State of the GOP Candidates' Email Campaigns
How do the GOP candidates’ email programs compare with classic B2B and B2C email marketing?
I've been studying the email habits of the Republican candidates for president as they campaign for votes and money on the road to the Republican National Convention in August, and overall they are doing reasonably well.
Here are some specifics:
Opt-in program. Savvy email marketers know that a good opt-in experience starts the email relationship off right. I'm a big fan of the welcome message, but only the Michele Bachmann campaign sent one, and she dropped out of the race just as I was beginning my study. Interestingly, two of the candidates -- Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich -- used a double opt-in approach.
Program emails began arriving one to five days after opt-in, although my first Ron Paul broadcast email came 33 days later. Only the Bachmann campaign directed new subscribers into a preference center right after opt-in.
Design/rendering. The Mitt Romney campaign sends sleek, uncluttered messages, while the Paul campaign's text-intensive emails look and read like long-form sales letters.
I didn't encounter any problems viewing key content on different platforms (PC, tablet or smartphone) or with images disabled, although the big red "Donate" button every campaign uses doesn't show up without enabling images. The campaigns should use a bulletproof button that renders even with images disabled.
Beyond the use of “Donate” buttons, none of the emails were optimized for touch screens.
Inbox presence. All the campaigns used a variety of “from” names, sometimes the candidate’s name but most often from someone you’ve never heard of, such as a campaign manager.
Many of the candidates frequently use short, cryptic subject lines, such as “Pathetic,” “Plus One,” “Surprised,” “Resonating,” "Prove it," and "Expectations."
Several of the campaigns have also used (though not recently) what I contend are questionable “gimmicks” to grab the reader’s attention, including “re:” and “Fw:” or “Fwd:” and the use of all lower-case words.
Content/Call to Action (CTA)
If "Buy Now" is the most common B2C call to action, "Donate now" is the candidates’ equivalent. However, candidates use creative ways to wrap fresh content around the same CTA.
The Rick Santorum campaign uses current events and storytelling to underscore each fund appeal. This example came within hours of the first polls closing on the 10-state-primary Super Tuesday election this week:
"I just finished speaking here in Steubenville and wanted to send this email to you because you are such a critical part of our campaign. ...
"While we wait for the vote to come in I need you to help our campaign with an immediate donation of $10, $25, $50, $100 or more to help us build on our momentum and hit the ground running tomorrow morning." (Underscored words linked to a website donation form.)
Segmentation/Targeting. Only the Romney and Paul campaigns, which require ZIP codes at opt-in, use that data for basic geo-targeting.
Romney sent California subscribers an email asking them to volunteer at the nearby Nevada Caucus in February. Paul's campaign did a deeper data dive by segmenting by ZIP code and personalizing emails by subscriber name and location: "<Name>, I need the help of <number> Patriots in <city>".
However, no one collects enough data, through preference centers, forms or surveys, to deploy more sophisticated programs.
Social media integration. Almost every B2C email I see, and a growing number of B2B emails, include icons to promote sharing to social networks, invitations to connect via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, etc.
While the Santorum campaign offers Facebook Connect to opt in for emails, only the Romney and Santorum campaigns promote their social networks in their emails. However, neither one uses social sharing in email.
What's unique about the email practices of the four remaining candidates?
1. Romney: most professional. Romney emails are the most polished and sophisticated, with a clean design, short text and creative calls to action (buy campaign swag, win a meeting with Mitt, etc.). The only thing missing is Romney's own face and voice, because most messages come from staffers.
2. Ron Paul: most loquacious. Paul's emails are, on average, several hundred words longer than his rivals'. He also uses first-name personalization and does some subject-line testing.
3. Rick Santorum: most current. Santorum's campaign capitalizes on current events most often and frequently incorporates video (screenshot with link to Website), either to promote the candidate or attack his rivals.
4. Newt Gingrich: most invisible. Has Gingrich's campaign abandoned email? I've received no Gingrich campaign emails since Jan. 16 at any of the email addresses used for this study.
Have you subscribed to any of the candidate’s emails? Please share your own thoughts on how they compare to other email marketing programs.