There aren’t many permanent decisions you can make about your campaign. After all, you can always fire a vendor or edit a TV ad or hire a new strategist. But decisions about your campaign’s technology have significant, lasting impacts and are often very difficult and extremely expensive – both in terms of time and cost – to correct in the course of an election.
I’ve reviewed a lot of campaigns’ digital strategies and have used a lot of different tools myself, and while our team can always make do with what’s available, there are some important considerations for your technology decisions.
In fact, most of these technology considerations aren’t really about the tools themselves, but rather the mindset behind decision making.
Does this tool play well with others?
Always avoid technology that locks you into a specific ecosystem. By way of example, many of the popular “drag-and-drop” website builders won’t let your site use other tools that are outside of their ‘walled garden.’
Similarly, avoid tools that silo off data and don’t integrate with the other technology you’re using. If they do offer integrations, ask them for documentation during the decision making process and share it with your other technology partners.
And by way of hard-won experience, never trust a provider’s timeline on when an integration that doesn’t yet exist will be ready (see Planning Fallacy).
Is this tool widely used?
A good shortcut for making decisions is seeing who a product’s other customers are. If other campaigns with more money and more experience are using something, it works. It is unlikely that your campaign is going to identify a new breakout technology or platform nobody else has ever heard of. Don’t be their guinea pig
You also benefit from lots of other campaigns using a tool because best practices, data, and strategies are generated and spread more quickly
Do the people behind this tool understand technology AND politics?
Campaigns are unique endeavors and so is technology. You need to evaluate a tool’s creators understanding of both areas. If they’ve run hundreds of campaigns but never built technology, the product they’ve built is likely to fail technically.
If they’ve built tech tools for lots of other industries, but never a campaign, the product isn’t likely to solve the real problems you face in the timeline you need.
Find tools built by people who know campaigns and know technology.
Is this tool easy to use?
Time – not money – is your campaign’s scarcest resource. So if you’re spending time wrestling with a tech platform that’s hard to use and doesn’t have an intuitive user interface, you’ll either abandon it altogether (thus leaving a legitimate problem unaddressed) or waste time not focused on important issues.
Can I participate in a live demo?
One of the best ways to figure out if something is really working or not is to ask for a live demo. Not a slide deck, but an actual working demo. If the company isn’t able to provide that to you or your staff, they’re probably not able to do what they’re telling you they can do.
How am I evaluating this technology?
It’s important to consider whether you’re judging a tool based on your relationships or based on its capabilities. If you’re going to buy from the person you’re most friendly with, that’s an easy decision and one only you can answer. But if you’re decision to purchase is based on which tool is going to best solve your problems, you’ve got to set relationships aside.
By all means, include those you trust in the decision making process, but understand what profit motives they may have to guide your decision.
Campaigns are hard. Don’t make them more difficult by making expensive technology decisions that are hard to fix.