A Look at the World of Sending Political Emails

April 15, 2016
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A Look at the World of Sending Political Emails

With the election season well under way, you may have noticed an influx of emails getting to your inbox from various political organizations. As one of the Delivery Consultants at SendGrid, I wanted to look into political sending, what’s unique about it, how it relates to other types of marketing email, and provide some tips on improving political email performance.

How do political campaign emails compare to marketing emails in other sectors?

Although the content may be different than standard retail or marketing mail, a good number of the same basic principles apply. First, the relationship between the sender and the recipients is extremely important, possibly even more important for political senders. This is because political senders have a limited amount of time to raise contributions and get in front of potential voters.

Secondly, segmenting is just as important, but often ignored with political senders. Typical marketing email campaign infrastructure is set up so that different subdomains send different types of email (welcome, daily deals, newsletters, etc.). Unfortunately, political senders appear to simply send all email from the same subdomain and IP regardless of the type of email or which group they are targeting. SendGrid's Email Segmentation Guide has some information about how best to segment your recipients.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is the point of collection of email addresses. Many political campaigns love the value they get from a large list of email addresses but forget that they also must provide value to the recipient and convince the mailbox provider that they are allowed there.

Unlike TV, print, and radio campaigns, email is a place where the user has the power to give feedback on if they want a sender's email or not. And, sorry to say, that giant list of email addresses that the previous campaign gathered 4 years ago doesn't qualify as "granting permission" to send messages at will to the same inboxes during this campaign.

Are political senders really exempt from CAN-SPAM?

This is something I hear from political senders a lot. “We don’t have to follow those CAN-SPAM rules because we’re sending political emails.” The fact is, yes, some political campaign emails may be exempt from CAN-SPAM, but that doesn’t really matter. The ISPs that place messages in inboxes are the gatekeepers here, and if they think the messages are unwanted, they won’t get in front of readers. Political senders need to remember that they are short-term guests in the inbox, and they need to be respectful of the recipient.

How can political senders improve engagement and potentially increase donations through email?

One of the things that we’ve discovered after analyzing successful campaigns over the past few years, is that providing general knowledge, or thought leadership, creates more faithful recipients than just asking for donations. Content marketing applies to political sending too. While candidates seem to not have time for that, those who try this approach by giving information on politics, the election, or issues they’re concerned with, could get better engagement, and therefore, donations. You can get some more deliverability tips in our recent blog post 5 Email Deliverability Tips from SendGrid Experts.

Are there any other tips you have for political senders?

  1. Quality over quantity. Political email campaigns need to focus on the quality of their email list rather than the quantity of recipients. It’s essential to remember the behavior of recipients dictates the success of a campaign. Following best practices brings more exposure and less blowback. Poor list hygiene, buying lists, and sharing lists will cause mail to be treated like spam by ISPs, resulting in poor deliverability and limit the reach of the campaign.
  2. Provide value to the reader. Understand what your supporters want to see from you by measuring your clicks and opens. Focus on sending the right email to the right person at the right time with the right frequency. Grow your fans in a thoughtful way, testing each step to make sure you're giving them what they want to see. Don’t alienate supporters by sending too much or irrelevant mail.
  3. Segment based on engagement. Every email campaign has supporters that are opening every email and interacting with your campaign. Segment these recipients out and make them feel special--they want to help you succeed, so let them. Conversely, stop sending email to people who aren’t interested. Smaller, well segmented lists are the way to go.
  4. Grow your lists organically. Growing your lists organically is the best way to have a robust email program. We know voting records and boutique lists are a staple when sending political mail, but they’re dangerous. Before sending any email to those addresses, learn as much as you can about the recipients. Add them to your core list slowly, test to make sure the email being sent is really wanted. If you start to see otherwise, heed the warning signs and stop mailing. We recommend sending to no more than 10% of an unknown list at a time and making sure it's not more than 10% of your main mailing.

The takeaway

The major email challenge political senders will face in the 2016 election is a crowded inbox. It will be important for their emails to focus on permission marketing to get their fans' attention in the inbox. 2016 will be a challenge for political senders because campaigners have more knowledge about the value of email marketing campaigns and we are going to see a lot more of it in our inbox.

To get the most up to date email deliverability information, I suggest you subscribe to the SendGrid Blog so that you receive notifications about our posts. You can also download SendGrid's 2016 Email Deliverability Guide.

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