Do those gimmicky fundraising emails that offer small dollar donors a chance to have dinner with the president or watch a debate with the vice presidential nominee really work? How about the late pleas for campaign dollars aimed at scaring supporters into forking over additional cash?
After a cycle of watching emails from the presidential campaigns, party committees and outside groups food our inboxes, we decided to take a closer look at what worked and what didn’t when it came to email in 2012.
We asked a handful of political marketing experts to evaluate five emails that represented some of the most common appeals of this cycle; we practically guarantee you’ve seen a bunch just like them in your own inbox over the past few months. Below, our experts weigh in on which elements worked and how you can apply the lessons when structuring your own email appeals.
1. Subject: Some grub with POTUS?
Julie Germany, vice president digital strategy, DCI Group: Even though the email copy is incredibly short, this comes across as a powerful email. There is a simple call to action. It’s written the way a normal person would talk (except for all the bolding and underlining), and it asks you to only care about one thing—having dinner with the president.
Matthew Dybwad, founder and partner, CRAFT Media/Digital: A great example of a quick and to-the-point email: it hits the important points, conveys an important message of opportunity, has action links and doesn’t make the reader wade through an ocean of rhetoric or posturing to consume and understand the content. Raw, undistilled value proposition meets action opportunity. Win.
One other thing to note: Obama emails like this one push the fine print (and it is very fine) and disclaimers way down the page—out of what would be “above the fold” in any email client. It keeps the experience uncluttered and clean. Hiding content at the end of very long pages used to be considered black hat from an SEO standpoint, though clearly the campaign got away with it here.
Scott Dworkin, founder and CEO, Bulldog Finance Group: The subject line is straight and to the point. I love it. This is a very direct ask, as it has three links in it going to the same page. The possibility of a dinner with POTUS is very cool. Plus, it’s a short read, so it makes it easy for someone to see what it’s all about.
Taryn Rosenkranz, founder, New Blue Interactive: This is a new tactic this year. But because it’s Obama’s campaign, people are still responding. The contests work great for increasing response; who doesn’t like a chance to win something—especially a chance to dine with the president? The folksy language is supposed to help make up for the fact it’s from an entity instead of a person.
Peter Pasi, executive vice president, eMotive: The subject line asks a question and states a pretty simple, self-explanatory offer. It’s a small amount of money and basically gives donors a reason to give beyond helping the campaign.
2. Subject: I’ll be damned
Julie Germany: This is a long advocacy email. I think the writer experienced a problem that many advocacy and communications emails have: the communications team wants you to fit a dozen talking points into one email text. This could really be two or three emails.
Matthew Dybwad: Love the subject line; it begs to be read and is edgy enough to grab attention—even from people who know Messina is another Obama sender. I like the first name and dashes as a salutation. It’s much more email colloquial, as is the rest of the message. Obama’s emails are frequently written in a conversational voice that mirrors how friends and colleagues actually converse with one another over email. When was the last time you sent your buddy an email and started it “Dear Friend”?
The message is also likely personalized for a supporter who hasn’t donated, another thing the Obama campaign did well—actually using the data to intelligently correspond with their contacts. The script itself is a good example of the classic formula: bombshell, problem, solution, ask, repeat. I’m also a fan of the larger font. It’s easier to read and looks more like an email you’d get from a friend.
Scott Dworkin: Excellent subject line—very straight and to the point. There is substance in every sentence, which makes it a must-read. The layout makes you want to keep on reading, with two different separations between paragraphs with colons—pretty good setup.
Taryn Rosenkranz: Again, the Obama team is being informal to feel more personal and relate to you as the reader. Here is my nickname. We outraised them. It’s you and me against them.
Peter Pasi: This email is pretty straightforward. Messina’s subject line definitely begs you to open the email, and the body reinforces the “people-powered” narrative the Obama campaign was pushing. It also subtly guilts the donor by pointing out they aren’t part of this million-person movement.
3. Subject: Scary truth
Julie Germany: This could be a powerful email, but the lack of personalization feels very problematic. We currently exist in a digital era in which the right database and email management tools make personalization, even if it’s just using the recipient’s first name in the greeting, very easy. It’s slightly on the long side, but I tended to appreciate the narrative-building in this email more.
Matthew Dybwad: The subject line is trying to be catchy, but scary truth has already become a cliché. One mantra we have here is engineering subject lines that instill a fear of missing out by recipients: if you don’t read this, you won’t know something important, which will put you at a disadvantage. This subject line misses that mark. The type is too small; readability is compromised. The highlighted title does a good job of drawing the eye though, and the use of bold and italics is probably right at the line where enough meets too much. I’m also not against leaving out a first name in the salutation, but going with “Friend” can be a spam trigger.
Scott Dworkin: This is a great subject line. I like how the second word is in lower case, so it looks like it’s not a blast email. I don’t like how it was released on a Saturday morning. There are also two separate links and asks, which I don’t recommend. The layout is good, but I think the content is more sporadic and less direct.
Taryn Rosenkranz: This one uses an oldie but a goodie. Everyone is a sucker for a poll, especially one with good news. Also super popular is to use one-word subject lines that are vague. Again, for this and a few others, I’m surprised I don’t see a deadline included. Typically that boosts response.
Peter Pasi: This is a great, captivating subject line. The email highlights a 24-day deadline and asks for a modest contribution to help EMILY’s List deliver more women’s votes for President Obama. It also highlights the organization’s long history of working on this issue and therefore lends credibility to the ask.