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Empowering Your Email Campaign

By Tommi Pryor

The first step toward optimizing the results from an email campaign is to understand the metrics used to measure its effectiveness. Some novice email marketers “throw the baby out with the bath water” based on a lack of understanding of how an email marketing campaign should be evaluated. Others set unrealistic expectations hoping that a single email message pushed out to a prospect list will fill their coffers (this rarely happens). 

Setting realistic expectations
In addressing the latter, the political marketer should bear in mind that a direct mail fundraising appeal to new prospects may cost up to 200% more than it raises, and that the gains will be realized when those who respond are re-solicited multiple times into the future.  Although break-even is achieved more quickly with email fundraising since it is less costly to produce than direct mail, a similar expectation should be set.  The primary goal of an email prospecting campaign should be to build the campaign’s housefile list.  Once an affinity has been established between the mailer and recipient, subsequent fundraising solicitations to the newly affiliated supporters should be fruitful. 

Properly evaluating an email campaign
In measuring the performance of an email prospecting campaign, the most important metric is the “conversion rate”.  This equates to the number of email recipients who clicked-through to your web site and then responded to the specific call-to-action requested in the email.  Your call-to-action might be an invitation to opt-in for future communications or a call to donate, sign a petition, etc.  However, if the “conversion rate” metric is not what was hoped for, especially the first time out to a given email prospect list, there are other important metrics that should nonetheless be considered.

First is the “open rate”.  This is the number of recipients who actually opened up your email to read it (wouldn’t it be great if you could learn the number of audience members who actually view your television commercials?).  Bear in mind that email, and online advertising for that matter, are both “response media” and “branding media”.  Even if you do not get the desired click-through rate (the next metric to be addressed), you have succeeded in creating awareness if your email is viewed.  By getting the email opened and presumably read, you have also contributed to name or issue recognition just as would be the case with, say, an investment in print advertising or signage.

Next is the “click-through rate” (CTR) metric.  You’ll want to evaluate your click-through rate in two ways:  1. the number of clicking-through to your web site out of the total number delivered “Click-to-Delivered rate” (CTD), and 2. the number clicking-through to your web site out of those who opened your email “Click-To-Open rate” (CTO).  A high CTR but low conversion rate may mean that the landing page or web form is suppressing response and should be reconsidered and perhaps, redesigned.  Bear in mind that a low click-through rate, but high conversion rate, counts for more than the other way around.

One should also keep in mind that where a list may not perform to expectations for one purpose -- it may perform above expectations for another. For instance, some prospect lists may not perform very well as far as fundraising goes, but the recipients on those lists may be quite willing to respond to other calls-to-action such as attending an event or rally, helping to canvass their neighborhood, signing a petition or going to the polls to cast their vote for your candidate. Conversely, a list may perform very well for fundraising but not so well for calls-to-action that require the prospect to invest time doing more than providing you with their credit card number.

When it comes to the list, you get what you pay for!
Political marketers who have not yet been schooled in email best practices may conclude that a given email list is a poor performer, or even that email marketing as a medium does not work, because a given campaign doesn’t test well.   This can be because they have not set their expectations and objectives properly for the use of this medium, or because they have not evaluated all of the email metrics they should be considering, as discussed above.  This can also be due to list quality and appropriateness or email design and content.

Regarding the list, novice email marketers may not realize that the least expensive lists can actually wind-up being the most costly!  If you get the lowest price in town on an email list, it may be because the list is not permission-based (opt-in) and comes from a bargain CD purchased from an online auction site.  These typically consist of a high percentage of outdated and undeliverable email addresses, corporate email addresses that hold no value to the political mailer (such as “sales@” or “info@”), and email addresses of individuals who will be disgruntled at receiving your emails because they did not opt-in to the sponsoring list owner.

Email campaigns deployed to such lists usually produce very poor results with respect to all metrics.  In addition, these may lead to a high number of SPAM complaints that can cause your IP Address to be blacklisted by major ISPs. This could negatively impact the delivery rate of all of your electronic campaign communications including to your proven donors!  If your IP Address gets put on one of the universal blacklists, the outcome to your campaign or initiative could be devastating.

When you utilize a genuine opt-in list, the list owner or manager will often do a “permission pass” to allow the recipient to opt-out of receiving your email marketing messages. This will help assure that your messages will be welcome even though political email is not subject to CAN SPAM requirements. 

The old axiom that “you get what you pay for” truly applies when you consider all the elements of email marketing!

