Lessons from the Obama campaign’s email marketing for your small business

Barack Obama tweeting on May 24%2C 2012 in response to hashtagged questions Lessons from the Obama campaigns email marketing for your small business

What do you get when a relatively unknown politician seeks national office? Barack Obama in 2007. To earn national support, Obama needed a strategy that drew attention, curried followers and increased donations. With insight into the culture and a fully functioning social media platform, the now-president shattered fundraising records and taught small business owners important email marketing lessons.

The strategy

Thomas Jefferson used newspapers. F.D.R. used radio. J.F.K. used television. Howard Dean used the Web. Enter Barack Obama. His team broke new ground with innovative digital campaigning. He built a successful brand by utilizing email marketing, texts and social networks. Through his aggressive 2008 campaign, Obama gathered 13 million email addresses and sent more than one billion emails. The 2008 campaign was considered an unmitigated success.

The complaints

Fast-forward four years. Again, Obama and his team use social media and online tools to market their campaign. Several strategies receive less than stellar feedback, though:

1. Ambiguous email subject lines looked like spam. While “Hey” converted into the most donations, critics complained about the cryptic message header. Spam blockers considered the messages illegitimate as well.

2. Supporters felt betrayed in particular by an email asking them to sign a card and wish Michelle Obama a Happy Mother’s Day. Supporters clicked on the card and landed on a page that asked for their email address and served as an opt-in page. Furthermore, the email went on to ask for a donation. Supporters expected donation and opt-in requests, but they did not appreciate the email that did not specify its intentions up front.

3. Unfriendly mobile messages perturbed supporters. As many emails included heavy graphics, mobile users found them too bulky to open and thus rendered the messages unsuccessful.

Your turn

Your small business may never match the national spectrum of Obama’s campaign, but you can be successful in your niche as you utilize similar techniques. Avoid making the mistakes his campaign made and add these positive tactics:

1. Personalize your landing page. Your emails should address each supporter by name. When possible, include broad information like “Calling all moms.” The personalization gives your company an element of humanity and improves your likeability.

2. Entice curiosity while avoiding spam in your subject line. Your readers might not appreciate “Hey” as the subject line, but you’ll attract attention with a short and sweet header that makes readers eager to learn more.

3. Perform split tests in your quest for conversions. The Obama team tested up to 18 versions of the message’s subject line and body before sending a final draft. You may not have time to perform such rigorous testing, but at least split test two versions of each email.

4. Draw attention to the opt-in button. Use arrows or a different color scheme to grab visitors’ attention. Force readers to gaze at your opt-in button and watch your email list grow.

5. Follow up the smart way. Obama’s follow-up pages thanked subscribers and encouraged them to donate or otherwise support his campaign. You too can include a soft sell call to action when you invite subscribers to check out your homepage, visit your booth at a local trade show or check out your page of specials.

6. Watch quantity. Even your most loyal customers don’t want a dozen emails each day or even every month. Poll your readers or track their interactions with your messages until you find a frequency that works for your business.

Your small business thrives with email marketing techniques learned from President Obama. While increasing your subscription list, give your readers content they’ll read in every message you send.

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