It doesn’t take much to understand why email is still the ultimate marketing and fundraising tool for campaigns and causes. There are more than twice the number of email accounts in the world than active Twitter and Facebook profiles combined. In the United States, nine in 10 consumers use email daily.
And what are 40 percent of smartphone and tablet owners doing while they watch TV, according to Nielsen? Checking their email.
But with roughly 200 billion emails sent and received each day, cutting through the noise is challenging. If you’re looking for ideas to kickstart your organization’s email strategy, or take an existing one to the next level, here are five big things we’ve learned.
Put in the prep work.
The ROI campaigns and organizations get from an email program is directly proportional to the work they put in from the start. Set a clear goal, articulate your objectives and develop an editorial calendar before you hit send for the first time. Focus less on how many emails you need to send and more on your objectives, like how much money you want to raise or what you want your supporters to do.
Thinking about these kinds of things ahead of time will enhance your return. So will deciding what themes you think will resonate the most or what the brand looks like and how that should inform your email.
Trust the numbers, not your gut.
If you’re not testing, you’re doing it wrong. Obama campaign alum Dan Siroker once explained how a smart A/B test in 2008 likely added $60 million to the campaign’s coffers. Democrats have spent the years since optimizing on the success of 2008, but you don’t have to work for a presidential campaign to test effectively.
Modern email delivery platforms make it easy to test messaging and tactics, but most organizations we talk to don’t make this a priority. If you want to take your program to new heights, get testing. Use what works, drop what doesn't, and find new ways to boost performance. The results might surprise you. Take, for example, the subject line “re.” An email with this subject line, plus a colon, resulted in more than 1,000 gifts, but we wouldn’t have known it would work had we not tested it. After all, there’s a science behind those crazy subject lines.
Create segments that mean something.
Much of email marketing is about understanding how people think and act. People are more willing to do what you ask if you know what they care about or what they’ve already done. Creating meaningful segments (high dollar donors versus low dollar, millennials versus boomers, et cetera) is a good start, but don’t forget to use the results from emails you’ve sent to inform future segmentation. Knowing that someone prefers cats to dogs doesn’t just make your content relevant, it gives you the upper hand in building a lasting relationship with that person.
Make it personal.
Personalization performs and we’ve got the data to prove it. Many organizations labor over the content of their emails but forget to tie them directly to the people they’re sending to. In our experience, it’s the little things that make an email program successful. Have you put the recipient’s first name in the salutation? How about in the subject line or in images embedded throughout the email? Have you included the recipient’s donation history? A recent email we sent repeated the recipient’s name four times — 35 percent of people who clicked through from the email made a donation.
Find your voice.
People like to see familiar names in their inbox. Introduce your senders and determine the type of messages they are most fit to carry. Then find out who your recipients like and use them most often. Recently, Clinton campaign vice chair Huma Abedin sent an email with the subject line, “I’m a proud Muslim” — a response to Donald Trump’s controversial comments about Muslim Americans. Hers was the right voice at the right time and it worked.
This list could go on, but remember: this is what has worked for us. These are just the building blocks, but what’s successful for one email program may not be for another. Frankly, what works this week may not work the next. As tools, tactics and the behaviors of your audience evolve, so too should your strategy.
Effective email campaigns are an extension of an integrated outreach and advocacy strategy. There’s evidence, for instance, that advertising on Facebook to the same list of people you’re emailing boosts overall fundraising. Who wouldn’t run ads that pay for themselves? If you’re not, you should.
Jake Lipsett is a partner at Mothership Strategies, a digital agency working with Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.