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Learning From the Presidential Race in Your Inbox

  |  January 9, 2008   |  Comments

With so much at stake, the most innovative use of e-mail will likely come out of the political arena in 2008.

I'm not a political pundit and I haven't worked in a professional capacity on any political campaign. However, for the past few months, I've been viewing and collecting a steady stream of e-mails from most of the presidential candidates.

With so much at stake, the most innovative use of e-mail in 2008 will likely come out of the political arena. I'm watching these e-mails closely -- and you also might want to sign up for a few candidates' e-mails to follow along.

Here are a couple of things I've noticed that you should consider trying in your B2B campaigns:

Short Subject Lines

Across the board, all the candidates are employing short, intriguing subject lines.

How short is short? Many subject lines are only one or two words long. The longest seems to be four words. Recent subject lines I've seen are:

  • "Appalling"
  • "Imagine"
  • "Running Track"
  • "Last Night"
  • "Flying Fur"

This "less is more" trend seems to be in keeping with e-mail metrics I wrote about from MailerMailer, which revealed how open rates are 5.1 percent higher for subject lines under 35 characters and that the CTR (define) for e-mail with shorter subject lines are 1.7 points better.

Will this work for your B2B e-mail? Try an A/B subject line test and see -- it's the only way to know.

I recently tested a 35-character subject line against the traditional 45-character line and there was no real difference in response rates for this slightly shorter message. However, next time, we're going to try something in the range of 10 characters (one or two words).

Letter-Type E-mail Messages

While subject lines are short in political e-mails, the messages inside are typically long.

Following the typical fundraising formula, almost all the candidates' e-mails are written in a letter format -- and come in about 250 to 350 words.

For visual interest, a sidebar is usually included on the right with a photo, video clip, and always an action button, which typically says "Donate."

These letter formats routinely outperform shorter ad-like formats. I strongly suggest testing this format to see if you can ratchet up your B2B results with longer, more personal copy.

Staying On Message

While longer messages seem to be the norm, it's important that the reader take away a short "sound bite" that encapsulates your brand.

Typically, candidates have a tagline in their banner that summarizes their positions. They also reiterate their stance in the copy itself.

As a B2B marketer, you must stake out your own claim. People need to know how you stand out from your competitors, so highlight your company's unique value proposition in every e-mail message.

I can't tell you how many of my clients leave this out -- as if everyone knows their company and products as intimately as they do! If a new contender comes along and upsets your own competitive product "race," you need a loyal base of customers who know your company and will stay with you.

Online Video

All the candidates send along their latest YouTube videos on a regular basis.

While some candidates have been on the political scene for a long time, others are relative unknowns, so it's good to be able to "get acquainted" through video, watching their facial expressions and getting a feeling for their personalities.

However, an advertising agency that deals with progressive causes recently told me that online videos don't attract significantly higher open rates and CTRs, even from die-hard activists, so I wouldn't invest a lot in multiple online videos without testing.

However, it might be worth a test to see if you can attract new clients based on your brand personality by using one video that captures your brand experience in an interesting way.

An easier, less expensive alternative is to create a slideshow of photos organized into a story with text captions. These low-tech slideshows perform extremely well for a significantly lower investment.

Multiple Senders, Celebrity Endorsers

While a consistent "From" line can be a good branding tool, try mixing things up from time to time by sending messages from different senders.

In political campaigns, not only do e-mail messages come from the candidates themselves, but also from their campaign directors, family members, and colleagues. Different senders can highlight different perspectives.

In the B2B world, besides having your company president write a message, have your salespeople, customer service reps, satisfied customers, and strategic partners send messages.

And of course, any endorsement should be played up to the hilt -- in both the political arena and in the B2B world. People want to know what other people think, and they don't always have time to fully research every decision they need to make. Likewise, celebrities add luster to political and advertising campaigns and keep things interesting, so be sure to keep your own "marquee name" clients in the spotlight.

In the months ahead, as the campaigns heat up, it'll be interesting to see what new e-mail techniques are developed on the political front that we all can try in our own B2B campaigns. So stay tuned.

What new directions are you taking with your B2B e-mail marketing in 2008? Let Karen know.

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Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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