Obama and Romney:
Email Marketing Examined


Obama and Romney's Email Marketing Campaigns

As you probably know, there is a pretty big election coming up in the United States. While there are a number of candidates on the ballot, the race basically comes down to two potential winners. The current President, Barack Obama and the leader of the Republican party, Mitt Romney.

Because of my interest in online marketing, I have been watching the social media campaigns for both Obama and Romney for a while now, but as you might know, my biggest interest lies in email marketing. So with that in mind, I decided to join the mailing lists of both candidates to see what they’re doing and if perhaps I might learn something from their process. These are huge lists with a lot at stake, so I figured I’d find some pretty interesting things.

Before I get into it, I want it to be clear that this is not a political discussion as this is not a political blog. It’s not about who is politically right, wrong or who will win the election. This is simply a look at how each candidate is addressing their own target market. So, I definitely welcome any comments from that perspective, but I’d prefer to leave the discussion about how bad the other guy is to places like Huffington Post, Townhall.com or Facebook. Thanks for your understanding.

With that out of the way, here’s a little bit of what I observed…

Email Marketing Objective: Raise Funds

By examining both email marketing campaigns, it’s obvious and clear, the main objective is to raise funds for the campaign. Raising funds is a necessity because, love it or hate it, how much a candidate raises will affect the outcome of the election.

Now, everything I say from here on in is speculation. Obviously, I don’t have access to any campaign analytics. My opinions are simply based on 10 years experience of marketing through email and from serving and advising clients to improve their own email marketing results.

The interesting thing is, the approaches to the two campaigns are very similar…and surprisingly lackluster. Email is such a powerful tool, yet neither side seems to be using it to its full potential.

Let’s break this down into a few areas and look at each in detail.

Fundraising Focus

I absolutely understand that the American presidential election is fueled by money, but I wonder if the typically short and undetailed emails that end with a request for a donation are the most effective use of these invaluable lists…certainly each comprised of millions of people.

In the emails, there are rarely any real reasons given to donate…with the exception of the emails that offer a chance at a free meal with the candidates. But even then, as required by law, no purchase is necessary to actually enter the draws as you can see in the fine print at the bottom of these emails. Of course, most people wouldn’t notice this, but a lot will and how does that make the subscriber feel? Misled? Duped?

Obama Disclaimer

Email is an amazing opportunity to educate the consumer, and in this case, the voter. It is also an invaluable way to create a deeper connection and foster loyalty. But neither campaign appears to be using the opportunity very much. I realize that they need to keep things relatively simple to respect average reading levels of the American public AND understand the short attention span of the typical Internet user.

Still that doesn’t mean that they should dumb it down and water it down to little or no substance.

No matter what the education level or attention span of a subscriber, facts and figures always impress when it comes to persuasive writing. It sounds awful to say it, but even if the readers don’t understand those facts and figures,  they will still sound impressive…so substance really can help.

Instead of a big fat donation link being the main focus of the email, I wonder if the campaigns could be well served by adding more details, creating downloadable educational materials and making it easy for subscribers to share this information with friends via email, social media and more. After all, these are people who signed up to support the campaign or to learn more (or possibly to spy on the other guy). People can support the campaign by spreading information because a recommendation from a friend is probably far more influential than an expensive attack ad on television. There are no sharing buttons at the bottom of any of the emails…and as their email campaigns stand now, maybe that’s good because they aren’t delivering much in the way of shareable materials.

It seems like all they’re thinking about is how they can raise more money, when the truth is, with these huge lists, they are ALREADY SITTING on money.

This isn’t the only problem though…

Multiple Senders: Creating Confusion and Insincerity?

When I first started getting the emails, I was confused by the different names in the from lines. For example, soon after I signed up to receive emails from Mitt Romney’s campaign, I received an email from Ann Romney. At first, I thought it was spam because I didn’t actually sign up for emails from Mrs. Romney. It threw me off until I decided to inspect the contents of the email.

Of course, I then realized that both campaigns do this. They send emails from multiple people involved with the campaigns. And while most of us recognize Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, there are also emails coming from people that won’t be recognized by a large number of people. For example email comes from Katie Packer Gage (Deputy Campaign Manager for Romney) and Julianna Smoot (Deputy Campaign Manager for Obama). These are names that the average American isn’t going to know.

Unknown SenderI imagine that many of these emails get reported as spam or are left unread because they aren’t recognized.

It seems to me, it would be more effective to have a consistent from line, so people know it’s email they requested. Then they could have the inside of the email start out with something like,

“Hey, it’s Katie Packer Gage here…”

But even then, these emails still don’t cut the muster. Sure, many people will actually believe that Obama, Mitt and the others have their laptops open and are typing out these messages personally…but plenty know it’s not the case. These emails just aren’t believable. They lack personality and voice.

Ann Romney Email

Better writing could improve things to create a more personal message. Perhaps a short video message or something. A few second sound byte could go a long way. Even more photos in the emails would be good.

Of course, they’re not all horrible. Some include more details and really speak directly to the target audience. Here’s an excerpt from that email from Katie Packer Gage.

Email from Katie Packer GageAnd here’s a partial excerpt from an email from Barack Obama.

Email from Barack ObamaWhether you agree with the message in the above two emails or not, these are much better samples of writing . They show passion, they include details and they include reasons why. But these two examples aren’t the norm. Most are much like the Ann Romney email I posted above.

Disjointed Message / No Anticipation

Add to this, the emails from different both campaigns deliver a disjointed message. Powerful email marketing is a story…where one email leads to the next and your subscribers are waiting to see what’s next. This just isn’t happening.

