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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.

Leverage video and dedicated landing pages

Both campaigns consistently featured video in their emails. Several contained links to inspirational videos of Obama speaking. Perhaps of more interest was that many of these videos were displayed on vanity landing pages with key messages contained in the URL: for example, "," with the URL featured in the body of the email. Branded landing pages increase interest in the link and offer a clue as to the contents of the page.

While Obama's videos focused on inspiration, McCain used video in two ways worth noting. The first was to feature user-submitted videos as part of the "I am Joe" campaign. After an edited video montage, those clicking through were able to view a long list of user-submitted videos.

McCain's other use of video was directed to the "closest supporters" and presented a sort of fireside chat from Senator McCain. The tone spoke to the unique audience that received the email and offered specific insights into the campaigns and ways recipients could offer support. This message captured the essence of what we constantly preach in CRM circles: Treat your best customers differently!

Bring the audience together

I live in Texas, which was never considered a battleground state. Comparing the messages I received with the messages my colleagues in Indiana received uncovered a compelling new tactic used in the Obama campaign to bring folks together.

While I received messages to consider canvassing in a battleground state, those in Indiana received messages encouraging them to host people coming from other states. The increased use of customer ratings and reviews in email is a good first step in bringing the email audience together. The Obama approach goes a step further by actually facilitating relationships between supporters.

Imagine a scenario where new customers are connected with expert users of your computer software. Or a campaign to connect prospects with loyal customers. The new customer or prospect gets an insider view from an independent third party, while the expert or loyal customer gets the opportunity to develop business of their own or simply to reinforce their status as an expert. Though this strategy may not apply to every scenario, it puts the marketer in the role of matchmaker that could drive significant value.

This presidential campaign has already been noted as one in which the Internet played an enormous role. The use of social media through sites such as Facebook and YouTube really helped us broaden our understanding of the power of these channels. But it doesn't stop there. These candidates also innovated in more traditional marketing channels, such as email.

In an environment where subscribers are increasingly in control of the media they consume, we need to applaud instances where established marketing channels are leveraged in innovative ways.

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image of Morgan Stewart
Morgan Stewart is co-founder and CEO of Trendline Interactive (, a strategic email marketing agency.