Oct 8, 2019
We've all been a victim at some point… I'm talking of course about email marketing from political campaigns. Braze's own Todd Grennan walks us through the nightmare experience we're all familiar with and the damage it can have on your brand long term.
Speaker 2: Welcome back to Braze for Impact, your martech industry discuss digest. Today, I'll be getting some help from Todd Grennan, Managing Editor of Content Marketing here at Braze. So, we talk with a lot of clients and experts about best practices and strategies when it comes to executing effective email campaigns, but we don't hear a lot from the recipients of emails, those that are actually receiving the experience, but today that's exactly what we're going to do. Learning from the strategies and results of marketing teams is one way to gather powerful takeaways, but getting a detailed breakdown of the consumer experience can be even more telling. Todd walks us through a broken email experience he was subjected to compliments of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Now, they created this strategy and it's been used in many political campaigns to date. Here's Todd to tell us more.
Todd Grennan: Bad political outreach knows no partisan divide. Back during the 2016 presidential election, we saw a lot of poorly conceived, ethically questionable email marketing from the Republican nominee and a sizeable amount of repetitive batch and blast emails from his Democratic opponent, but while the 2016 election came and went, political candidate struggles with their digital outreach have continued Even to this day. Political candidates and organizations have different marketing goals than brands and the rules they have to follow when it comes to outreach are different in part because politicians have exempted themselves from the anti-spam laws that apply to everyone else. Ultimately, they're still trying to use technology to raise money and build relationships with their target audience and that means that there's a lot that marketing growth and engagement teams can learn from political messaging even, or maybe especially, when it goes awry. Picture this, it's Thursday, May 25th, 2017 and you're a left-leaning individual living somewhere in the United States. You donate monthly to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a few weeks back, you gave $10 to the campaign of Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate running in a special election in Montana. When your alarm goes off at 8:00 AM, you brush the sleep from your eyes, make some coffee, and check your email, and you find yourself greeted by an email from the Quist campaign, "Todd, are you online? Todd, sorry to email so early, but this is urgent. Polls are about to open in Montana. If we can raise $75,000 by 8:00 PM we can fund our, get out the vote efforts and win the special election. If not, we could be in for a tough night". You open the email and find a solicitation for more donations from the Quist campaign. You consider for a moment, then decided against giving anymore money right now. You go about your day, head to work, a couple hours pass, another email from the Quist campaign appears in your inbox, and another, and another. Before you go to bed, you've received nine emails from them asking for money each with a click-baity, vaguely hysterical, seemingly randomly capitalized subject line. 10:03 AM: 5X match extended. Montana match unlocked. 11:04 AM: Breaking. Nate Silver's 538. 12:04 PM: Heartbreaking end. 1:03 PM; Stunning news. 3:03 PM: Please read. Do not delete. 5:02 PM: Urgent Montana alert. Five hour notice. 7:15 PM: Final request, Todd. 9:04 PM: One hour left. Quist loses, but you keep getting emails like these by the dozen from the DCCC, from other democratic special election candidates, like Georgia's Jon Ossoff, all of them begging for money. Their subject lines and body texts, swinging from champagne, popping declarations of certain victory to apocalyptic gloom. You unsubscribed from one email address then another, but the messages keep coming from the DCCC and from putatively independent groups with names like, End Citizens United and the Progressive Turnout Project. What's going on? You're a good person. Why is this happening to you? The short version, it's the DCCC's fault. Back during the 2014 election in an effort to juice the democratic parties takings from small donors during an election that, to put it lightly didn't favor their party, the DCCC pioneered a new approach to political email. Incessant messages, asking for donations, wild shifts in tone from email to email, highly questionable claims about funding deadlines and double or triple or quadruple donation matches, and the strategy brought in an enormous amount of money for the DCCC and its candidates, allowing the Democratic party to out raise Republicans by more than 30%. However, that extra cash did little to boost Democratic candidates and the emails themselves triggered widespread backlash, inspiring both a parody Tumblr account and a mocking song where all the lyrics were taken from DCCC subject lines. (music) Following the election, the DCCC doubled down on its strategy. Then a group of DCCC veterans went off on their own, founding a left leaning digital consulting firm known as, Mothership Strategies, that took this approach to email marketing and brought it to individual Democratic campaigns. Including Ossoff and Quist's election efforts. Between DCCC and Mothership, Democratic leaning donors have found themselves inundated with alarmist, frustrating emails for years at a time. Why do democratic candidates and organizations keep inundating their donors with aggressive, irritating emails? Well, because they think it's a successful strategy. Back in 2014, Steve Israel, who was then the head of the DCCC told reporters, "I apologize all over the country for the volume of email people get, but it works", and argued that the strategy had, "Revolutionized online fundraising", but while this burn and churn approached email can pay off in the short term when it comes to juicing your fundraising, there's a longterm cost. Michael Whitney, the former digital fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, described the DCCC's approach as a wildly deceptive, unrelenting approach that treats supporters like garbage. There's reason to think it's poisoning the well for future Democratic candidates and potentially driving down real voter engagement, which is what ultimately determines whether a particular campaign is a success or a failure. With the help of Mothership Strategies, Rob Quist raised more than $6 million and lost. Jon Ossoff's donations exceeded 23 million, but he lost too. Arguably, the only real winner on the Democratic side of these races was Mothership, which pocketed more than 4.2 million in fees for its efforts. Ossoff and Quist may not be the only losers over the long haul. A 2014 study found that people who receive DCCC emails made donations that were 