Congratulations! We survived the 2022 email equivalent of Sharknado!
But instead of sharks in tornadoes, we had the 2022 U.S. midterm elections and Black Friday-Holiday shopping filling up inboxes at the same time.
And that’s the good news. The bad news is that there’s an email Sharknado of epic proportions heading for inboxes in 2024. This time it’s the U.S. presidential elections that will collide with holiday email campaigns.
Judging from my conversations with my AtData colleagues, fellow Only Influencers and others in the email community, even the true believers were cringing a little at what we saw in our inboxes.
We knew marketers would increase holiday email volume and cadence in the weeks and months leading up to Black Friday and the December holidays, but were we prepared for the avalanche of political campaigns in our inboxes at the same time? I wasn’t.
Email users complained about unsolicited emails piling up in their inboxes and relentless fundraising. Candidates, political parties and advocacy groups accused ISPs of spam filtering bias. ISPs said campaigns got blocked or relegated to spam folders because they violated the rules that apply to everybody.Email forecasters are already telling us to expect more of the same in the 2024 election cycle.
This got me thinking about what political or nonprofit marketers can do now to get their email programs in shape before the next round of fundraising or get-out-to-vote emails begin. Below are my thoughts.
10 success strategies to prep now for 2024 year end emails
There’s one big difference between company emails and political emails. Political email senders are exempt from the laws and regulations collectively called “CAN-SPAM.” But ISPs don’t usually make that fine distinction (Gmail’s new pilot program for political senders is an exception) and neither do recipients.
These 10 strategies will help you send more valuable email, treat your subscribers’ inboxes with respect, show ISPs you can be trusted and help you achieve your campaign objectives:
1. Know why you’re using email in the first place.
This is the most important thing you can do with email. Are you using it to raise money, recruit volunteers, or get voters to the polls? Your answer will guide everything from the messaging, the call to action, the stories you tell, to the success metrics you track and helps you avoid last-minute panicked messaging.
2. Prioritize collecting first-party data, beginning today.
Who knows what the status of third-party cookie data will be by 2024? Let’s assume we don’t have reliable access anymore. That means you need to start gathering first-party data – the information you collect directly from your supporters, with their permission.
This takes effort, but it pays off in the long haul because you can be more confident that you’re sending messages your subscribers will want to receive.
Start with that most basic data point: the email address. Ask for it everywhere you come into contact with voters and potential supporters. Then ask for data points that help you identify each subscriber so you can target them accurately and personalize meaningfully .
Go beyond first names. Include voting district, past support, local contacts and opportunities, and anything else that will solidify your connections.
3. Work with a responsible data vendor.
The loss of third-party cookies doesn’t shut off all access to data beyond what you collect directly. But the stakes have changed.
Nobody knows better than AtData about how many shady data operators are out there. But that’s just one potential liability. New state laws have tightened up requirements on data security, transparency, access and removal. You must be sure the data vendor you work with knows the new laws and can supply you with safe, useful data from reliable sources.
4. Clean the lists you use now.
First-party data is great but not if it’s out of date. Your email platform should automatically remove all undeliverable and spam-complaining addresses from your list. That’s a start, but your lists likely have old addresses that still accept mail even though their owners no longer use them, belong to “role” accounts instead of people, or are one-time or throwaway addresses.
5. Develop a consistent look and voice for your email campaigns
Use a standardized email template that will render well across desktop, mobile and other devices. Along with this, decide how your emails should sound: Friendly? Authoritative? Upbeat?
6. Be transparent in messaging across all channels.
Your recipients need to know that your messages come from you, not scam artists using your candidate’s name and support for their own ends. Trust is essential!
For email, this begins with your inbox appearance. Use a sender name that recipients will recognize immediately even if your email content is a personal appeal over your candidate’s signature.
Subject lines should be equally transparent. Tell recipients exactly what to expect, or what you want them to do. It’s tempting to send a desperate or shocking subject line especially as Election Day gets closer. But remember, every other campaign in your candidate’s inbox is doing the same thing. How will you stand out?
7. Use email verification at opt-in and follow regular list hygiene.
I’m big on proper list management because I know it works. Email verification helps keep email errors and bogus or dangerous addresses out of your email database. It can flag fake or unacceptable names that could harm your personalization efforts, frequent spam complainers and other potential problems.
Regular list hygiene is like brushing your teeth. Doing it once in a while doesn’t keep the cavities away. Automating the process saves you time and effort in the long run and lets you concentrate on your campaigns.
8. Let your data help you plan campaigns.
The more data you gather, the more creative you can get in using it to power useful, open-worthy emails. Your emails should always reflect the data you collected directly from your base. A reliable data vendor can also help you tap into and safely use data from other sources and update old or incorrect addresses.
Data such as interests, location, past support and financial contributions can help you precisely target segments within your base that live in different areas of your district or constituency, would be more interested in hands-on campaign work or just want to be kept informed.
9. Use an email platform that tracks activity and conversion metrics.
Bare-bones email platforms are tempting because they’re either free or low-cost, but they give you little insight into your supporters or how effective your email campaigns are at raising money, recruiting volunteers or organizing events.
Take a little time now to investigate platforms specifically for political or nonprofit users. Opens and clicks aren’t enough. Who are your most active subscribers? Who donates regularly.
10. Brush up on outside challenges affecting email.
Three you should know about:
- Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection. It masks much user activity data, such as opens, location and email client.
- Apple’s Hide My Email. It creates temporary addresses instead of sharing a user’s genuine email address.
- Gmail’s Verified Sender Pilot Program: Created in 2022 after Republicans complained that Gmail’s spam filters unfairly blocked their fundraising emails. The program temporarily changed the filtering rules for emails from accepted campaign committees. Google announced last month that it was discontinuing the program, but it’s reasonable to assume it could use what it learned to create a new version for 2024.
Before the next election cycle begins …
Responsible political email campaigns save time and money. They build a community of supporters and bring in extra hands to help out all along the journey to Election Day.
Bad political email costs time and money, from wasted budget to loss of future donations campaign workers. It can tarnish your candidate’s reputation and image and even violate campaign laws.
It’s not too early to start building a strong political campaign structure centered around email. Don’t wait too long, though … The 2024 election cycle is already heating up in statehouses around the country and in the hall of Congress, and the battle for the inbox is about to begin.