A study earlier this year by analytics firm AdImpact found that presidential campaigns had spent $480 million through July 7, 2023, about 100 percent more than they did at the same point in 2019.
Why then, are we seeing such sluggish returns for campaigns on both sides of the aisle?
According to the The Washington Post, the Republican National Committee had just $9.1 million in cash on hand as of October 30 — the lowest since 2015. By comparison the RNC had $20 million at the same point in the 2016 cycle, and $61 million four years ago, when Donald Trump was running as an incumbent president.
The Democrats haven’t been doing well either. An article in The New York Times published in July described online fundraising amongst small donors as “sluggish.”
Looking at the presidential race, the $10.2 million that the Biden campaign had raised from small donors at that point was just half of what President Obama raised during the same period for his 2012 reelection effort.
It’s the Email Marketing, Stupid
Email marketing has been the reigning champion of campaign fundraising ever since the Obama 2012 team hauled in $500 million. But the landscape for email has changed dramatically since then, with new privacy policies and technologies making it vastly more difficult for marketers to get delivered into the inbox and drive results.
The most talked about development has been the introduction of Apple’s “Mail Privacy Protection” (MPP), which went into effect in fall of 2021. MPP prevents the ability to register whether an email has been opened, obfuscating critical deliverability and email optimization data, as well as eliminating open-time personalization functionality.
There have also been concerns about “email overload.” As Democratic insiders told the Times,“…donors are exhausted by the unending flow of emails asking for money, and recipients are responding to far fewer of them.”
What Can Campaigns Do?
The stakes are too high for email not to work for political campaigns, and operatives have no other choice but to adapt with new strategies, tactics, and technology solutions.
Below are some of the most important things campaigns can do to make email marketing work again, and raise the funds necessary to win in 2024.
1. Tap into user-level data to identify and fix deliverability problems.
Political campaigns can’t raise money if they can’t make it into the inbox.
Political campaigns are more prone to deliverability issues than commercial mailers due to having stale email lists with large numbers of invalid email addresses and high bounce rates.
They also often inherit or purchase lists from other campaigns, which not only have higher bounce rates, but also drive unacceptably high spam complaint rates.
Campaigns should complement seed-list based email analytics with detailed user-level reporting to get the actionable insights they need to identify and resolve spam blocking issues.
2. Target advocates who are most likely to donate.
Past donations and household income aren’t the only predictors of future donations. Recency is more predictive than anything else: The more recent an individual has engaged with a marketing solicitation in their inbox, the more likely they are to engage with others.
Using 2nd-party data platforms (data collectives), campaigns can find and prioritize email list members who are most responsive to email right now. They can likewise use recency data to identify recipients who should be segmented and targeted using reactivation campaigns.
3. Send at the right time, not all the time.
The days of sending campaign emails multiple times a day, every day are over. Consumers are fatigued by the sheer volume of solicitations received from all mailers and don’t distinguish between commercial and nonprofit or political senders – it’s all just noise to them.
Marketers must get back to the basics and ensure their messages are relevant before hitting “send”. Then, using advanced send time optimization technology emails can be timed to be at the top of inboxes when recipients are most likely to be checking their email, driving increased opens, click throughs, and most important of all – donations.
Specialized send time optimization platforms account for the entirety of recipients’ inbox behaviors – not just when they respond to individual marketers (i.e., the basic toolkit that senders get “out of the box” from their email sending platforms). The tech is there — campaigns just need to embrace it.
Email marketing can work again and be the top driver of donations in the 2024 cycle. Campaigns must accept that their cheese has moved and update their tech stacks to ensure that it does.