The joy of leafleting

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I was at the BART station from 7:00am to 10:00am this morning, handing out last-minute voter pamphlets for Kriss Worthington, a local Democrat running for California State Assembly. The primary election’s today, and in a heavily Democratic district, the winner of today’s primary election is almost guaranteed the seat in November.

Leafleting is fun. I did a fair amount of it in college, around Prop. 209 and other issues. I like how it gives you an opportunity to connect with people in public places, and sometimes start conversations you wouldn’t normally otherwise have.

I’ve found that getting someone to take your leaflet is a little three-step act of marketing, performed in anywhere between one to fifteen seconds:

  1. Don’t automatically turn people off
    People make snap judgments about whether they want to walk toward you, or away from you. I try my best to look approachable and respectable when leafleting. It’s hard to make a pitch if the recipient’s already biased against you.
  2. Make the pitch
    When leafleting, I call out something intended to catch the interest of a passerby, so I can offer the flyer. I usually try out a few pitches, and see which works best. This morning, I started off with “Kriss for Assembly,” but his low name recognition in a little-covered race meant not many people connected. After a few more attempts, I found the most success with “don’t forget to vote,” and sometimes “Democrat or independent?” When I ran out of Kriss Worthington materials, I moved on to handing out flyers against California Proposition 98). Selling that was much easier, since it’s a well-publicized statewide issue. I was most successful with “remember to vote / no on 98” (occasionally customizing the pitch to insert keywords I thought might be of interest, e.g. mentioning tenant rights to college students).
  3. Help the customer understand what you’re offering
    Once I’ve gotten someone’s attention, I have maybe a second or two to convince him or her to take the piece of paper I’m handing out. I try to hold the leaflet out at mid-chest height, angled so that readers can easily see what they’re being offered, and placed within a foot or two of their walking path so they can easily grab the copy being offered. This is tricky, but incredibly important. Unless they happened to connect very strongly with your pitch, most passersby won’t make very much of an effort to take your flyer; they need to be quickly reassured that it’s safe, useful, and easy to take.

Unsurprisingly, the marketing of leaflets has a lot of parallels with marketing our web business:

  1. Don’t automatically turn people off
    Running a web business, that means having a reasonable name and URL, and a fast-loading and non-overwhelming website.
  2. Make the pitch
    Since we buy short (95-character ) online text ads to publicize our site, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to deliver our message in a small space. We’ve tried out hundreds of variations of our ads against an umpteen number of real-life user searches, working with the ad tracking software to determine which pitches work best for each search keyword and audience segment.
  3. Help the customer understand what you’re offering
    As a web business, this means using design, branding, and instructional and trust copy to help convince users that the site’s a good fit—safe, useful, and easy to use.

Looking forward to seeing the California state primary election results come in tonight…

Update: The results are in:

  • WIN: California proposition 98, sneaky eminent domain reform which would kill tenant protection, lost (39%-61%)
  • WIN: California proposition 99, a clean eminent domain reform bill, won (62%-37%)
  • LOSS: Kriss Worthington, my preferred Democratic candidate for State Assembly, lost to Nancy Skinner (16%-47%, in a four-way race)

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