Grading the Presidential Email Campaigns (Spoiler: Everybody Flunks)

Cross-posted on techPresident

Marketer Brent Rosengren has embarked on a journey through the wilds of presidential email campaigns, using commercial email marketing standards and practices as a standard, and guess what: ALL of the top-level campaigns fail the test. Each of them makes critical mistakes that limit the effectiveness of their mass emails, their primary means of communicating with steady supporters and converting them into donors and activists.

Email is a behind-the-scenes medium, so political marketers may not be aware of how much effort goes into testing and measuring email marketing techniques in the commercial world. Businesspeople pay attention to email for the simple reason that it works: as Rosengren notes, “When compared to the ROI of mass media advertising, email continues to dominate; for every dollar spent on email marketing, marketers can expect an estimated $48.29 return.” From the signup process to subject lines to message content and landing pages, political email marketers can and should learn from the tools and tactics of our colleagues in the business world.

So what mistakes are Obama, McCain, Clinton, Huckabee and friends making? Some are ludicrous — most campaigns didn’t even include forward-to-a-friend link in their messages, something that comes standard on most email marketing software packages. Other campaigns had cumbersome sign-up processes, weak subject lines and overly long messages that buried the ask, problems that user-testing and statistical analysis should be able to correct (i.e., segment your list, run several different subject lines and see which ones work best, something that nonprofit fundraisers and advocacy experts have been doing for years). What’s sobering about Rosengren’s analysis is how elemental many of the mistakes are, but that also means that they should be relatively easy to correct. If his piece only whets your appetite for good mass mail practices, check out the Online Politics 101 chapter on managing email advocacy.

Update: according to An Experienced Political Mass-mailer I chatted with last night, leaving off the forward-to-a-friend link may have been intentional, since every extra link in an email will pull some people away from the action you really want them to take. So, if you’re solely trying to raise money, that forward-to-a-friend link may be counterproductive.


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Colin Delany
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