on to some cultural trend. It’s even harder for a politician to do, so focus on mastering the basics – T-shirts, buttons, hats, etc. – before you get too creative.
Do You Really Want to Get into Retail?
When you start “selling” physical goods on your campaign, recall that you’re now competing against the customer expectations established by Amazon’s one day shipping and Zappos’ legendary customer service. There are a number of logistical hurdles to address before you get into the ecommerce business that may distract you from the core focus of your campaign.
In closing, my advice is to only begin a merchandise program for your campaign if you’ve already had success building your online fundraising program and growing your email list. A funny T-shirt design won’t save your campaign if you haven’t been doing the hard work first.