No matter who you’re voting for, we can agree that our country’s remaining presidential candidates could not be more different. Despite their vastly different philosophies, they all have the same goals: To reach out to Americans and persuade them to vote for them, and also to drive donations or volunteer sign-ups for their campaigns.
While sharing the same goals, the candidates’ UX strategies differ greatly regarding content, calls to action, and pricing strategy. Though we don’t have access to their data (wouldn’t that just be fascinating?), we expect conversion rates have differed greatly as well.
For example, Senator Bernie Sanders has received a higher number of donations than any other politician in a presidential campaign, but Hillary Clinton has almost $100 million more in donations than Sanders. Meanwhile, Sanders has more than $100 million more in donations than Donald Trump, according to data gathered by Forbes.
Could this possibly be a result of UX deficiency or supremacy? What differences and similarities do their three websites have? Are there any roadblocks that restrict conversions? Do the websites follow a similar design and focus on the same UX strategies?
Diving into these questions can help us learn about the user experience of donations and encourage loyalty and support through design, not just for presidential campaigns, but perhaps for our own products and brands, too.
Here’s what we’ve observed.
Branding & Content Strategy
Branding and content have a lot to do with a user experience that really tackles objectives. Human beings crave stories, and we depend on them to understand complex subjects (such as politics!) and we want to be able to relate to what is being said and how it is being presented – enter branding.
Just like any product, presidential candidates are paying close attention to both their brand and their content when it comes to winning over voters’ support. Let’s start with branding.
Patriotism in Color
All three candidates utilize the patriotic red, white and blue — because, duh, why wouldn’t they? However, their color palettes differ slightly.
As the Republican nominee, Trump utilizes a dark red and navy blue, perhaps appealing to more traditional and conservative voters.
Meanwhile, the democratic candidates have both opted for a brighter palette. Clinton’s colors are a slightly brighter red with sky blue and navy, slightly more conservative than Sanders’ salmon/coral pink, blue and bright green. The further from the customary red and blue the colors go could be symbolic of the departure from tradition and represent a more “rebellious” candidate (Sanders is, after all, trying to “start a political revolution,” according to his site). The utilization of these brighter palettes gives the pages more energy, which may appeal to a more youthful audience.
From a strategy standpoint, it makes sense that both Sanders and Clinton would be targeting younger voters online. According to Gallup data, 53 percent of voters between the ages of 18 – 29 vote Democratic, versus 35 percent Republican.
Utilizing the Persuasive Triangle
In terms of the content that each candidate has included on their websites, it’s pretty clear that they are invoking the power of the persuasive triangle, appealing to ethos, pathos and logos:
- Ethos is an appeal to ethics, convincing a person of the character and credibility of the candidate
- Logos appeals to logic, utilizing statistics and data to prove that the candidate or their position is better than the rest
- Pathos is a strong appeal to emotions. This is huuuuge for a presidential campaign — if you can get a voter to feel and relate to your political positions, you can sway their vote
Let’s look at some of the ways each candidate is utilizing these three pillars of persuasive rhetoric.
All three candidates establish their credibility and character by telling their personal stories and backgrounds, as well as discussing their stands on common issues affecting the American public. However, both Trump and Sanders have utilized video to take it a step further. Rather than depend on content to convey their credibility, Trump and Sanders have created videos of themselves explaining their positions on issues.
This can be powerful for creating a connection with voters. When we watch others talk, such as in face-to-face conversation, our brains work differently. It triggers our mirror neurons, which actually makes us mimic (sub-consciously) the other person’s posture and expression. This may not be an actual conversation, but the effects are similar, making the persuasiveness of watching these videos more profound than reading the messages.
Positioning a candidate’s solutions as the best there is requires the use of statistics and data to demonstrate this and appeal to the logic of voters. All three candidates do this effectively when explaining their positions; however, while Trump’s positioning pages (versus his issue videos) are solid blocks of text with some bullets and subheads to help with readability, both democratic candidates have taken a more visual route.
Sanders’ position pages lean heavily on data visualization to help in the storytelling of the issue and his solutions. Studies have shown that the design of graphs and charts can have a significant impact on the way that someone perceives the data. In other words, visualization of data can be incredibly persuasive.
The emotional brain is also greatly affected by images, especially of other people and their stories.That’s why when you couple data with an emotional story (mixing ethos with pathos), you can actually multiply its effectiveness.
Both Sanders and Clinton utilize emotion alongside their data. Clinton has decided to tell the stories of Americans touched by the issues she’s campaigning on. They speak about how their lives have been affected by, let’s say, student debt or Alzheimer’s disease (two issues of her campaign) while statistics and data pop up on the screen. Sanders’ site has a statement alongside each graph — many of them interpret the numbers being shown and utilize powerful phrases such as “there is something profoundly wrong” to bring gravity to the data being shown. This juxtaposition of logic and emotion can give new meaning to the numbers and help people connect to it in a different way.
Emotion greatly influences how we make our decisions. Candidates know this and have done a fantastic job (all three) of pulling those triggers. Just take a look at their campaign slogans. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign pulls at the strings of discontent and fear among the American public — saying something needs to be made great again implies that it is no longer what it used to be. Clinton’s positioning, “Love trumps hate,” is also a strong emotional pull appealing to those looking for positivity in politics. Sanders takes a slightly different approach, however, and doesn’t exactly have his slogan on his website. Instead, he’s appealing to the individual with “This is your movement” on his homepage. He speaks directly to the individual, most likely in a move to empower voters.
