A Death Sentence for a Dying Punishment

A jury sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death today, but by the time all his appeals have been exhausted American attitudes toward the death penalty may have shift to opposition.

A jury sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death today, but by the time all his appeals have been exhausted American attitudes toward the death penalty may have shift to opposition.

A  jury today sentenced convicted Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the death penalty, as support among Americans for the death penalty is declining, but still the majority view.

Pew Research conducted a poll in April that found 56 percent of Americans support the death penalty and 38 percent oppose it. In 1995, 78 percent of Americans favored the death penalty, but support has sharply declined ever since. Opposition to the death penalty bottomed out in 1995 at 18 percent and has steadily climbed.

The Pew poll indicated only 40 percent of Democrats support the death penalty, compared to 77 percent of Republicans.

Viewpoints among racial groups vary widely. Sixty-three percent of whites favor the death penalty, contrasted to 34 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Hispanics. Seventy-seven percent of blacks say minorities are more likely to receive death sentences for similar crimes committed by whites. Whites are evenly divided on the issue of disproportionate death sentences.

Attitudes about the death penalty vary widely between supporters and opponents. For example, 90 percent of those who favor the death penalty view it as morally justified, while only 26 percent of opponents agree it is morally justified. Forty-two percent of supporters believe minorities are more likely to be sentenced to death, while 68 percent of opponents hold that belief.

Interestingly, 49 percent of death penalty supporters doubt it as a deterrent to crime; 78 percent of opponents share that doubt. Sixty-three percent of supporters and 84 percent of opponents acknowledge "some risk of putting innocent people to death."

Data shows death row executions peaked in 1999 and have fallen since then. Six states have abolished the death penalty since 2004. By far and away, the largest percentage of executions occur in Southern states.

Another factor influencing views about the death penalty is how long appeals take, leaving people on death rows for decades. Critics of the death penalty have pointed to the extra judicial and incarceration costs posed by death sentences.

The Boston jury's verdict today won't be the last word on Tsarnaev's death sentence, which could take years to unfold. By then, support for the death penalty may have eroded even further.

Turning Content into Marketing

Measurement is what makes content generation marketing, but you need to look at a wider range of measures than customer conversations.

Measurement is what makes content generation marketing, but you need to look at a wider range of measures than customer conversations.

Generating great content and providing people with a GPS tracker to find it is only part of a successful content marketing strategy. The final piece is measuring whether the content has value to viewers.

Conversion rates measure when a viewer becomes a buyer and can inform you about the cost of customer acquisition. Testing for a budding consumer relationship requires other tools.

Content marketing without measurement isn't a strategy. But not measuring a range of values for content marketing may result in missed opportunities.

For example, content that is shared is a measure of that content's value in the eyes of a viewer. Sharing content isn't the same as buying a product, but it is a major clue about value and usefulness of information. On social media platforms, shares afford opportunities to ask why shared information is of value – or, better yet, to see the reaction of people who receive the content and comment.

This kind of measurement may get a snarky comment from Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank, but it is a rich stream of frontline consumer feedback.  They are voting with their clicks on whether content is worth viewing and sharing.

Younger viewers, who constantly look for free, may be willing to give their email in return for content they find of interest. The exchange is its own message, but the greater opportunity is to use collected addresses as a sounding board to test and refine your content marketing menu.

Comments in response to your content provide a top-of-head reaction, which can reveal a lot about first impressions  from how your content is packaged and illustrated to whether it is useful and relevant. In this regards, comments are like an open-ended focus group where tone and inflection matter as much as the vocabulary of what is said.

Great artists may afford themselves the luxury of producing masterpieces and then launching them into the universe. Content marketers don't have that luxury. They need to know as much as possible about their target audience to inform content generation, make sure that content is viewed and measure whether it hits the mark. 

Failing to measure your content's value and relevance is as pointless as writing copy for a newspaper you never publish. Measurement is what turns content generation into marketing.

