Email Marketing Tips from the Campaign Trails
Marketing Content Strategy

4 Email Marketing Tips from the Campaign Trails


For effective email marketing tips, brand marketers can look toward an unlikely resource: the presidential candidates.

These days, voters’ inboxes are overflowing with entreaties from the presidential hopefuls—and some emails are more effective than others.

NPR took a look at presidential candidate emails to potential supporters and found that for several candidates, the more human the approach, the more effective the email. But emails that seem too personal can slip into creepy territory, a conundrum that can similarly stymy content marketing experts.

Don’t Discount Email

Despite predictions that email is a dying medium, email remains an incredibly valuable marketing tool. The presidential campaigns make more money from email than any other digital tactic, including social media, NPR reported.

Indeed, marketers consistently give email top ranks when it comes to achieving objectives, beating out social media, content marketing, SEO, mobile advertising, paid search, and other tactics, according to a 2014 report from Gigaom. Plus, email costs a fraction of other trendy-but-expensive tactics, like video.

Moreover, people may be in the mindset to take actions when they read email—which perhaps explains why political campaign emails are so effective, explained Toby Fallsgraff of the Obama campaign in the NPR piece. People are primed to make decisions, like purchases, when reading email versus when scrolling through their Facebook News Feed.

Test, Test, Test

According to NPR analysis of Return Path data, Hillary Clinton’s campaign used 50 subject line variations on the same email topic—winning dinner with Hillary or Bill—in a one-month period. The tweaks were subtle, ranging from “Bill wants to meet you” to “dinner!” to “dinner?”

That obsession with testing even small details can generate valuable marketing insights. Not every email subject line is a winner, and sometimes even a single punctuation mark can make a vast difference. For Hillary Clinton, the exclamation point worked: Four of the top five most-read emails in November 2015 had the subject line “dinner!” NPR reported.

Get Personal—But Not Too Personal

Hillary’s super-casual “dinner?” subject line touches upon a pair of email marketing tips for brands: Be personal in your content marketing messaging, but don’t be creepy.

Presidential candidates need to seem human and accessible to potential supporters, and the tone of an email and subject line can reflect that vibe. Obama’s super-casual “Hey” subject-lined emails were the most effective at generating campaign cash, ABC reported.

On the other hand, get too personal and email recipients can be turned off. Back in 2011, critics including a Washington Post reporter ranted about Obama’s campaign emails, calling out subject lines like “Frustrated,” “Tap,” and the familiar “Dinner?” for being creepy, weird, and passive-aggressive.

The Rand Paul campaign also raised eyebrows with email content that expressed Paul’s apparent worry for the recipient. “Is everything OK?” a staffer writes before asking for a donation. The subsequent email chain includes a note allegedly from Paul himself, asking the staffer to reach out to the potential donor.

Research from Return Path shows that generally speaking, emails with personal pronouns like “I,” “our,” or “me” are a mixed bag. Only the use of “you” generates a modest lift in reads.

Which of Hillary Clinton's Emails Get Read?

Be Relevant

The Clinton campaign’s most-read emails had subject lines that touched on news events, such as “What did you think of last night’s debate?” About 23 percent of such emails were read, compared to 17 percent of invite-based emails, NPR reported.

Ted Cruz’s timely emails with clutter-busting subject lines like “Fire the Media” helped him score big time with campaign donations following a Republican primary debate.

Bottom line: timing matters. Brands that can hit a topic or theme at just the right moment will score better open rates.

Know When to Stop

Candidates, like brand marketers, have to somehow find the right balance between informing followers while not overwhelming them with email after email. User burnout can be tough to combat, especially when the content marketing tendency can be to message, message, and message to stay above the competition.

According to eMarketer, 54 percent of people say they unsubscribe from emails because they come too frequently; 49 percent say boring content was another factor. Testing the timing of emails and frequency—not to mention content mix—can help marketers understand what works most effectively for different audience segments.

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  • Matt Benati

    Nice article, Krystal. I agree that email marketing continues to be the go-to channel for marketers. According to Forrester Research, an estimated 132B B2B emails will be sent/received every day in 2017. Over 6.5B responses (e.g., out of office, left the company, personal replies) are generated, but are unfortunately dropped by most marketing departments. Advanced marketing teams optimize their campaigns by closing the loop and leveraging these important replies.