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Does Email Marketing Stack-up to Other Media?

By Tommi Pryor

This article will compare and contrast the characteristics and benefits of email marketing versus other key marketing media typically utilized by political campaigns today.

Email marketing vs. direct mail
While both email marketing and direct mail deserve a place in the political campaign’s media mix, there are several benefits that an email campaign offers that a direct mail campaign doesn’t. 

There is the issue of turnaround time.  Each component of the direct mail package must be designed, written, printed, addressed, possibly personalized, and mailed.  Even if an agency is acting as a single point of contact in coordinating the project, the project must often move from one vendor to the next . . . from the copywriter to the graphic designer to the printer to the lettershop.  In contrast, an email ad can reasonably be designed, produced, and launched in the space of a few hours, often with a single turnkey provider.  In addition, where it might be expected to take 2-3 weeks to get the bulk of the responses back from a direct mail campaign, 80% of the responses from an email campaign are within the first three days of launch.

There is the issue of cost.  In examining this, let’s take a small hypothetical budget amounting to $5,000.  Based on an email cost of five cents to deploy, the advertiser would be able to contact 100,000 prospects.  In contrast to this, based on a cost of sixty-five cents to produce a direct mail piece, the advertiser would only be able to contact 7,692 prospects.  Beyond this, as compared to direct mail, email has been reported to generate an ROI that is 40 times higher than direct mail.  It has also been reported to drive traffic to the advertiser’s web site at a rate that is five times higher than with direct mail (and 50 times higher than from banner ads).  

This having been said, the political advertiser should set its expectations for email prospecting performance no differently than it sets its expectations for direct mail prospecting.  The objective in both cases should be to build the campaign’s housefile roster--not to expect that either effort will pay for itself or yield a net return.   The fundraising gain in both cases occurs in the next phase after the prospect has responded by subscribing, joining, opting-in, or making a (typically small) initial gift.  Once an affinity is established through such an action, the relationship with your new supporter can be cultivated through subsequent housefile appeals.  This is why it is so important that the primary objective when you are prospecting is to build your housefile whether you are utilizing direct mail or email.  Email presents another advantage in this regard, however, as its lower cost means that breakeven can be achieved much sooner than with direct mail (but remember—this occurs over time during the housefile cultivation phase). 

In closing out on this point, a word to the wise:  make certain that your email content includes a link or button to subscribe, not just a donate link or button.  If the only call-to-action in your email is for a donation, you may drive off those who want to learn more before making a contribution.  Of greater concern, you will then also lose the opportunity to build your housefile since you have not provided the prospect with the option of signing-up via a link or button in your email or landing page.

Email also compares favorably to direct mail in that you can precisely micro-target to your defined audience. Both media can be highly personalized.  Both are also highly trackable in terms of results as well. However, email presents the added advantage of precise numbers as to how many opened the email, how many clicked-through and who responded to your call-to-action.  In addition, these stats are available in real-time.  By contrast, one can only infer how many recipients actually opened the envelope to get into a direct mail package and how many were intrigued enough to reach into the envelope for more information (which might be likened to clicking through to your web site to read more).  Of course, both can give you an actual response rate to your call-to-action, but the additional information you learn with email tracking eliminates a lot of the guesswork as to where response may be falling off that you can tweak the next time out. 

Why would a political advertiser continue to invest in direct mail for prospecting if email presents so many additional advantages?  The reason is simple:  the number of consumer postal addresses available in the marketplace is far greater than the number of email addresses that are commercially available.  In addition, though the trend is rapidly changing, some donors are still reluctant to make their gifts online and prefer to send a check in an envelope.  The bottom line is that both these media have a place in the political campaign’s marketing mix.  