Rising Tide of Digital Political Campaigning

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

Just as companies are discovering how to capitalize on their databases, digital strategists are using similar techniques to zero in on voters with targeted online advertising and engagement.

A recent Reuters article predicted political candidates could spend as much as $1 billion for online advertising and engagement in the 2016 election, using more sophisticated techniques than the Obama campaign employed in 2012.

While Obama's team lapped the field in 2012, Republican and Democratic operatives are playing on a more level field heading into next year's election in scouring publicly available data to find hooks for directed appeals. The Reuters story noted that targeting has reached the point where a campaign seeking to reach environmentalists could identify registered voters who had typed Toyota Prius into a Google search.

No one says digital outreach will outstrip television advertising, which remains the surest way to deliver a message to a wide audience. But broadcast media is increasingly segmented. Few ads run during major sporting events because they are expensive and there are too many eyeballs watching that belong to people who aren't registered voters. You can waste a wad of money without a smart, targeted media buy plan.

However, when the airwaves are clogged with political ads – the $1 billion digital estimate is less than 10 percent of total projected political advertising in 2016 – you need other options. Digital outreach, both in the form of targeted ads and social media engagement, can be a less expensive way to reach critical segments of voters.

The handful of boutique firms that specialize in digital political advertising aren't eager to share their special sauce. But it isn't rocket science. They are leveraging mounds of information contained in databases to laser in on target voters. This allows campaign message managers to use customized messaging for various voter groups.

Targeting has reached the point where families in a neighborhood may be watching the same TV show, but see totally different political ads based on their demographic and voting characteristics. That is greatly more refined and granular than having Republican candidates advertise on Fox and Democrats on MSNBC.

Digital outreach also affords opportunities for interactions, which can be a key to converting a contact into a contributor. Both political parties have learned the ropes of competing for PAC, SuperPac and dark money contributions and will need a swatch of online contributors to demonstrate they have broad support, not just a few rich patrons.

While digital campaigning has come out of the shadows, its practitioners aren't sharing all their newly developed tricks. Those won't become apparent until the campaigns are more fully underway. Other than Hillary Clinton, most of the presidential candidates who have thrown their hats into the ring are fighting to gain name familiarity ratings in double digits. They are trying to reach anybody they can.

Going with More than Your Gut

Following your gut instincts is like flying blind when it comes to strategic communications. Research is what makes communications strategic.

Following your gut instincts is like flying blind when it comes to strategic communications. Research is what makes communications strategic.

Many advise to "go with your gut." But when you are preparing to spend millions of dollars on a communications campaign, you want to base your decisions on more than a gut instinct.

Strategic communications isn't strategic unless it is based on solid research. Test those gut instincts and see how they play with the audience you are trying to reach. You may be right. But if you aren't, you have avoided wasting a lot of money, effort and even goodwill.

Research involves a lot more than "testing the winds." That notion trivializes the careful research steps on which successful marketing campaigns are based. What message is most persuasive? Is that message believable? Where will your target audience listen to your message? Who is the best spokesperson for your message?

These aren't the kinds of questions your gut is trained to answer.

Qualitative research can help to refine messages once you have determined the best ones to use. Testing images and phrases can reveal whether what you mean to say comes across to those you want to reach. Often, research suggests different phrasing or use of other images that resonate better with your target audience. The difference can be an ad that works versus one that flops.

Men and women who dream up creative ads often chafe at research that shows their work products miss the mark with the intended audience. Sometimes the people who pay for the ads fall in love with an idea that doesn't connect. They are thinking with their guts, not their heads.

Research is not antithetical to creativity. It just ensures what is creative to the creator is meaningful to the person on the other end of the ad.

When it comes to assessing return on investment, spending  little bit on research can earn dividends by making sure that a bright idea is actually an effective idea. The difference can be measured at the cash register.

