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GOP Throwdown: How Do the Candidates Stack Up on Email Marketing Practices?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
30 January 2012

Watching the Republican candidates for the U.S. presidential nomination has made me wonder how they’re deploying email in their campaigns.

Are they using email for fund-raising, for organizing local events or as a press-release platform? Do they use generally accepted email marketing best practices, cross the line like so many PAC-funded TV commercials or simply miss the boat?

To find out, I signed up in early January to receive email from all the declared candidates and will track their email efforts until the nomination. I've been busy grabbing screenshots of splash pages, sign-up forms, campaign emails and other email features as well as tracking opt-in procedures and analyzing content. (See my Slideshare presentation below critiquing the candidates' sign-in processes.)

Although the field has thinned since I began my research (Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry have dropped out, with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul campaigning now before the Florida primary), I’ve already amassed plenty of data.

What have I found so far? Here are a couple of highlights from the opt-in process:

  • Four candidates—Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum (splash page no longer used)—feature splash pages before moving to the regular home page. All except for Rick Perry’s highlight email sign-up. Two—Huntsman and Romney—give visitors the option to provide an email address and zip code.
  • All the candidates collect email addresses on their home pages, with six of the seven using a simple email address field (and zip code field in some cases) in the upper-right corner of the home page. Four also included an additional sign-up promotion.

  • The Perry campaign's opt-in form was the least prominent, with its location in a sidebar on the bottom third of the homepage. As it happened, the Perry campaign was the only one that sent no emails before the candidate dropped out of the race.
  • The zip code is a logical data point to collect because it allows a campaign to segment and target mailings for appearances and local organizing. Four of the seven candidates asked for zip codes along with email addresses at opt-in, but only Romney and Ron Paul required it to process the subscription.
  • Two of the candidates—Santorum and Bachmann—offered social sign-in via Facebook, with the network icon appearing top right on the homepage under the email opt-in field.
  • Bachmann was also the only candidate who launched a preference center at opt-in. Most of the candidates' sites collected detailed financial information for donations, but Bachmann's opt-in process leads subscribers into an expansive form, collecting detailed contact and interest information.
  • Two of the seven candidates used a double opt-in process when collecting email addresses. This is slightly less than one-third of the candidate population. While obviously not a reliable sample size, it's still considerably higher than marketers in general.
  • Surprisingly, only one candidate sent a welcome message after the opt-in: Michele Bachmann, who dropped out of the race just before I began this project.
  • Change happens quickly during the campaign. When checking back regularly I’ve found that several candidates have revised confirmation pages, dropped splash pages and made other tweaks.

For future blog posts, I'll examine a variety of email program aspects in greater detail, including:

  • “From” names and subject lines
  • Message content
  • Design, layout and administrative footers
  • Cadence
  • Preference centers and opt-out process

In the meantime, here are two teasers of upcoming analysis:

  • So far, Rick Santorum is the most active emailer, with 13 email messages sent between Jan. 10 and Jan. 14.
  • Many of the candidates use a variety of sender (“From”) names such as the candidate's own name, a campaign manager (Matt Krull for Gingrich or Mike Biundo for Santorum) or a big-name supporter (ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge for Huntsman). Perhaps the most intriguing "From" name so far? "The Jon2012Girls" for the Huntsman campaign.

Is there anything specific you’d like me to look at in the candidates' emails or their email strategies? Please post your questions and comments in the comments area below.


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