3 Email Marketing Lessons from Presidential Email Campaigns

The reason email is so important to presidential campaigns can be distilled down to two words: it works.

Barack Obama’s successful 2012 re-election campaign used email marketing to rake in an astonishing $500 million, which represented 90% of the money it raised online.

This year’s U.S. presidential campaign is expected to cost candidates an estimated $5 billion, and email appeals will raise most of that total.

“Campaigns still raise far more money off of email than any other digital platform,” according to NPR.

Toby Fallsgraff, who directed email operations for the 2012 Obama campaign attributes email’s success to the receptive mindset of recipients.

“When you go to check your email, you’re already prepared to make those action-based decisions, in a way that isn’t true when you’re scrolling through your [Facebook] timeline,” he says. “Something you’ve received might cause you to pull out your credit card.”

The personal nature of email also helps engage donors, according to experts.

“Ultimately, you’re able to have a one-to-one conversation with an individual, rather than blasting a conversation to the masses,” says Jordan Cohen, CMO of Fluent, an ad company that works with political campaigns. Cohen also cites how inexpensive email is relative to television, radio and print ads.

The bottom line: “Nothing comes close” to an email list in terms of value for a campaign, says Michael Beach, co-founder of the digital campaign firm Targeted Victory.

Here are a few takeaways from the presidential campaigns that email marketers should find useful.

Opt-ins only, please

The Fanbridge blog cites several examples of candidates who got into “hot water after sending to another candidate’s email list or even sponsoring an organization to send a message to their subscribers on their behalf.”

The lesson for email marketers: “Rather than getting caught up in the legality of sending to an email list that did not want emails from you, focus on sending an excellent and caring message to the subscribers you do have. A fan-turned-advocate will serve you much better than a non-fan who is now annoyed that you’ve sent them an email (and let everyone on social media know about it).”

Don’t overdo it

The 2012 Obama campaign was mindful of never wanting to harass supporters to the point that they would unsubscribe, according to Fallsgraff. The campaign’s disciplined messaging ensured that most of their tens of millions of subscribers remained on their list.

“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,” advises Krystal Overmyer at Content Standard.

Testing is critical

Fallsgraff told NPR that the 2012 Obama campaign would test 12 to 18 different variations of nearly every message. All that testing requires commitment: that campaign employed 20 full-time email writers to draft and experiment with different versions of appeals, according to ABC News.

The importance of thorough testing was a lesson that the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign clearly learned. In just one month, it used 50 subject lines with variations on the theme of winning dinner with her or Bill Clinton, including “Bill wants to meet you,” “dinner!” and “dinner?” (The variant with the exclamation point was the big winner.)

You don’t have to be running for office to benefit from these email campaign tips – any email marketer can leverage these learnings. Keep these tips top-of-mind for your next big email campaign.