In the two weeks leading up to the November 4 election, email messages came fast and furious from the presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Barack Obama. In the last week, both supporters received at least two emails a day from both campaigns.
In evaluating those email messages, I saw commonly held best-practices that should be emulated, practices that should be avoided by marketers, and a few new concepts that may inspire email marketers to take their programs to the next level.
Despite the outcome of the election, lessons can be learned from both presidential candidates. Also, some practices simply do not cross over from the relationships that political candidates form with their constituents to the relationships that marketers develop with their customers.
For example, sending two or three messages a day simply does not translate for relationship marketers. Generally, our goal is to develop loyal customers who will maximize the profitability of these customer relationships over time. Sending email too frequently maximizes immediate profit (which, in essence, is the goal of these political campaigns), but it inevitably results in an eroding list that kills long-term return on investment.
Balance your objectives with value to the customer
The Obama campaign came across primarily as a fundraising effort, especially since every message sent in the last two weeks contained some call to action. While the primary call to action was focused on fundraising only half the time, a prominent "Donate Now" link was still featured at the bottom of every email. Add to that several requests to "dig deep" for "one final donation," and the fundraising tone became dominant—to the point of minimizing other messages.
Alternatively, the McCain campaign felt more balanced. While there were clear requests for donations, those messages were mixed in with messages about political issues, updates on the status of the campaign, and clear requests for other opportunities to get involved. By doing so, McCain's email program kept people engaged with the campaign as a participant and partner.
Any campaign, political or otherwise, must monitor the overall feel of the communication stream, especially as frequency increases. Balanced programs keep customers engaged by delivering information on a range of topics. If all messages are requests requiring financial commitment, like a donation or purchase, the relationship starts to feel lopsided, causing customers to grow tired and withdraw from the relationship.