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10 Tips to Help Marketers Make Political Emails Great (Again)

It doesn’t take a Political Science degree to see that there isn’t a lot that the American electorate can agree upon nowadays. If you dare to take a few minutes to read through your Facebook feed you’ll be inundated with post after post arguing about immigration policy, healthcare reform, environmental regulations, and the merits of the Electoral College system. Despite all this partisan polarization, there are thankfully some issues that still unite Americans across age group, geography, and party lines. One is that McDonald’s serving breakfast all day is a wonderful and long overdue treat for the country. Another is that during election season, our inboxes explode with irrelevant emails that constantly beg for your donations to a particular party or candidate.

Those that embrace the blueprint below will be able to influence elections and even issues that affect the hundreds of millions of Americans. The following ten recommendations can take an email program from truly stale to highly relevant and make political emails great…again.

1. Focus On Deliverability First
Before we get started with the more advanced tactics, let’s discuss deliverability. Why start with deliverability? Easy – it is perhaps the most foundational element to any successful email marketing program. Even the most beautifully designed and hyper-segmented email won’t be able to generate a single donation if it lands in the Spam folder. Deliverability is both an art and a science and much has been written on the topic. At a very high level, ISPs measure signals that range from engagement rates to hard bounce rates to Spam complaints when determining if an email should reach the inbox.

2. Align Email Cadence with Activity Level
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how many emails a political marketer should send to please everyone on an opt-in file. Some marketers believe that emailing too much will lead to list fatigue while emailing too little will hurt short term goals. The best way to approach this challenge is to align email cadence with the activity level of the individual. Customer activity dimensions such as recency (how long ago an individual opened or clicked within an email) and frequency (how often an individual performed an action) are the best ways to determine how often a marketer should be sending to them. This technique, referred to as RF segmentation, existed in the direct marketing space long before the first email was ever sent.

3. Make the Rendering Experience Great (Again)
If you are like me and have been in the digital space for quite a while, you’ll remember a glorious past when emails tended to render properly across all devices, because all devices were personal computers. Palm, BlackBerry, and other innovators started to change the game when they enabled you to read your email on a mobile device. The landscape continued to fragment more when phones, tablets, and the ever-popular phablets were introduced. Sending an email that looks great on one format could result in a completely poor experience on another if the formatting isn’t properly accounted for. A floating image or text that is hard to read can cause subscribers to not read the email, become less likely to open future emails or even unsubscribe. That is why coding with a mobile optimized format is advised.

4. Segmentation
Like any successful email program, list segmentation is what separates the good from the great. Knowing which issues resonate with individuals and communicating those issues more often can be the difference between an average donor and a very active supporter. You can use progressive profiling to ask questions within your email program that generate an updated profile of an individual over time. You can also direct them to a preferences management page to update their key information. Perhaps the best way to go about this is by categorizing links in your email campaign and identifying which users tend to click on which topics.

5. Use Infographics
Infographics are a clean and simple way to convey key statistics within an email. Showcasing facts like crime rate, the number of new jobs created, and even the number of times that an opponent abstained from voting, can arm your base with the facts they need to influence undecided friends and family. Using large fonts, different colors, and different styles of charts helps foster an easy to scan email which focuses on the key themes of your campaign. These messages are more likely to be forwarded around so remember to clearly note the bi-partisan source where each of your statistics came from. This way, your party isn’t accused of producing “alternative facts” on a particular issue.

6. Include Social Feeds
Social updates are immediate and often speak to the hottest issues of that particular day or hour. Emails can be stale in comparison with many being worked on days or even weeks before deployment. One great way to bridge the gap between the two channels is to include live social feeds in your email campaign. That keeps the emails up to date with the latest hot issues regardless of when they were developed or when they were opened.

7. Include Videos
Emails consisting of just text and static images will only go so far conveying the message of your candidate or party. Including videos in your emails - such as commercials and candidate interviews - can help bring them to life. Don’t forget that most politicians rose to where they are due to their ability to influence people (both voters and campaign contributors alike). Videos from speeches should be short, include key talking points, and also include audience applause to further convey the appeal of their message. Oracle AppCloud partners such as LiveClicker and MovableInk can help bring videos and other advanced concepts to live. Consider working with them to help take your campaign to the next level.

8. Poll Your Audience
Voting is as fundamentally American as apple pie. By including live polls with your email campaigns, you bring an interactive element into a traditionally static channel which can help increase your engagement rates. Polls topics can range from “Who do you think won the debate?” to “Which issue is most important to you?” and should change each time this tactic is used. This works best when you are able to dynamically populate the results of the poll within the email canvas. Your base will enjoy seeing the opinions of others even though there will be considerable skew to any answer that they give as you are in essence asking the choir if they enjoy singing.

9. Use Countdown Clocks
Though primarily used in retail marketing campaigns, countdown clocks can very be effective in political emails as well. They work by increasing the urgency that the recipient asks in a finite period of time. Some examples of when to deploy countdown clocks include: voter registration deadlines, deadlines to provide their signature so a candidate or issue can be presented, an important fundraising deadline for donations, or when official voting polls in their region close. Countdown clocks can all help increase the likelihood that your base takes an action in each of these cases making it a powerful technique to mix into your campaign marketing calendar. Make sure to think through the user experience when the countdown clock expires as well.

10. Test and Test Some More
Techniques like countdown clocks, polls, and online videos can all help improve the impact of a particular email message but there is no silver bullet. Remember that best practices are always changing and what works best for one audience may not work as well for another. Testing these techniques along with basic email elements can provide the on-going optimization data that can make your campaign truly great. Testing “bigger things” like template designs along with the “smaller things” like call to action styles can provide lifts of 1-4% in response rate when setup correctly. Make sure that your test is statistically significant by clearly isolating your variables and having large enough test cells to measure the difference. Don’t forget to record the results and put them in place.

Image Courtesy/Flickr: Christopher Penn

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