Test for success!
If you are using email marketing for fundraising, as opposed to awareness or GOTV, you should consider testing a random segment of the list before committing to a larger deployment.  We recommend an A/B Split of email content when testing.  For instance, Email “A” builds a case for making a contribution and drives recipients to the donor form on your web site.  Email “B” drives the recipient to your “Join” or “Subscribe” page.  You can also test the performance of one list versus another but bear in mind that you must be prepared to do a complex response analysis if you undertake testing of multiple lists and email content at the same time.

It is important to emphasize, however, that when testing the performance of a list itself, it is wise to test at least three times to that group of recipients.  This is because research has shown that it takes at least three contacts to build affinity and to optimize response.

Tips to avoid the SPAM filters
Be prudent about loading your email with assorted graphics.  Designers of today’s SPAM filtering
technology understand that personal emails between friends and colleagues rarely would have a lot of graphic images if any embedded in the body of the email.  While photos, large banner headers and animations can make your email message more attractive and interesting, too high a percentage will cause your email message to be routed to the SPAM  filter instead of the In-box-- or even to be bounced altogether. To be safe, we recommend that graphic content not exceed 10% of the message body for a prospecting campaign.

Other things to avoid are long subject lines (we recommend under 40 characters), uppercase subject, use of punctuation in subject lines (especially exclamation points and question marks), and certain subject line keywords that are in wide use by purveyors of SPAM.

I will cover these topics in greater detail in next month’s article.

For our own email marketing clients, we run the email ads they submit through a “content checker” that scores the email for probable deliverability to the in-box before it is sent.  The rating system not only considers the percentage of images used in the email ad, but it also considers subject line length and a variety of other factors that the SPAM filters use to determine if an incoming email should go to the Junk Folder or the Inbox.  By running the Email Ad through the Content Checker, we can work with the customer to make adjustments to their ad before it is deployed to ensure maximum delivery.

Don’t bury your call-to-action
Even if you succeed in getting your email past the SPAM filters in significant numbers, there are other factors that can dramatically affect the outcome of your email campaign.  For instance, burying your call-to action too far into the email can cost you response.  Certainly, it helps to build your case but it is generally best to summarize your call-to-action early then restate it later in the email after you have made your key points.  This is because many people read just the first couple of lines in an email ad. Think of this like you would when writing a direct mail piece. Your subject line is like the envelope teaser and should compel people to open it.  Your lead sentences should get the reader right into your call-to-action with a good reason for responding.

You should also consider putting multiple links or buttons back to your web site’s opt-in page throughout your email message.  You should strategically position these throughout the email message. 

Call-to-action forms should require minimal information
Speaking of landing pages, you would be ill-advised to run banners ads or to undertake an email marketing campaign without a strategically chosen landing page that supports your call-to-action (donate, subscribe, volunteer, etc.).  If you link them to your Home Page, instead of to a dedicated landing page with your call-to-action form, many of these visitors will abandon the web site without ever having navigated to your opt-in or donate form.  Ideally, you want the person who clicks-through to land on a page displaying a simple interactive form that will allow the email recipient to provide you with the minimum information required to effect the call-to-action.  Notice the emphasis on “minimum”.

We have often reviewed tracking/click-through reports that show a very good open rate and equally good click-through rate.  However, the opt-in or call-to-action rate is very poor.  This suggests that the effort lost the person somewhere after the click-through.  Was the visitor required to fill out a long form asking for a lot of personal information before they could leave?  Never forget the short attention span of most visitors and remember that the motivation of many will wane quickly.   A web form that has too many fields to fill out for a first-time contact can be a put-off.  We would all like to know as much about our responders as possible, but you can acquire additional information in response to subsequent communications such as your Welcome email.

Keep it short!
The rule-of-thumb with a direct mail prospect appeal is that a longer letter typically out-performs a shorter one.  This is attributed to the space needed to build the case for responding.  With email prospecting, this is not typically the case.  Shorter email ads tend to are better.  Try to  keep your email ad brief enough to be viewed without scrolling down more than one screen.  Again, if it looks like it’s going to take a lot of time to read the email, some recipients will open and then close it immediately without reading any of it.  The recipient may intend to come back to it later but research shows that they rarely will.  You can likely get away with longer email messages to your existing supporters, but you must remember that when prospecting the interest-level and commitment-level of the recipient has not been established.  You do not want to drive them off with a message they perceive is going to take too long to read before you have them firmly on the hook.

Remember, the first goal of a successful campaign strategy is to get your email message delivered in the first place.  Following these suggested rules will increase your deliverability and assist you with the growth of an invaluable email contact list.

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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