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

Submitted by admin on Thu, 02/11/2010 - 09:50

Facing criticism, Presidential hopefuls practice better email marketing strategies. But their emails are still not what everyone wants to read.

Austin, Texas (PRWEB) March 28, 2008 — I don't need to read this now. That's what I find myself thinking as I spot an email from a Presidential hopeful in my inbox. After all, it's just another email I'll skip over as I'm browsing my messages over morning latte before I leave for the office. And as the email will likely not be read, it can't be good for business.

After email savants like Brent Rosengren ("Why the presidential candidates flunked the email test") denounced the candidates' email practices, and after Obama suffered a hit from anti-spammers signing up fake email addresses, Presidential campaigners took notice. They began to fix some problems–complicated email sign-up forms, no "double opt-in" (a.k.a. sign-up confirmation), obscure subject lines, long messages, missing forward links, and the like.

But while their efforts succeeded in improving the effectiveness of the sign-up process and email content, they have not yet fully addressed the motivational factor that is crucial in email marketing strategy. And the truth is that campaigners can stand to benefit from applying a number of techniques from the business world when formatting their emails.

What's in it for me? After reading the latest emails from Obama and Hillary, I'm not sure. Take the latest email from Bill Clinton with its subject line: "Not big on quitting." First of all, there is no subject performing an action in this subject line. Who is not big on quitting? Hillary? Bill? The email team? The supporters? And more importantly, why should I care? Next, take the latest message from the Obama team: "What's next." Again there is no subject, nor is there even an action in this line. Once we click on the email we are finally called to action: to "contribute by our midnight Monday deadline" and to "check out these resources" by Bill Clinton and Obama, respectively.

Now compare Obama's and Clinton's emails to a couple of emails from a market-leading lingerie brand that I actually will click on immediately. Subject lines like "Tee Time: Buy 2 Save 20%" and "All The Dresses You Need For Spring" clearly state the advantage of clicking and reading the email before email users have read any content. The first line uses two key verbs, "buy" and "save," while the second line directly addresses the consumer.

Consider a simple rewrite of the subject lines with a seller-buyer framework in mind: "Deadline Ahead: Don't Quit, Act Now" and "Everything You Should Know about Obama." These subject lines create a sense of urgency and also shift the locus of power from the sender to the recipients of the message–cornerstones of effective communication skills.

After drawing readers into the email with active subject lines, email writers will want to hold readers' attention as the recipients scan the message by creating easy-to-read, visually stimulating content. Hillary's email does this by using bold font every few lines to underscore main ideas in the paragraphs. It also features 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), but with a missing countdown clock, muted colors and small logo and text Obama's email seems stark. It is also cluttered with text URLs that direct the viewer to the official campaign site.

>What neither email does is offer any compelling visuals. When I click on an email campaign from a lingerie brand, a high speed internet provider, or even from a sub par pizza joint, however, a large picture link captures my focus. The picture link is pretty standard these days. Imagine how much more powerful the text would be when combined with a recent photo of Hillary declaring her intention to stay in the race to the press, or a slideshow of Obama on the campaign trail. A daily photo could be an added hook used to draw viewers into the email newsletter. In contrast, McCain offers a few photos in his email banner, but they are quite small and do not immediately capture the eye.

Something that the Democratic competitors have started is offering sweepstakes prizes in the form of private meetings with the Obama or Hillary for campaign contributors–a kind of backstage pass–but these offers could be better marketed. For example, Obama sent an email with the subject "Deadline," but the real hook was the drawing to win a dinner with Barack, which was mentioned towards the bottom of the email and almost lost in the block of text.

But at least Obama gives incentive to donate. I have not heard of any McCain special offers thus far. Lack of special offers may be one reason why McCain ranks out of the top 5 in Email Data Source's 2008 Email Brand Equity Rankings (with #1 being Hillary Clinton). Other factors may include the perceived lack of imperativeness in the emails or the lackluster 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 they have yet to perfect their messages. Perhaps they can take some cues from a campaign email that they literally can't compete with–from Rosemary Lehmberg (for Travis County District Attorney). It features ample white space, a large custom designed logo, large "Contribute," "Volunteer," and "Forward" button links, bright green border, an easily findable RSVP link to election results party and an urgent subject line ("Last Week Activities"). The fact that Lehmberg used a small business email marketing provider like VerticalResponse to create an effective message emphasizes the ultimate email lesson to Presidential campaigners: It's not about what you've got to say, but about how you choose to say it. And with email and the internet they'll need more than only words.

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