Content-focused email newsletters represent an emergent trend in digital campaigns for 2020. Candidates up and down the ballot and in both parties, including Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, and Tom Kean have all begun sending periodic newsletters. It’s an adaptation of a broader uptick in email newsletters that allow authors to reach audiences directly.
The drastic decline in local media – especially original political reporting – means candidates and their campaigns are increasingly filling a void for voters seeking credible, relevant information about local elections. Social media have provided some opportunities for campaigners, but overcrowding in newsfeeds on Facebook, for example, means a page’s average organic reach is just 6.4 percent of total page likes. Additionally, campaigns have been singled out by social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube with constantly changing policies around content moderation and advertising.
Email, however, is an open standard that isn’t controlled by any single company (though Google may come close). Most importantly, it allows for passive distribution: content comes to you instead of you seeking out the content. Well-executed newsletters have open rates ranging from 20-30 percent on average.
For the last several election cycles, the primary objective for campaign email marketing was fundraising. Indeed, email is the most reliable way for raising money from grassroots supporters and there’s little evidence to suggest diminished marginal returns for sending more fundraising emails. The tactics of email fundraising are laser-focused on extracting value through a donation.
An email newsletter, by contrast, flips the script for a highly-engaged subset of a campaign’s supporters by offering relevant, timely, and valuable content. Creating something worth a consumer’s time and attention is fundamental to effective content marketing. For campaigns, that can include aggregating or curating news, offering a unique insight or perspective on the election, or highlighting the community of your supporters.
Consistency is the key to a successful newsletter strategy. Pick a format and stick with it. Pick a send day and time and stick with it. Set a supporter’s expectations so they can make the space for reading your newsletter. Attention spans aren’t getting shorter, but interest spans are. If the content you create is valuable and consistent, a supporter will give it the attention it deserves.
Not all of your email subscribers will want to receive your newsletter and supporters who subscribe to the newsletter certainly don’t want to be bombarded with fundraising emails. Maintain a dedicated segment specific to your newsletter with its own sign-up page. By all means, cross-promote the newsletter on other channels, but do so selectively. The best newsletter growth comes from word of mouth.
Campaign newsletters also provide ancillary benefits in the form of improved deliverability. Sending a consistent number of emails with a high open rate from your campaign’s domain positively improves your email sender reputation, a key factor email inbox providers rely on to distinguish spam from welcome messages.
As candidates consider how to keep their digital assets active after Election Day, newsletters offer a great solution that will ensure your campaign’s email list doesn’t atrophy from disuse. Maintaining online marketing infrastructure in between election cycles is a new challenge for candidates more accustomed to turning their campaigns on and off through direct mail and TV ads.
Eric Wilson is a Republican political technologist. He writes a weekly newsletter about online marketing for campaigns from BestPracticeDigital.com