Takeaways: In order to truly capture your audience, you need to really understand them. Create personas for your ideal customer segments and dive into their motivations, desires, fears and triggers. Know what they are looking for in your product and communicate that utilizing logic, credibility and emotion.
Conversion Rate Optimization
All that persuasive rhetoric is, of course, in service of getting voters to take action. On the candidate’s website, this is typically two main requests: donate or volunteer. There is a lot that goes into optimizing UX, including priming a user for an action and then providing triggers to get them to do what you want them to do. But there are a couple strategies that all three candidates have utilized in different ways that could possibly have huge effects:
Call to action buttons are step one in enticing web visitors to click. Both color and wording have an effect on click-through rate:
Color: Interestingly, all three candidates utilize red for at least some of their CTA buttons. However, Sanders departs from this with green CTA buttons interspersed on his site. This could simply be a design choice to avoid putting red on blue (which is a big no-no) or did his team do it on purpose? Well, if you read studies on colors and their effect on conversion, you may think otherwise. While there are no best colors for conversion, some studies suggest that red is better than green for buttons.
However, in one marketing experiment, Heinz Ketchup changed their iconic red to green and sold more than 10 million bottles in the first 7 months. So, is click-through influenced completely by color? Nope. It’s more about the color helping the button pop from the page more than it is about that specific color. On all three sites, the CTA buttons certainly do pop. It could be argued that the green button pops even more because it’s unexpected, just like a green Heinz label.
Wording: The other factor in clicks is the wording of the button. “Join us,” “Donate” and “Contribute” are all used by the candidates in one place or another. As Buffer suggests, a single word can change everything. “Join us” versus “Sign up” can be the difference between fellowship and enlisting. But that makes us wonder what made Clinton’s team decide to use “Next” for their CTA buttons in their Donate and Join sections on the homepage. A study from HubSpot found that buttons with words like “submit” or “download” (boring action words) had fewer conversions. Utilizing action words that mean something to the visitor can help increase click-throughs.
When you look at all three candidates’ donation forms, it’s clear that all have different strategies here. Trump’s donations begin at $10 and go up to $2,700, the most that a single person can (legally) give in an election, and has a one-step form. Clinton and Sanders use a multi-step form, but Clinton begins her donations as low as $3 and tops out at $250 while Sanders’ option begin at $15 and go up to $1,000. Interestingly, though, all three candidates have seven pre-set options with an “other” fill-in option as well.
What possible explanation could there be for these differences?
Price Anchoring: Trump is utilizing price anchoring to encourage higher donations. On a “pay what you can” system such as donating to a candidate, showing suggested prices can encourage people to actually pay more. Offering voters higher options for donations gives them a frame of reference. In effect, when you see $100 compared to the $2,700 option, you may think, “Hey, that’s not that much. I can afford to give $100.”
Power of suggestion: Okay, so this isn’t exactly a pricing strategy, per se, but it does have a lot to do with how voters decide what to donate. Sanders does this by letting voters know that the average contribution to his campaign is $27. By doing this, he all but guarantees that he’s going to get at least $27 (an actual pre-set option) or more. Humans hate to think about options, so suggesting a donation helps us make a decision much faster and without thinking much.
Focusing on Non-Monetary Conversion: Some analysts have suggested that Clinton set her donation bar low because it is less important to her campaign that she receives money, and more important that she receives contact information. By keeping her donation options low, she’s hoping to encourage more people to submit their information so she can call on them when the time comes to vote, volunteer or spread the word.
Takeaways: There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to conversion rate optimization. The first thing to keep in mind is to eliminate the need for users to think and make it easier to click by making CTAs stand out. Pay attention to your button copy, as well. This can have a huge effect on your conversion rate. Action words that describe what the user will get versus what they need to do is typically more effective. When you finally do get the customer into your check-out page, keep it as simple for them as possible. Doesn’t mean you have to keep it a one-stop form, as Obama’s campaign proved in 2008. Sometimes showing people a steady incline is better than facing down a huge hill; however, pricing does matter. A/B test some options to find the right pricing strategy for your business.
All the candidates’ websites are responsive and mobile-friendly. Mobile sites are critical to the candidates’ success since more Google searches are performed on mobile devices in our country.
All of the mobile-friendly necessities are covered: Each site has a call to action above the fold, plenty of touch-friendly call-to-action buttons throughout the site and navigation menus that help the visitors jump from page to page. All of the home pages have the same content and basic layout as their homepages seen on a desktop computer.
However, Clinton seemed to adopt a simplified donation process for mobile devices. The donation form on Hilary’s site changes to a one-step form from multi-step, making it much easier and quicker to donate on a mobile device.
Both Sanders and Trump also invite voters to get mobile or text updates, taking content from desktop and straight to their cell phones. This is a smart strategy for activating audiences and gaining more direct access to supporters, circumventing the over-crowded email inbox or waiting for them to revisit their website.
Connect With Users to Increase Conversions
Good user experience really comes down to one thing: The user. When we focus on creating an experience that the user can easily understand and connect with, then our goals will quickly be met.
Likewise, the presidential hopefuls in this election have assembled websites that aim to persuade and convert voters to supporting their cause. By focusing on their content strategy and finding ways to relate to their voters, and then by increasing conversions with well-thought-out CTAs and pricing strategies, candidates are effectively utilizing UX techniques to drive their campaign forward.
We can learn a lot from the techniques they’ve decided to use. If we applied the same level of strategy to our own marketing and product sites, perhaps we can accomplish our goals too.