Email marketing for political campaigns
Email marketing, is just a way of saying that the emails are being sent in bulk, not individually.
Also if you're too lazy to read our full explainer below, check out the video which explains it all!
Almost every political campaign uses email at some point or another to communicate with voters. Given how ubiquitous it is and its potential to affect an election outcome, it is always surprising at how badly political campaign software and email marketing is done. In this piece, we will take a look at the topic and give you the tips you need to make your outbox your best weapon.
As long as we’ve been sending emails, people have been saying that ‘email is dead’, people don’t open emails, it gives a negative impression, words are just so last century, etc etc. Well, the reality is that email isn’t going anywhere and works well in tandem with other digital strategies and strategies like relational organizing. It continues to be a mainstay of campaign communication for three reasons.
Once you get set up it’s as easy to send 10,000 emails as it is to send 10.
You can send almost anything by email. Images, links, embedded videos, and call-to-action buttons can all be sent and emails can be styled with a variety of template designs.
Despite its detractor's, email does work. Open rates of 1 in 4 or 1 in 10 might sound unimpressive but if you are sending thousands of emails, that is still a huge number of people that are getting a direct communication from you. It is also far easier to track open rates and click rates than on social media so you have an effective analytics stream.
Measuring Email Open Rates
So, do they work? Yes, and that is why so many campaigns continue to use them.
How do I know if mine work? Email tracking metrics:
Ok, so tracking email metrics is essential for your political campaign if you want to learn from your voters based on their behavior. Here are some of the tracking metrics you might want to use:
Open rate - If less than 10% of delivered emails are being opened (you will see these metrics as standard in most email blast software by the way) then you are doing something wrong. 25-50% open rate is very respectable.
Click rate - If you have links embedded in your email to click (again this is tracked as standard) then you should be aiming for circa 3% or higher click-through rate (CTA).
Unsubscribe rate : This is a really important metric. If more than 5% of emails delivered result in people unsubscribing from the email list then you have an issue. Either you are sending the incorrect material to them or you did not get correct permission from them to be sending emails. High unsubscribe rates on an ongoing basis will negatively affect your ability to send emails or result in you being blacklisted by email software providers so take this very seriously.
Tracking code in Google Analytics: If you have a web property like a website that you want people to visit after receiving an email from you then you will want to track how many people actually do that…..and what they do when they get there. Install Google Analytics tracking code on your website (it’s probably already there - most web developers would install it as standard). Once you have that installed you can simply connect it to your email software system and then you will be able to see in Google Analytics’ dashboard how many website visitors came because of your email. Pretty cool eh?
Anything on your website can be tracked as a ‘Goal’ in Google Analytics, things like visiting a specific page, making a donation, or signing up to volunteer on your campaign. Tracking these actions back to a specific email you sent will give you a great understanding of how effective your emails are and also how to design future emails.
Political campaign email marketing is like research science. You do not get it perfect the first time (maybe you never do), it is through trial and error and lots of testing that you find what types of emails work for which voter segments.
A great way to get out ahead with this is to do some competitor research in the beginning. Sign up for newsletters from your competitors (discreetly) or from similar industries to see what types of emails they send.
Things to note might be:
Email subject lines - which would you be most inclined to open?
Frequency of emails, daily, weekly, monthly?
Content of the emails
How specific they are to you - this indicates the level of targeting being done by the sender
Offers were made, links and look-and-feel generally.
What email software to use?
There is no shortage of email marketing software that you can use. If you are sending less than 100 emails a week to voters then you might be better to continue using your regular email providers like Gmail or Outlook. If you are sending more than 100 per week then you will want to start using software like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or choose from any of the multitudes of options available now. Using these products is usually free up to a certain number of contacts in your database (2000 in the case of MailChimp). Email marketing software is great for managing your database of contacts, giving you email send analytics like Open Rates, or Click Rates. And they are excellent for structuring your obligations under CAN-SPAM legislation to manage Unsubscribes and qualify emails to see if they have been legitimately captured.
Finally, you may want to use an email marketing tool that is connected directly to your voter database. Softwares like our own, Ecanvasser or NationBuilder have email functionality that allows you to send targeted emails to segments of your voter universe that have been created in response to survey responses, voting history, party affiliation, and demographic data. The advantage of this is that you can communicate more efficiently with voters while in the thick of campaigning without having to export and import to another software system.
Political email strategy
We get asked about campaign email strategies all the time and the reality is that it boils down to one of two approaches. When sending political emails you are either involved in a persuasion campaign or you are involved in an information campaign. It is common for both of these types of campaigns to be run within the duration of a campaign, if not even concurrently. Let’s take a look at each.
Firstly, a persuasion email campaign is about convincing a voter segment of a particular position or message. Persuasion campaigns tend to be more of a harder sell, clearly setting out a stall with arguments and reasons to be convinced. They also tend to be action-oriented, with direct ‘asks’ of the recipient like a donation request or a vote request. While persuasion campaigns can be very effective in getting a response, they do risk putting people off if those people are not interested in giving a response.
For that reason, information campaigns are used more widely by politicians who are chasing engagement with voters. Information campaigns are simply about giving useful information to voters, things of relevance to their local area, issues they are concerned about, or just updates on the campaign. Using a softly-softly approach information emails build trust with voters that the content of the email is relevant and worth opening. Having good open rates on a specific segment of voters is a great sign that trust is there and that the campaign message is being received. Though ‘asks’ are often embedded in an information campaign they may not be to the fore as much as persuasion emails.
