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Political Campaign Emails: The Battle of the Inbox

Political campaign emails. Much maligned and worried over by campaign managers. Often despised by voters as spammy. How to get them right? How to build them so they convert? Here, we take you through the absolute musts of email for campaigns and we try to demystify the process of building the email that wins you election.

Divide and conquer

Just as it is impossible to keep everyone happy, it is equally hard to be relevant to everyone. This is where segmentation comes in.

Segmentation is, essentially, splitting your contacts into different groups. As most people receive multiple emails every day, you need to ensure your email stands out from the crowd. Segmentation can be based on anything you like, age, location, voting history, sporting allegiances! For example, if this voter is a season ticket holder to the local team then you may want to put in your campaign pledge on maintaining funding for sporting initiatives. If you have behavioral information available to you, then use it.

Winning the race at the ballot box starts at the inbox and modern day analytical tools and data gathering help to make this possible. Software systems like NationBuilder are used to manage civic groupings and political campaigns. Part of the power inherent in these software systems is their ability to segment voter lists quickly using customizable filters and then send group emails to the filtered lists. A recent roundtable discussion organised by The Guardian newspaper was referenced by Alex White in his overview of online campaigns,

“Targeting, and its close sibling segmentation, is crucial for online campaigning. Digital campaigning tools now significantly reduce the barriers that previously existed with campaigns that meant we just used to broadcast our message to a mass audience. Most digital volunteer/supporter management systems (like Nationbuilder, Votebuilder or Salesforce) have “list cutting” tools and other segmentation tools that let you send specific messages to specific audiences.”

Testing & Tone

In the age of Big Data, testing takes the guesswork out of what works best.

According to CRO specialists Optimizely, A/B testing or split testing is an essential method of comparing two versions of a webpage against each other to determine which one performs better. This helps ensure that you can see what changes yield a positive return.

Optimizely was the brainchild of one, Dan Siroker who worked as the Director of Analytics on the 2008 Obama campaign. Inspired by the fact that every click was an opportunity, Siroker founded the company so other organizations could reap the benefits of constant testing.

All this testing becomes necessary when deciding something as straightforward as the subject line in an email. Email campaigns are frequently used as part of a political campaigns in the UK. Richard Harrington, MP for Watford is someone who seems to have succeeded in finding the balance between intriguing and boring. “Your invitation to visit Parliament”, “This is the most important election in a generation” and “Tomorrow”. Something as simple as “Tomorrow” arriving in your inbox is more likely to grab your attention because it has a sense of urgency about it.

The tone of voice of your email is equally as important as the content in it. Tailoring the tone of your email to the supporters is something which data analysts are finding easier thanks to more people using social media. “Campaign workers spend countless hours monitoring social media channels to nail down the voice and tone of their constituents so that their emails never sound forced or robotic,” according to Andrew Rotham, head of Creative and Delivery on the West coast for Blue State Digital, a firm that has handled many high profile political campaigns, including that of Barrack Obama. "Gaining that relevant tone is a matter of testing and re-testing to find a balance, which can be difficult in the world of politics, where supporters expect up-to-the-minute information from candidates via email," says Zac Rosen, former digital director for the Mitt Romney campaign.

How to build an email that converts

The building blocks of a great email that will convert are well established after many years of trial and error on thousands of campaigns. These building blocks will give your campaign the best chance possible of winning over your voter.

For goodness sake, make sure your email is mobile optimized. The majority of emails are now read on mobile devices and people are no longer willing to read tiny text! Ensure all images (and you should have some images) are also optimized for smaller screens. We will say it again in this section, but short is sweet, so don’t ramble on. The less text heavy your email, the better the response you will get.

Seeing as you have done the hard work of segmenting your email list please apply that knowledge to building a tailored email that takes the person’s location and profile into account. There is no greater reason for someone to click out of an email than generic messaging. You will want to carry some campaign news in your email but try to target this to the person so they are not reading about issues faced by someone in the next county.

So far, so common sense….great, let’s continue. The Ask, if there is to be one, should be easy to use. Consider a Donate button rather than a clickable piece of text, or, worse yet, an address to send checks to! Make it easy for them and you will reap the rewards. The received wisdom is that 2-3 buttons throughout an email should yield the best return from your email.

Don’t forget about Secondary Asks. It may be the case that the person doesn’t have the means to donate but would still love to get involved. Mixing the Donate button with a Get Involved button or getting people to share the message on social media will give you access to all possible avenues of goodwill. It also shows you are committed to grassroots mobilization and civic leadership, ideals that are usually valued in elected representatives.

Finally, use the power of data and think about email retargeting. Inserting a small piece of html code into your email can track those people that have opened your email and/or engaged with its content. These people can then be targeted with advertising online to further drive home your message.

Political campaign emails are a great opportunity for your campaign to connect with the voter base. However, as we can see, the bar is set quite high in terms of tailored messaging so you need to put the correct structures in place in order to build emails that will convert for you.

Best of luck with your email efforts and if you require help in understanding the issues faced by your voter base and segmenting them for email then why not contact us for further information on voter outreach.

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