However, there was an exception to this in the Romney emails on Sunday. Early in the day, there was an email addressed from Paul Ryan and then later in the day, it was then followed up with an email from Mitt Romney that said:

Email from Mitt Romney

There is a connection with these emails and it was a great follow up, but there was only a backward connection in this case. So while it created familiarity and added sincerity, it didn’t work to get people excited about the NEXT email. You’ve got to keep your readers interested, give them clues about what’s next so they’ll be waiting by their inbox to find out.

Other Observations

  • Email Frequency: Both campaigns email frequently and that is probably a good thing. I know a lot of online business owners hesitate to email frequently, but it works. It helps you gain a loyal audience, but the drawback for a political campaign is that the less loyal drop off as you go along. In business email marketing, drop off is a good thing because you want to hone your list down to the most targeted people possible, but in politics it could be a Catch-22.
  • Link Text: I noticed that in both campaigns, most of the emails had long strings of text in the links. This made the links hard to read. I’d test that with much shorter text strings, so it’s readable and the call to action is clear.

Long links that are hard to read.

  • Use of P.S.’s: Obama emails often included a P.S., which is an effective place to make an offer or another reason to donate. I didn’t notice the use in the Romney emails, but it is definitely something they should test if they haven’t already.
  • P.S. in Obama emailUse of Photos: There were a photos in the emails both campaigns and more so, in the Obama emails. Photos can really grab attention and evoke emotion, so including more photos would probably produce a desirable result. But one thing I noticed was the images, were often lower down in the email. I’d put them higher up, so people can see them right away and are drawn into the emails.

For example, this picture below comes after several sentences and links to donate various amounts.  Yes, links are important in email, but images can help you convey your message much more quickly…so make them prominent.

Obama photo example

This next one places the image a bit higher up, but it’s probably because the message in this one happens to be short. But why they chose such a fuzzy picture, I’m not sure. Image quality definitely matters in capturing the attention of readers.

Romney email with photosAgain, as I stated at the beginning, I have no insight into these campaigns other than what I’ve observed. Still, I’m surprised by the lack of care in their email efforts.

Sure, these guys are dealing with lists of millions, unlike you and me. We have to work hard to ensure the best results possible from our smaller lists because we have fewer people to work with. Perhaps, Obama and Romney can afford to make mistakes because their lists are so huge, but then again I really don’t think they can.

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About the Author

Alice Seba
Alice Seba is the owner and creator of Contentrix.com. With a focus on using content to create relationships, loyalty and results from writing, she loves helping online business owners get more bang out of their content.

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  • http://www.attractconvertkeep.com Blase

    Great post Alice,

    As a marketer for over 35 years it amazes
    me how politicians and businesses can spend
    fortunes and not know what they are doing.

    Thanks for doing this, I have no idea how
    you could read all of that from either side
    of the argument. :-)

    • http://www.aliceseba.com Alice Seba

      Thanks Blase. It was definitely interesting going through everything. I’ll keep watching in the next few weeks to see if they step things up at all.

  • http://www.SusanScottOnline.com Susan Scott

    I suspect email marketing is so far from their normal realm of experience, they simply don’t have the expertise to take full advantage of it. The snarkier side of my nature says the truth is that the political elitists don’t really believe there is much intelligent life on the receiving end of the email list. Either way, they are missing the boat this time around. 4 years from now it might be a very different story. Of course, by then email marketing will have evolved again and they will still be behind. I think this is a pretty good example of the vast divide that separates government thinking from entrepreneurial thinking. I would guess that many of the people who start online businesses need a new way of thinking if they are going to be successful. This post could be the beginning of a great lesson series in developing a business mindset!

    • http://www.aliceseba.com Alice Seba

      Absolutely agreed. Still, I would hope they’d hire people who had some clue about what to do. From what I can see, they have a slightly better grasp of social media…but perhaps there are so many “experts” in social media, that they had people jumping on board to be a part of that. ;-)

  • http://mostwantedcostumes.com Iris Johnson


    Very good observation and critique!

    Just goes to show that there is always room for improvement. It is also worth noting that it is of utmost importance to hire (or elect) people who know what they are doing or get it right most of the time.

    I have subscribed to IM lists myself in order to learn something from how they compose their emails and market to their lists. However, I have not persisted in my observation … now I find myself just overwhelmed with emails coming from all different directions … coming from names I have never heard of before. :-(

    By the way, I have subscribed to your list and hope to enjoy more of what you deliver!

    • http://contentrix.com Alice Seba

      Hi Iris, thanks for the feedback and glad you subscribed. I love your site…Halloween and dressing up in costumes are two of my favorite things!

  • Sharon McMillan

    Great observations Alice. As a member of these lists I completely agree about the confusion they create by having emails coming various folks within the campaign.

    I’ve probably already deleted a few campaign emails unintentionally because I had no clue who the author was and didn’t have the time to investigate.

    Campaign marketers need to acknowledge that a good percentage of the people on their list want to be there so no need to use some of the evasive tactics they think necessary to ensure we read!

    As you pointed out – this is an opportunity to share some useful, factual information that supporters can use.

    Let us know that’s what we’ll find in the email – we’ll likely donate after getting information that we support and that we can use!

    It’s fun looking at best practices in email marketing with such a interesting real-world example – thanks Alice!

    • http://contentrix.com Alice Seba

      Thanks for your feedback, Sharon. I’ve seen even more names that I didn’t recognize since I wrote this post.

      But interestingly enough, I’ve found the Romney campaign is actually adding more substance to their emails in the last few days. They are actually talking about issues. I wonder if their email people read this post? ;-)

      • Sharon McMillan

        I hope campaign staff are following your blog! I’m watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe right now and thinking how cool it would be to see some campaign coverage that strayed from the usual retreaded material and focused on something really important like email marketing strategy ;-) I’d enjoy seeing Alice Seba at the round table!

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