If You Didn't Live Here, You Might Not Retire Here

Oregon has spectacular mountains and a beautiful coastline, but a new study says it also has a high cost-of-living, high taxes and a lot of rain that may deter retirees from settling here.

Oregon has spectacular mountains and a beautiful coastline, but a new study says it also has a high cost-of-living, high taxes and a lot of rain that may deter retirees from settling here.

Data shows Oregon may not be the greatest place to retire. Florida ranks higher because it offers a lot of sun. South Dakota ranks higher because it has a relatively modest cost of living, a low tax rate, safe streets and an above-average health care system.

The "Best and Worst Places to Retire in 2015," compiled by Bankrate, lists Oregon as the 10th worst roost for retirees. Here is what the report says:

"Oregon is one of the happier states in the country, and it's easy to see why. Residents of this Pacific Northwest state have the ocean, forest and craft beer at their fingertips. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks community well-being around the country, gave Oregon an above-average rating for people who were retirement age.

"Unfortunately, Oregon can be tough on a lot of people who live on a fixed income. The state has the seventh-highest cost of living in the nation, according to retail statistics from the Council for Community and Economic Research. In Portland, for example, apartments charge more than double the national average rent at $2,196 per month, according to Council for Community and Economic Research's 2014 report. A trip to the doctor was 27.7 percent higher than average, and gasoline was 11.7 percent above the national average.

"Oregon also has high taxes. The Tax Foundation estimates its state and local tax burden at 10.1 percent, which is above the national average of 9.8 percent.

"And, the state received poor scores for its weather. Sunny days are rare in Portland, for example."

The bottom 10 places to retire includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, New Jersey and Alaska. It also includes Hawaii and New York. It may not be the kind of company Oregonians want to keep.

Bankrate says it based its ranking on publicly available data and gave more weight to some factors based on survey research to find out what mattered most to people considering a move in retirement. It notes that 60 percent of senior citizens express a desire to move when they retire.

"Consider our list a starting point in a conversation about where to find the perfect place," Bankrate says. "It'll show you the relevant statistics you ought to consider before making a decision."

It also cautions that the study doesn't take into account personal factors such as remaining close to family and friends, "even if that means moving to a low-ranking state."

Don’t Play Bond Measure Roulette

Don't Play Bond Measure Roulette

Know where voters stand before sending a bond measure to the poll.

More local governments are thinking about running bond measures to pay for improvements to roads and buildings or for new construction now that the economy has improved, new jobs created are up and unemployment rates have declined.

However, just because people are going back to work and are a little more optimistic doesn’t mean voters will approve funding measures proposed by school districts, cities, counties and transportation departments.

Taxing districts should consider using surveys to find answers to four basic questions before approving a bond proposal for voter consideration.

What is the reputation of the district or local government?

Districts and local governments that have good reputations for getting results and managing tax dollars are more likely to gain voter support for funding measures. Don’t send a funding measure to the polls if voters don’t trust the district. It is a recipe for failure.

What is the level of support for the measure?

The elephant in the room is, will voters support the funding measure or not. But that information is easy to find out, ask them. Design a question that is similar to wording voters will see on the ballot. Include the dollar amount. Don’t make arguments for or against the measure in the question. A bond measure has a good chance of winning if support in the survey is 10 points higher than the majority needed to pass the measure.

How will the new projects or facilities benefit the community?

Voters want to know how projects will solve problems and benefit the community. More precisely, voters want to know, “What is in it for me?” Test eight to 10 benefits that will result from funding approval and choose the two or three that are most likely to increase and maintain support for use in communication about the measure.

Who supports the measure?

All measures need a base of support to pass. It is parents for school districts, riders for pubic transportation and commuters for road improvements. A measure won’t pass if there is no strong support for it among one or two key demographic groups.

Knowing the lay of the political landscape is critical to the success of funding measures. Surveys help decision-makers create a road map for success or determine if it is better to wait and ask for funding at a later date.