Using a mixture of both campaigns is highly recommended, with perhaps persuasion emails being delivered at the beginning of a campaign to elicit donations and volunteers, and also at the end of the campaign when trying to get out the vote.
How to do your email targeting
So email marketing relies on good quality targeting of the voter universe matched with relevant information in order to be successful. Doing the targeting can be one of the more difficult tasks but there are a number of techniques that can be used.
Firstly, use your voter database and the intelligence contained within that to create segmented groups for email blasts. Obvious possibilities here include by precinct, by voting history, or any of the other key data-points you hold on voters (assuming you hold these at all!)
General to specific
If you don’t have any data on which you can segment, ie, you just have the email address and perhaps the person's name then it is still possible to run a smart segmentation program. Starting by sending an email to everyone in your database you can build segments based on who opened, who did not, who clicked links within the email (and you can put in a number of links on specific issues here).
Voter outreach data
If you are using campaign tech like Ecanvasser or any other method of digitally capturing and organizing information from voter outreach then you can segment based on that. Set up custom fields or surveys in your canvassing operations that can provide the basis of email targeting. For example, you might have a standard question asked of all voters such as ‘do you intend to vote for our candidate’. It is then very simple to set up a list of voters who do intend to vote for you, who can then receive emails designed to ensure they get out to vote on the day. The rest can be divided into email lists that target swing voters or ones that set out to persuade those who are set against your candidate.
Another great way to find targeted groups of people is to set up differentiated email signup forms on your website. Ask your website visitors (and presumably voters) if they are interested in, say, healthcare reform, to sign up for your newsletter. All leads captured from this signup button then go into a newsletter letter marked ‘healthcare’. Similarly, on other pages of your site, you could have the same type of form, but this time talking about ‘education’. Some websites contain newsletter forms that ask the person, as they are signing up, what issues that most concern them.
Subject lines: the small section of text you see in your inbox when you get an email - are incredibly important in terms of the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns as a whole. If you use an email subject line that seems too spammy or that doesn’t interest the recipient then you will end up with a very low open rate on your emails.
Subject lines should, in our experience, fall into one of three categories:
Useful: If you have done your targeting correctly then this should be easy. Things like, How to apply for free health insurance or New childcare scheme rules, should be sent to the people who will find this information useful. Get this correct and you will have, not only great open rates on your email, but you will be building the trust of these voters.
Specific: Again, the success of this type of subject line will be down to the targeting you have done. Specific targeting by geo could lead to a subject line like Denton County infrastructural investment. Or you might decide to be specific in terms of issues of interest like Educational standards already improving under 10-year plan. It might be a good idea to include the recipient’s name in the subject title also to really drive home how specific the content is.
Personal: Last, but certainly not least, is the incredibly versatile personal subject line style. If you are not confident of your targeting then it might be better to employ a personal subject line. The famous example is from Obama’s 2012 Presidential race which was simply, Hey…. You can get much simpler but the personal nature of the subject line does get recipients to open it. This gets you a chance to impress with your content. If your content doesn’t back this opener up though you will find yourself with high unsubscribe rates, so do be careful. Other examples of personal subject lines include A quick word, One more thing, I wanted to get your thoughts. And so on, you might know best what will work for your audience.
Testing of all aspects of your email marketing is hugely important. Testing includes examining the analytics from emails sent, Open rates, Unsubscribe rates, Click rates, etc. These metrics will give you an idea of how the subject lines and content were received by the audience and what you might need to change to improve this.
You can also run A/B tests where you send essentially the same email but you change one thing (subject line, content, target voters) and you then see which email ‘won’ in terms of open rate, click rate, and so on. This A/B testing should give you very specific things to work on.
Email Body Content
There is, of course, no prescription for the content of your emails and you will have a good idea of what you want to say to your voters. However, there are a few pointers that might be worth considering.
Don’t forget the informative V persuasive email strategy. Depending on which of these you are pursuing, the email content should follow this.
There are a number of don’ts to be mindful of. For example, don’t put in any old thing you can think of just for the sake of it. Don’t ask people for things that they have already said they don’t want to do (ie, be rigorous in weeding out your email target lists).
There are lots of wonderful email templates available in most email marketing software. However, these templates that are rich in images and graphic design can have a very negative impact on open rates and delivery rates. It clearly is a factor for email providers when delivering to their customers if they see an incoming email has a lot of styling. Simple text emails are best and they allow you to focus on your message.
Do ask for things in your emails. Maybe just one thing but a 100% informational email doesn’t give you any return other than goodwill. Make sure you ask for a donation, to volunteer or to vote for you in every email.
Use storytelling in your opening paragraph. Either this or a really engaging statistic or piece of news. People will give an email a quick glance over and if it doesn’t catch their interest immediately you can expect them to disengage.
If you do get a direct reply to one of your emails always try to respond as quickly as possible. Don’t forget about it or stick it in a folder for follow up at a later date. A quick reply says to that person that you are serious and you are engaged. If you can answer their query you will have a great chance of getting their vote on election day.
I hope these tips from our years of (bitter) experience sending email marketing, and from talking to campaigns around the world about their strategies will help you and allow you to give your voters a great email experience. If you have any further questions or would like to get in touch, why not click the button below.