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5 Ways to Email Market Like Obama

Obama, whatever your feelings about him are, has a rock solid internet presence. From Buzzfeed videos to snarky tweets to tumblr posts to even reddit AMA’s, he is in command of the POTUS brand (or at least his marketing team is). Although he’s strong in social media, his emails are quite the powerhouse as well.

As Joshua Green reported in on the 2012 election email campaign, supporters were surprised by emails from Obama with subject lines like “Join me for dinner?”, “It doesn’t have to be this way” and even just “Wow.” As much as these subject lines were mocked on websites like The Hairpin and lampooned on ‘The Daily Show’, the emails got results. Obama raised $690 million online, most of that coming from his emails. His winning subject line “I will be outspent” raised more than $2.6 million alone.

So what does this mean for your email marketing campaigns? Maybe it’s not realistic to expect your email marketing to earn running-for-president money, but if you take these five lessons from 2012 Obama and you could see more clicks, growth, and engagement in your 2016 email campaign.

1. Make Your Subscribers Curious

One of Obama’s most successful emails had a subject line of one word: “Hey”. No context. No explanation. Just “Hey.”

Still, people opened it. Why? They were curious. Harnessing curiosity is the greatest thing your subject line can do. As Mike Lehrer explains in “The Itch of Curiosity,” when we have a gap in our knowledge between what we know and want to know,

“This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.”

Make your subscribers itchy. Write a subject line that they have to open instead of ignore. You don’t have to go as casual as Obama, but figure out what would make someone open that email. If it’s not “Wow”, engage interest by including sales and promotions in the subject line or hint how an included blog post could help “Unlock the Secret to Effective B2B Marketing”. Play with emotional appeals like “Rough day?” and “Don’t miss out!” or use clickbait-y, listicle style subjects like “10 reasons you’ll regret not opening this email”. If you get it right, you’ll get more opens and ultimately more conversions.

2. Give Back to the Subscriber

If you’ve ever gotten an email from Obama or any other candidate, you know that most fundraising emails provide some sort of freebie or opportunity to win a prize. Whether the donation gets you dinner with the President or swag like stickers and t-shirts, there is always something to gain. Before he dropped out of the race, even Jeb Bush told email subscribers “as an early Christmas present” December 2015 that they wouldn’t have to read a campaign email from him again—if they gave him a donation of $25.

Just like Obama and Jeb, you have to think:

  • What can the customer gain from opening this email?
  • What is something of value I can provide?

For Jeb, the most valuable product he could offer was simply him not being around, but you can take a different approach. If you put informative blog posts, e-books, or podcasts in your emails, customers can gain information as a product. If you add incentives like promo codes or discounts offered exclusively to email subscribers, you give them a reason to open the email and buy from you. These freebies, whether informational or more promotional, are great for inspiring curiosity and hopefully more sales.

3. Separate and Test

Just as Obama has different stump speeches for different types of constituents, you should test different email marketing efforts for different chunks of your audience. The marketing team for the 2012 campaign also took this approach, reportedly writing 18 versions of each email they sent. Amelia Showalter, the head of Obama’s digital analytics, reported that,

“We did extensive A-B testing not just on the subject lines and the amount of money we would ask people for but on the messages themselves and even the formatting”.

In that same article, the campaign’s email director Toby Fallsgraff actually admitted that,

“We were so bad at predicting what would win that it only reinforced the need to constantly keep testing, Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty ‘Donate’ buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, ‘How could we make things even less attractive?’ That’s how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people’s eye to.”

Even Obama’s team of specialists weren’t able to guess what the public would respond to. Take the guess work out. If you can test in demographics, you can really hone and figure out what your audiences need. And by doing some of these smaller, more focused campaigns, you can bring in more conversions. Separating out your audience and doing testing can extend your reach by working smarter, not harder.

4. Use Celebrity Power

Harness the power of ‘From’. You have the ability to give a name and add a personal touch to every marketing email you send. Obama, and this goes for any other candidate, often has emails coming from members of his family, Jon Carson, and even Beyonce. While you might not be able to send an email from Beyonce, you can change it up.

Try sending an email from someone in marketing or an expert that is hosting an event at your company. If you even just have emails say it’s from Amy, the CEO of the company, it adds a personal touch. If every email came from ‘The Obama Campaign’, there would be no curiosity. You know what this email is about. But an email from Beyonce, or Oprah? There’s no choice, you have to open that email.

Your team is probably made of all sorts of people, so let them all contribute. It will add a different focus to your emails and a personal appeal to vary your campaign.

5. Assemble Your Team

Obama doesn’t operate in a vacuum. He’s not operating all these campaigns by himself. Near the end of the campaign, he had a team of 20 writers working several hours a day on only testing and sending all of those emails. Seek help when you need it and use the technology you need to help you along the way. Tools like Mailchimp, SendInBlue, and Aweber all have analytics tools, the ability to make specialized mailing lists, or anything else you might need to conduct your own A/B Testing. Obama had marketing teams, volunteers to canvass for more supporters, and all sorts of people to help him. So don’t do it alone: bounce it off a friend, get someone to help, and who knows what you can accomplish.

As you assemble your team and add these best practices into your email strategy, Atlantic BT is here to help. Our marketing team can guide your email campaigns toward more opens, conversions, and engagements. That’s change you can believe in. Contact us and learn about our services.

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