Three Lessons On Email Marketing From President Obama’s Campaign

Both in 2008 and 2012, President Obama made history with the amount of money he raised in his presidential campaign. More surprising than the total amount was how he raised the money and the number of people who contributed. An analysis of 2012 campaign finances shows that 57 percent of Obama’s non-Super PAC donors gave less than $200, compared to Romney’s 24 percent. So how did Obama raise so much when donors were contributing such small sums of money? The answer lies in a massive email marketing campaign, where 4.5 million people donated at an average of just $53 per donation.

The huge email marketing campaign was constructed by Toby Fallsgraff, the Director of Email for Obama’s online fundraising efforts. One important aspect of the campaign was the importance of repeat donors. With about $690 million raised from 4.5 million donors, it is clear that many people were reaching into their wallet more than once. However, this wasn’t the only tactic used by Fallsgraff and his team of 20 writers. After interviewing Fallsgraff about his strategies, MarketingSherpa has uncovered three of the best fundraising tactics. Simple in design but huge in impact, these email marketing strategies could help your small business too. Here are three tactics that they used and that you can incorporate into your marketing campaigns:

Encourage Repeat Engagement. One important tactic is to encourage repeated donations through ‘quick donate’ links. When a first-time contribution is made, the donor must fill out a form with personal and payment information. Having to fill out the form a second time discouraged repeated donations. However, the fundraising team allowed donors to save their payment information if they wanted. When the “thank you” email was sent, they provided links to donate again that would simply require the click of a button. Making it easier to donate a second time was a great way to encourage repeat donations. One obvious challenge to this email marketing strategy is getting people to agree to save their payment information. Obama’s fundraising team found that offering incentives (like a free bumper sticker) to everyone who donated helped increase the number of people who saved their payment information. To avoid misunderstandings regarding the links, they also included clear statements about how the one-click payment works.

Targeted Emails. A second tactic the fundraising team used was targeted emails. By analyzing the behavioral response to a first email, they were able to categorize people into four categories: previous donors (people who donated to the 2012 campaign already), quick donors (those previous donors who had saved their payment information), non-donors (people who hadn’t donated in 2008 or 2012), and lapsed donors (people who donated in 2008 but hadn’t made a 2012 contribution yet). Understanding what category each person fit into, they were then able to send targeted emails where the message was tailored to the person’s behavior. This tactic capitalizes on the fact that there is no one email that will reach every person.

Test Your Emails. The final tactic the Obama fundraising team used was to rigorously test the emails they sent. A team of writers was constantly crafting different potential emails. The team then met to choose 4-6 of the best and they’d brainstorm eye-catching subject lines. The emails were then tailored to the behavioral groups (like previous donors, non-donors, etc) and they sent out a small number of test emails to each group. Following this structured plan allowed them to find the best emails that worked for each group, which translated into increased campaign contributions.

As a small business owner, you are probably not going to embark on an email marketing campaign to raise millions of dollars, but that does not mean you can’t learn from Fallsgraff and his fundraising team. One huge takeaway point is that there is no one-size-fits-all email marketing strategy. Take the time to learn about who you are marketing to and don’t assume it’s a homogeneous group. Anything you can do to tailor your message to different segments will help your chances of success. Since the email itself is so important, make sure to put extra effort into crafting an email that will work. Constantly evaluate your efforts, try new strategies, and adapt the message to the recipient rather than assuming the recipient will adapt to you. Finally, anything you can do to simplify the user’s experience will help.

The Obama team found that even something as short as a two minute form was enough to discourage repeat donors. Reduce the time and effort required and you’re bound to see better results.


About Jennifer Peaslee

Jennifer has a Masters in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. She is currently working as a freelance writer, editor, blogger and researcher.