What Businesses Can Learn From Recent Political Email Campaigns

Editors Note: This post is not in favor of one candidate or another or meant to support any one political party. It’s simply an analysis and editorial on the effectiveness of a recent email marketing campaign

Nuclear Meltdown. Stephen, I’m begging. Stephen, we’ve got nothing left. These might sound like songs by Belle and Sebastian (or insert your favorite indie band here) but in fact these are actual subject lines from e-mails sent by the Democratic National Party lately. My friend, Stephen, subscribes to their list, and he’s feeling a bit awkward lately from all these desperate e-mails.

The occasion is the attempt of Republicans to impeach President Obama, and attendant fundraising for defense by the Democrats. Other e-mails say “President Obama has e-mailed you, Nancy Pelosi has e-mailed you,” etc. This post is not about bashing Democrats or even their e-mailing strategy, per se, but I’d like to use the occasion to look at how these high-profile e-mails, sent to millions, can instruct a business owner or head of marketing.

Don’t Pressure Your Customers

Different recipients of e-mails from the Dems will probably feel differently about them. What’s at stake in a political “crisis” is not the same as with a marketing e-mail, and what’s appropriate for one won’t be for another. Rightly or wrongly, indignation, a sense of polarization, is thought to work in political situations these days. That accounts for the loud e-mail subjects mentioned above. But when you are marketing, you’re appealing to emotions like comfort, aspirations, desires for small amounts of quick gratification. Positive appeals are important.

How this applies to marketing e-mails is to try to limit (if not leave out altogether) e-mails with subject lines like “Time’s running out!” “Where Have you Been?” “Are you REALLY going to pass up these prices?” etc. Yes, you’ve seen e-mails like this, but does their use mean they are effective? How did you feel when receiving them? That you’re being hit with an old-fashioned hard sell? The kind you expect from car salesmen? Is this really what you want in your in-box? My friend Stephen didn’t like being told he’d snubbed an e-mail that was supposedly from the president, and your customers shouldn’t feel guilted or shamed. Again, if this approach is somehow appropriate in political contexts, it’s won’t be for your business.

Remain Calm

It’s important to project an air of success to your customers. This is part of aspirational consuming—buying products that promise to make the customer tap into a lifestyle or feel a certain way. You may have occasions to communicate some sort of problems you’re experiencing, but a customer doesn’t want to receive marketing messaging discussing the bad economy, how hard it is for independent book sellers, etc.

Unless your clientele is small and you know differently, you’re not trying to foment some political movement concerning your business, even if there seem to be political or social movement overtones in play. There’s too much risk in causing a recipient to feel pressured or possibly guilty. It may take away some of their joy in purchases they do make, something that doesn’t help anyone’s overall impression of your business and their experience.

Stay on Message

We might be using the recent Democratic marketing campaign to construct a “What not to do list,” but there’s one positive takeaway from their approach. No one can accuse them of not staying on message. If they’re a bit too consistent for my friend Stephen’s liking, that just means you should dial it down several notches. But sending out consistent messages and creating a cohesive narrative is just fine. Referring to previous e-mails is fine when it’s not done in a vein of “why haven’t you acted” etc.

In terms of what you’re general message is overall—while some e-mail messages that your CRM system sends out will be follow-ups, some surveys or questions on how quickly the customer got his or her order—there’s the overarching narrative of your business. That should be consistent (but not repetitive) and should allow the reader to see you are committed and unwavering.

The frequency of the Democrats’ assault on my friend’s inbox bring up a qualifier on this guideline, which is to be sure to not to overwhelm your customers with too-frequent messages.

Using a CRM system can help with all these issues, allowing you to set up your e-mails according to a master plan you’ve set up upon reflection, rather than e-mailing according to a particular mood at a particular time.

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