Obama’s Email Marketing Strategy

I stumbled upon this article recently and just had to share it with you.

Over in the US, during the presidential race, anyone who shared their email address to the Obama campaign were instantly added to their mailing list.

Ah… the power of the list.

Here’s what happened.

According to businessweek.com, the list was bombarded with messages on a nearly daily basis. Subject headers included “It’s officially over”, “Join me for dinner?” and even really simple ones like “Wow”.

Now these emails were so blatantly in-your-face that they actually received national media coverage. Comedian Jon Stewart made fun of them on the Daily Show, and a women’s website called Hairpin described them as messages a stalker would leave.

Despite all that, they worked.

The stats reveal that the vast majority of the $690 million that Obama raised online came from email marketing.

So of course I, along with a slew of other Internet marketers, couldn’t wait to get my hands on the secret that made their campaign so successful. But Team Obama remained tight-lipped.

The good news is that now the election is over, all their tricks have been exposed…

You wanna know how they made close to $690 million with their list?

Well according to the director of digital analytics, Amelia Showalter, they did split testing for EVERYTHING. And I mean everything. From subject lines to the amount of money they asked for and even the formatting of each and every email. 

The email marketing team included a staff of 20 writers. And all they did was write emails. All day. Everyday. 

For a single email the team would have up to 18 variations tested before settling on the best converter. 

Next, they blast it out to their list of tens of millions of people.

After that, they’d check back on the stats to see what converted. The best email would become the template that gets duplicated over and over again. 

So here’s the cool part.

Check out what they discovered:

  • a casual tone was the most effective 
  • subject lines that worked best looked like what you’d receive from a friend
  • “Hey” was the BEST subject line they had
  • “I will be outspent” outperformed 17 variations of the same email (and raised over $2.6 million!)
  • the uglier emails converted the best

Now that last point has to be my favourite.

We spend so much time trying to make everything look nice and pretty and presentable, but the fact is… Ugly converts.

 obama emails

Toby Fallsgraff was the campaign’s email director and he said even with extensive testing, they could never predict what would work. The biggest surprise to him was that “ugly” emails were the winners.

Subscribers converted better with giant sized fonts for links and preferred plain text links compared to well-designed “donate” buttons.

Eventually their strategy was to make their emails as ugly as possible.

No joke.

They used yellow highlighting on entire sections. And it worked.

 Apparently another unexpected hit was profanity. I don’t know if that’s particularly unexpected. But then maybe I’m especially profane :P  

The campaign used mild curse words to great success, they site “Hell yeah, I like Obamacare” as one of their biggest conversions.

Despite all that, every new success that was duplicated eventually wore off. It seems people zoned out once it became too predictable. And they’d go back to the drawing board and start split testing again.

What I find the most interesting, and possibly the most useful, is that most people will not unsubscribe to a list.

No matter how many they receive. They may not open every single one, but they opt to stay in the loop. The 20 writers on the Obama email marketing team were writing and sending email all day.

And the data proved there were no negative consequences whatsoever to an increase of emails.

But I imagine it must have annoyed a whole lot of people.

So there you have it. List building + Email marketing = So much awesome

Go ahead and uglify your emails and bask in conversions. If it doesn’t work, don’t blame me, take it up with Obama.

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