While both would be the ideal, for the political campaign that is just starting out or is low on funds, email might be the only prospecting option that can practically be pursued due to its dramatically lower cost.  A political campaign at any stage can also leverage its existing housefile or voter list by having a reputable email provider append email addresses from its email universe to matching records on the political advertiser’s file.  The advertiser only pays for the email addresses that are matched and appended.  In addition, the advertiser is permitted to use the appended information on an unlimited basis as opposed to renting the data each time it is needed.

Email Marketing vs. Spot Television
But how does email marketing compare with television, the mainstay of political marketing? 

Many advertisers are reallocating their media spend by increasing their investments in online advertising and email marketing (“New Media”) while decreasing their investment in television advertising.  The reasons for this come down to two things: First, that the CPM (Cost Per Thousand) for online ads and email campaigns is substantially lower than for television.  Second, with more and more viewers multi-tasking while watching television and using TIVO or their DVR to skip commercials, the actual television commercial reach is diminishing.  In addition, where actual “net reach” for television remains elusive, and is generally concluded by inference, email and online banner ads provide precise real-time reach/response rates through tracking and click-through data.

On the other hand, television presents advantages when it comes to audience reach.  This is because it could take hours or even days to deploy the same number of emails that can be reached through a single 30-60 second broadcast.  However, when one considers how people actually watch television today in light of all the possible distractions mentioned above, and including the TIVO and DVR fast-forward factor, the playing field dramatically levels.  This is particularly true when you compare the significantly lower CPM of email marketing as compared with television advertising.  Moreover, while television can deliver a message to a vast number of people simultaneously, it can take weeks to create and produce a television spot in contrast to an email ad since the latter can be completed in as little as a few hours. 

So, while the emails must be delivered individually, the entire process can be launched much faster than with television.  When a political campaign needs to get out an immediate response to an opponent’s statements or to a local or world event, emails can start deploying in a matter of hours.

In addition, the finished email can be tested to a small percentage of the target list and tweaked or even changed completely over the space of three or four days before the full budgetary commitment is applied.  With television, this is not possible in the short-term. For one thing, it takes longer to evaluate the success of a television spot since real-time tracking is not possible.  Even if this data could be ascertained, and in real-time, it would be both time-prohibitive and cost-prohibitive to try to pull the spot, re-edit or re-shoot it, etc. when time is of the essence.

An email campaign also provides for immediate interaction with your web site using the same device so that responses, or even contributions, can be generated immediately when the impulse to act is highest.  The political advertiser can then begin to cultivate a relationship immediately with the respondent using thank-you pages, welcome aboard emails and so forth.  Although a television spot can be used to drive viewers to the advertiser’s web site as well, there is more inertia to overcome since the prospect has to then stop viewing television to switch to a device that can be used to access the Internet.

Finally, an email can be forwarded to friends and colleagues resulting in pass-along circulation. This can increase the reach of your message exponentially at no additional cost to you.  Termed “viral marketing”, this is something you can promote by incorporating a refer-a-friend button or link in your email ad, on the landing page that your respondents click-through to, in your thank -you page and your welcome aboard email.  Of course, television does not have the capability of pass-through circulation and cannot multiply the value of your investment using a viral strategy. 

The long and short of it is this:  political marketers should follow in the footsteps of commercial marketers in building email into the marketing/media mix.  It offers many of its own unique benefits and also serves to compliment and boost the response to other media when used collaboratively.  Where leading commercial marketers are reporting an allocation of 15% of the media budget to email marketing on average, this is creeping up and can be as much as 100% of budget when funds are limited. 

This being said, this article will close by reiterating the important point that the political advertiser must set appropriate expectations for email campaign results and must remember that the goal of a prospecting campaign should be to build the housefile unless the objective is branding or GOTV.

Tommi Pryor is CEO of American Information Marketing, LLC (“AIM”)
a database marketing company and new media agency providing
opt-in email addresses with turnkey deployment and tracking,
 Tommi previously owner-managed a full-service political
marketing and fundraising agency in the nation’s capital. 
Tommi can currently be contacted at Click here to contact this Author.

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