If I had to vote for any of the three candidates based solely on their email marketing prowess, the winner would be ... Hillary. (Yes, I was surprised.) Here's why and what lessons we could all consider applying to our own email programs:
Opt-in splash pages: Marketers of America, you should check out the three candidates’ splash pages for inspiration right away. I've hotlinked to screenshots of all three below for your easy reference. Very, very few non-political sites are aggressive enough in asking for email signup from fans and supporters. If you are hiding your email checkbox in a sidebar or checkout process, you're losing invaluable names.
In these recessionary times, that's appalling. More new opt-ins from your site this week equals more revenues this year. (I know; I'm issuing a memo about this to Sherpa's own in-house marketing team immediately.) Although a splash page dedicated to nothing but email sign-up may be overkill for your brand, not to mention annoying visitors, you certainly can make email sign-up more prominent.
The presidential opt-in winner: Hillary. Her design is clean and cheerful; it includes a branding tagline and asks for your zip code and name, so that she could personalize future messages. Barack's is a close second, although the warm-fuzzy family snapshot seems too close to old-fashioned political imagery for his brand's comfort. What's he going to do next -- kiss a baby?
I don't know what John McCain's email team is thinking. His depressing black and grey splash page doesn't have any tagline or brand message -- just "McCain" plus a giant red Donate button. Um, that's sort of like asking for a kiss before the date begins. Lower down, there's an email sign-up, but only email is asked for. No name, no zip code. So, I guess he's not planning to personalize messages in any way.
Welcomes: Actually, I don't know what John McCain is planning to do with my email because, as of yet, I have not received a single thing from his campaign. Yes, I checked my spam folder just in case -- nada, not even an automated welcome message.
Neither Barack nor Hillary sent me an automated Welcome; but, they did send me other emails within 24 hours that worked just as well.
Visitor Query Replies: In addition to opting in for email at their splash pages, I used all three candidates’ website forms to ask them about their stance on Kosovo's declared independence. In each case, I identified myself as an American blogger who writes about Serbia (which, if you've read my past blogs, you know is true.)
Again, John McCain's campaign did not deign to reply. However, both Barack and Hillary's campaigns sent notes back within 24 hours. Kosovo is clearly not a big issue in the US (aside from my own household), so neither had an answer to my question. Instead, both sent a form letter that said they were too busy to reply to specific questions right now, but here were some handy links for other info and donations.
Lesson - When was the last time you tested your own site's Contact Us forms with a query using an at-home email address to see how quickly anyone responded -- or whether they answered at all? Sadly, John McCain's MIA response is pretty normal. Also, have you added a checkbox or other query to your contact forms asking if the respondent blogs? This might help you grow your database of fan bloggers plus triage site queries, so that bloggers get faster response than less-possibly-influential people do.
Newsletters: I've only gotten one news email from Barack in my two weeks of waiting on candidates. Sadly, from a design standpoint, it uses worst practices. The typeface is tiny and grey instead of black, plus the width of text is far wider than 60 characters per line. This means it's hard to read for anyone who is under 14 or over 40 years old. I see this mistake in a lot of B-to-B newsletters. Check out your typeface -- is it readable?
Special Offers: I don't know which is worse, getting absolutely nothing from John McCain or having my in-box pounded by Barack's team. Come on, guys -- I liked the idea behind your 'Dinner with Barack' invite the first time I got it, but no voter wants to be inundated with the same offer three times in four days! So, you changed out the creative; it's still too much. Plus, again, please tell your designer that text lines wider than 60-65 characters are unreadable.
Hillary's campaign definitely won this round with their one-time invitation "from" Chelsea to be her mom's personal guest at the upcoming Elton John NYC concert. The sweeps idea is the same as Barack's dinner -- if you donate now, your name will be tossed into a hat, and a handful of lucky donors will win.
In this age of celebrity, more brands should be running similar email campaigns, offering personal meetings with stars to sweeps winners. (I think this could even work for B-to-B brands where you have an exec who's a bit of a star in your niche market.) If you're considering it, my favorite individual email creative is the video message in Barack's fourth message. See the link to a sample below.
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