Lessons from Email Marketing: How Email Could Function Better in the Presidential Campaigns

Facing criticism, Presidential campaigners employ better email marketing techniques, but their emails are still not what everyone wants to read. Just another email to skip over–that’s what Presidential campaign emails invoke in the minds of consumers and potential voters. And as the latest emails from Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain will likely not be read, they can’t be doing any good for democracy.

While their recent actions have succeeded in improving the effectiveness of the sign-up process and email wording, campaigners have not fully tackled the motivational factor that is essential in successfully using email marketing services – a problem easily solved by examining techniques from the business community when constructing emails.

What’s in it for me?

What’s in it for me? Obama and Hillary’s most recent campaigns are ambiguous about this issue. The latest email message from Bill Clinton includes subject line: “Not big on quitting.” No subject is apparent in the line. Who is not big on quitting? Hillary? Bill? The email team? The supporters? Next, take the latest message from the Obama team: “What’s next.” Again there is no subject, nor is there an action in this line. Open the email and find the first appeals to action; “contribute by our midnight Monday deadline” and “check out these resources” by Bill Clinton and Obama, respectively.

Subject Line Lessons from eCommerce

Compare Obama’s and Clinton’s email marketing campaigns to that of an email marketing campaign from a market-leading retailer. Subject lines like “Tee Time: Buy 2 Save 20%” and “All The Dresses You Need For Spring” clearly affirm the benefit of clicking and viewing the email before email readers have seen any content. The first line employs two key verbs, “buy” and “save,” while the second line directly accosts the reader. A simple revision of the subject lines with a seller-buyer framework could deliver: “Deadline Ahead: Don’t Quit, Act Now” and “Everything You Should Know about Obama.” These subject lines create a sense of urgency and shift the locus of power from the sender to the recipients of the emails.

Campaign Content

Far from victorious on the subject lines front, Hillary’s camp has made significant changes in the body of their emails. In an attempt to generate easy-to-read, visually arresting messages, they utilize bold font every few lines to highlight main ideas in the paragraphs. They also showcase a bold-colored countdown clock with a yellow “Contribute Now” button link. Similarly, Obama’s email highlights information by categorizing it under 3 headings (The Basics, Organizing, and Fundraising).

Lamentably, emails from both sides lack visuals. Obama and Hillary rarely include photos in their emails, and McCain includes just a few small photos in his email banner. In contrast, retailers, internet providers and pizza joints alike have been utilizing large picture links to attract consumers. The picture link is standard practice today. Democratic nominees recognize that they need to modify their marketing strategy, however, and have started using email marketing software to offer campaign contributors sweepstakes prizes, such as a private meeting with Obama or Clinton. Unfortunately, these offers can be hard to find. For example, Obama sent an email with the subject “Deadline,” but the email described a drawing to win a dinner with Barack Obama himself, which was listed towards the bottom of the email.

Obama’s Email Success

Obama’s use of contribution incentives in his email marketing campaigns could explain why his email program ranks third on Email Data Source’s 2008 Email Brand Equity Ranking while McCain, who does not use such tactics, is not among the top 5 of that list. Other reasons may include the perceived lack of exigency in the emails or the news-like headlines in McCain’s subject lines.

Four years ago, pundits, bloggers and the general public declared that the Presidential campaigns lagged far behind the business, technology, and entertainment sectors in internet marketing practices. In this election, Presidential hopefuls have succeeded in closing the gap in the email race, but have not yet achieved parity.

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