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Campaigns and advocacy groups have a growing email deliverability problem that many email consultants say the industry continues to ignore.
While there were some bright spots for deliverability in 2016, political email has remained on a downward trend. In fact, it’s gone from 4-7 percent hitting spam folders to now roughly 30 percent, according to Brett Schenker, a deliverability specialist at NGP VAN.
“I’ve always said we’re driving off a cliff. The car’s halfway off the cliff at this point,” he said.
As more emails get trapped in spam folders, Schenker said, “the cost of getting people on your list increases, the effectiveness of your list decreases, it spirals out of control.”
When it comes to campaigns, he noted, “you’re either really good with deliverability or completely off the rails with deliverability.”
Kate Faherty, COO at the recently launched Campaign Inbox, put the Trump campaign in the former category.
She noted that when her firm’s founders, Matt Oczkowski and Parks Bennett, joined the Trump campaign, the presidential was putting only 38 percent of its email into recipients’ inboxes, which got industry attention at the time.
After Election Day 120 days later, they were hitting 90 percent of inboxes.
“A lot of that is focusing of what your list is made up of, the content you’re sending to them” Faherty said Thursday at an event hosted by C&E. “It’s technology and marketing tied together.”
Schenker disputed those figures. “The numbers I saw were way worse. It depended on what domain it was coming out of,” he said.
“[They] were rotating domains as far as quality of lists. Trump 2016 seemed lower quality than Donald J. Trump, which was different than Donald Trump. Maybe overall it was 90-something percent, but Trump 2016 seemed like 30-40 percent spam.”
Faherty attributed Schenker’s observation to the fact that the campaign was growing its lists rapidly. “When you’re growing a list at that pace, you’re obviously going to run into these bumps, these ups and downs. It was a long term strategy,” she said. “They had a larger list than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by the end of it.”
Meanwhile, non-profits appear even worse off than campaigns when it comes to deliverability.
“They don’t understand that activity is such an important thing,” Schenker said. “A lot of the non-profits who come to us are starting off at 60-70 percent [of their email] going to spam.”
Henri Makembe, a consultant with Beekeeper Group, advised groups to start scoring the actions their supporters take after they receive an email and segment lists according to those scores.
“It helps the non-profits who are struggling,” he said. “All the associations know this is something they need to get better at.”
He also suggested groups clean up their lists every six months to get rid of the “dead wood.”
He noted that his firm recently killed half a client’s 300,000-person email list. “You have to have those hard conversations,” Makembe said.
Makembe also encouraged consultants to stop thinking about Election Day as a campaign end point. “The idea that Election Day is the end all, be all, even for the loser, is no longer true,” he said. “That paradigm has to start shifting. Consultants need to start helping you think past Election Day because fundraising is 365 days a year these days.
“You’re going to need those folks the next time around.”