Case Study: Innovation Ohio and Message Development

The Grow Progress Team

Summary: Innovation Ohio used Audience Understanding surveys to inspire their team to create more persuasive messages.

In early 2022, Innovation Ohio was looking for a new way to break through with voters.

They wanted to base their messages around new issues that were priorities to their partners or that seemed to have untapped persuasion potential. But as they developed and tested these new messages, Director of Policy Terra Goodnight felt like they were “shooting in the dark.” Senior Communications Strategist Nick Tuell echoed that, saying their Rapid Message Tests showed that their early messages “fell flat.”

They weren’t sure why these new messages weren’t working yet, so they’d make some guesses, make some tweaks, and run another round of tests. But that process wasn’t yielding better results.

We know that Democratic campaign staffers think very differently from the kinds of people that those campaigns aim to persuade. When crafting messages, our intuitions may be helpful, but we’re not generally able to surface the deeper motivations of persuadable voters without research specifically designed to do so.

In spring 2022, Grow Progress rolled out our Audience Understanding tool to help address this problem. It’s a qualitative survey tool that helps you understand what motivates the people you need to move so you can tailor your messages to fit their identities and the language they use.

Innovation Ohio solved their persuasion problem by launching Audience Understanding surveys on a range of issues, and using what they learned to craft new types of messages.

For instance, on the issue of renewable energy, it was especially valuable to understand people who said they “neither supported or opposed” policies that invest in renewable energy. Innovation Ohio learned about these people’s concerns and hesitations, the gaps in their knowledge, and their motivations.

Having done this, “the messages almost wrote themselves,” said Goodnight.

For example, in the Audience Understanding survey, they saw people raising concerns about the next generation. Goodnight also noted that in Ohio, “the fear of brain drain is extremely real and constantly on people’s minds.”

This finding inspired a message that focused on how renewable energy investments can help keep Ohio kids in the state when they grow up and look for jobs:

This particular message moved Ohioans 9 percentage points toward supporting candidates who support renewable energy production, and moved self-identified conservatives by 18 points.

For Innovation Ohio, this process was easy and repeatable, allowing them to get good results not only on renewable energy messaging, but also on the issues of crime and redistricting.

Terra Goodnight said using Audience Understanding surveys allowed them to “accomplish what we would normally accomplish with a focus group, but so much faster. You don’t have people no-showing at the last minute, and it didn’t cost forty grand or sixty grand. But it surfaces things that you just won’t get out of a poll.”