15% lower in the future than those who hadn't received the messages, which suggests those tactics can drive down fundraising over time. What's the upside of all this? While the DCCC and Mothership have made a lot of questionable decisions when it comes to sending email outreach, ultimately it means that marketers have a chance to learn from them without having to make those same mistakes themselves and really, that's a big opportunity. So, let's take a second and dig into what the DCCC approach to email gets wrong. First, sending way, way, way too many messages and sending them too frequently. Look, no one wants to receive nine emails asking them for money in a 13 hour period. No one. That's exhausting and significantly increases the chances that recipients unsubscribe or start tuning out your messaging. Instead of sending a bunch of similar emails, send one email and use multivariate testing to optimize it. You'll send the best possible message to your audience and that'll do a lot more to drive donations or whatever conversion you're trying to encourage than a barrage of semi-relevant outreach. Second, they're sending outreach to only one messaging channel. Email's great. It's one of the best messaging channels for ROI and for a lot of customers it's their preferred way to hear from brands, but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Some of your most valuable customers may not be interested in joining your email list and others are going to tire after receiving email after email and unsubscribe. If you only use one channel to communicate with your audience, that unsubscribe is the end of the story. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign aside, most political campaigns don't have a native app. That means that push notifications and internet messages are off the table for them, though there's no reason marketers shouldn't take advantage. A robust cross channel outreach is still possible even if you don't have an app. Thanks to web messaging, you can use email, web push, in-browser messages, and web content cards all in concert to engage your audience on desktop and the mobile web. This kind of cross channel approach can pay big dividends. According to research conducted by Braze, sending messages in a single channel is associated with a 179% increase in engagement compared to users who received no messages at all. However, leveraging two or more messaging channels leads to a massive 642% increase, which highlights the competitive advantage that cross channel outreach represents. Third, sending only one kind of email. Email is more than just a way to nudge people to give you money. It's a powerful highly flexible channel and it's just as good at keeping people informed and building relationships as it is for encouraging one more donation. There's nothing wrong with asking for donations. Just like businesses need revenue to operate. Political campaigns depend on donations to pay their staff, fund their ads, and support the get out the vote operations, but sending one appeal for funds after another is just as off-putting as a company that only sends messages urging you to make a purchase. It can leave a lot of people feeling like they're being treated like a living, breathing wallet. Instead of using email marketing campaigns to incessantly ask for money, the Ossoff and Quist campaigns could have mixed things up by using this channel to lay out their campaign platform, highlight endorsements and positive poll numbers, and asked people to volunteer. Making people feel invested in a campaign, or a brand for that matter, can do a lot to deepen their engagement and make them more open to your appeals the next time you ask them for money. Fourth, using repetitive and off-putting copy and creative. Let's be blunt. These messages aren't email copy at its best. They're built around scare tactics and the content of messages tends to be thin and unengaging. The use of images and emojis are haphazard and gives the emails a cheap unappealing vibe. Even worse, they keep using the same unappealing subject lines and copy over and over and over. Creating messages that keep your audience interested and engaged isn't easy. It's even harder when you send the same kind of outreach over and over, but with a little thought and care and the right marketing tools, it's possible to keep things fresh over the long haul. You just have to try. Finally, sending every message to their entire email list. This is a sin that a lot of companies are guilty of too. You have a massive email list at your disposal. You've got an email that you think is going to perform well. Why wouldn't you want to send it to everybody? Well, because one size very rarely fits all. The Ossoff campaign sent a lot of emails asking for money. While lots of people were unhappy about the outreach, some of the unhappiest where the people who experienced a barrage of these messages immediately after making a donation or setting up a recurring payment to the campaign. These people did exactly what the campaign had asked them to do and what did they get for their troubles? Even more annoying messages begging for cash. Avoiding this kind of situation isn't hard. If the Ossoff campaign had segmented their audience based on whether they'd made a donation or a recurring payment, they could have exempted recent donors from their outreach focusing these efforts on people who had yet to donate. Plus with this kind of segmentation, it would have been possible to carefully target future messages based on each recipient's donation patterns, potentially allowing them to turn one time donors into recurring ones using personalized targeted outreach. If you're trying to improve your brand's approach to email, taking a hard look at the DCCC's email strategy and doing the exact opposite is a good first step, but you shouldn't stop there. There's so much more out there when it comes to engaging your customers, whether it's additional channels, whether it's tools like personalization, segmentation, message testing and optimization. The important thing is to think seriously about what you're actually delivering to your customers. What is the experience they're getting from you? Why would they want to receive it? If you're not giving them an experience that they're interested in, rethinking things. None of these campaigns are trying to irritate potential voters. They probably all had the best of intentions, but ultimately they were serving up a really frustrating experience mostly because they didn't know any better. You do know better, or hopefully you do now, and it's something that you can avoid. It takes a little forethought. It takes the right tools, but you have what it takes to make it happen. So, please do, speaking on behalf of all your customers.
Speaker 2: That's about all the time we have for today. Special thanks to Todd for giving us some insight. Let's learn from the mistakes of others instead of repeating them. Thanks for joining us. Take care.