"AdExchanger Politics" is a weekly column tracking developments in the 2016 political campaign cycle.
Today’s column is written by Sean Cullen, executive vice president of product and technology at Fluent.
Email marketing was critical for campaign fundraising and voter engagement during the 2012 presidential election.
The Obama campaign reportedly acquired more than 13 million unique email addresses and carefully tested and deployed a variety of email campaigns, helping to generate a huge chunk of the $690 million raised to secure another four years in the White House.
With just two months left before Election Day, the email marketing strategies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump couldn’t be more different. In many ways it reflects their general approaches to the campaign: cautious and by the book for Clinton, and freewheeling and barebones for Trump.
If list size is any indication of who’s winning the email marketing battle, Hillary Clinton is the early victor.
While the actual number of current email subscribers for the two candidates is not easily ascertained, a new interactive tool from Return Path shows that Hillary Clinton’s email list is much larger than Donald Trump’s – nearly eight times larger.
In June 2015, more than a year ahead of the national conventions, an eDataSource report revealed that Clinton’s team deployed 290 email campaigns in a span of 30 days. What’s more, the rate of messages to reach recipients’ inboxes was considerably high – in the high 80 and 90 percentages. That’s rare considering the high message frequency, which was as much as two per day for some subscribers.
Donald Trump’s email strategy could not be any different. Trump’s campaign made headlines when it delivered its first fundraising email this past June 21, more than a year after Clinton’s campaign deployed its own.
Unlike Clinton’s strategy of segmenting and testing a variety of messages and delivery frequencies, Trump sent just one batch email, with one message. The note stated that he would “personally match every dollar that comes in within the next 48 hours, up to $2 million.” Also, in contrast to Clinton’s initial email campaign that reached the inboxes of 80% to 90% of its recipients, Trump’s first email had a 60% spam rate.
Though it is unconfirmed, with an undelivered figure that high it is very likely that a significant portion of that list was purchased and contained email addresses of individuals who had not opted in to receive his emails. It was reported that only 12% of recipients opened the email and 6% deleted it without reading it.
Clinton Takes A Page Out Of The Obama Playbook
If there’s anything that we know for certain about Clinton’s email strategy, it’s that she has borrowed heavily from the Obama 2012 playbook. The Obama campaign split-tested everything about its emails from subject lines to call-to-action buttons and opt-in forms. The Clinton campaign has split-tested many of the same things and more. In addition to A/B testing, there are three strategies in particular that worked for the Obama campaign that Clinton is using: personalized landing pages, incentivizing donations and celebrity endorsements.
Clinton’s team has been using location data to drive email recipients to unique landing pages that reference their city among other relevant details. An example of one such call to action is “Support Hillary in Long Island City.” Her campaign has also sent several emails with calls to action that incentivize supporters to make a donation, like “Enter to Win a Dinner with Hillary.”
Perhaps most reminiscent of Obama’s campaign is the use of social influencers and celebrity endorsements. Clinton’s team has done several email drops from celebrities, targeting specific demographic groups. One example was an email from Salma Hayek with the subject line, “Will you join Latinos for Hillary?” Some of the other big names that reportedly participated in these email drops for Clinton are Christina Aguilera, Drew Barrymore, Ricky Martin and Anna Wintour.
For Trump: No Personalization Or Audience Segmentation
Donald Trump isn’t a traditional politician like Hillary Clinton, so his strategy for collecting supporter emails and soliciting donations has not mirrored hers. Trump’s campaign strategy is largely based on his natural ability to draw media coverage around his controversial statements on Twitter, in speeches and in interviews. Because he’s garnered much of his support from these channels, his team has not employed a specific, consistent email strategy.
The Trump campaign sent its first fundraising email just two months ago and it didn’t feature any form of personalization to its recipients. Trump did send other campaign emails throughout the early primary season, but without any of the frills of Clinton’s campaign.
While Clinton has routinely tried to incentivize donations, Trump has only done so once, with his first fundraising email when he offered his subscribers an incentive for making a donation. But it wasn’t a personal incentive as he promised to match every dollar that came in within the next 48 hours.
Trump claimed that email generated $3.3 million dollars in donations. That figure, however, has been disputed since Obama’s best fundraising email in 2012 raised $2.6 million and Obama’s list was exponentially larger than Trump’s, and Obama’s team conducted extensive tests and targeting.
With roughly two months to go until Election Day, Hillary Clinton’s healthy email marketing strategy has contributed to her lead in the polls. While Trump continues to make headlines with his unique brand of controversial statements, he will need to refine many of his tactics, including his email marketing strategy, if he wants to move the needle.