Early in 2012, I signed up for the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns’ email lists with a rarely used old email address. While I knew that this small dataset couldn’t reveal the extreme sophistication of their email strategies, I set out to analyze the emails I’d received (and rarely read) – and discovered some surprising differences in strategy (at least as it related to the emails I was sent).
The Emails in Numbers
From June 1st through November 5th, I got 35 and 37 emails from Mitt Romney and Barack Obama respectively (see chart above showing cumulative # of emails sent to me over time since June 1st).
There are two main differences you’ll notice – first, the sharp daily dose of Romney emails right after June 1st. Second, the month-long gap that immediately followed them. This gap began June 18th – the same day that I clicked the unsubscribe button on the Romney emails from another email address (once I realized I was signed up twice). While I can’t prove it, impressively, the Romney campaign seemed to realize I might be close to unsubscribing and put me on pause for a month.
Who Sends the Emails
When we break the emails down by who sent them, the results get interesting:
The Obama campaign is twice as likely to send emails from Barack Obama (49% of overall emails coming from him) than the Mitt Romney campaign is to send them from Mitt Romney (23% of overall emails coming from him). While the campaigns are roughly equal on the number of emails coming from Michelle Obama vs Ann Romney or Joe Biden vs Paul Ryan, there is a major difference in the use of others – a bucket largely made up of Zac Moffatt and Matt Rhoades (other Romney staffers) and his son Tagg.
A few hypotheses for why this might be true:
- A difference in strategy to add increased importance to emails from the candidate by sending fewer of them.
- Less candidate allegiance from Republicans in this election (and a greater emphasis on the party).
- Individual targeting or testing differences based on who I am. Had I exhibited some personal behavior that I liked emails from Obama but would prefer other people on the Romney campaign to Mitt? Is there someone out there who see the exact opposite of what I see?
The most interesting aspect of this finding is that it may reflect very real perceptions of what drives voters for each candidate – namely, more voters relating to Barack Obama on a personal level, and more potential Romney voters holding deeper party than candidate allegiances.
The One Word Subject Line
In a similar vein, while none of Romney’s emails had single word subject lines, about 1 in 7 of Obama’s did. Examples:
- Hey (this was a common one)
The one word subject line evokes a certain casualness and personal relationship and this difference seems to parallel many of the media portrayals of the candidates. Are the one word subject lines actually less effective for Romney? It’s hard to say, but what might be most clear is that the campaigns have developed real stylistic differences in how they talk to their constituents – and those could be rooted in the real differences of who their constituents typically are.
The Enigmatic Colon
Very unexpectedly, 1 in 6 of the Barack Obama message subject lines ended in colons (and none of the Romney subjects). Here are a couple of examples:
- Real Quick:
- This Matters:
Given how high this number is, my guess is that the Obama campaign has tested (and shown) that ending a message in a colon makes people more likely to read it. While the circumstances of a presidential campaign are obviously very unique, this isn’t a piece of advice I’ve heard elsewhere (and certainly not one that the Romney campaign has acted on in their emails to me).
The Future of Email may contain more Colons
First off, all of these analyses are based on a single person, and as ProPublica’s attempt to reverse engineer email strategies is starting to show, there are wide variations in what you’ll receive based on where you live, how old you are, whether you’ve donated, etc. As these systems get more complex, it will become more and more difficult to analyze any company or campaign’s email strategy – because that strategy might actually be 300 million different strategies.
That said, the emails will likely always say more about the particular cultures and moods of a campaign or organization at a given point in time. Would Obama letting Biden send more emails have changed how much money was raised? Would a “Hey:” from Mitt Romney have increased his chances of winning my vote?
The email strategies of the political campaigns are among the most sophisticated in the world and are a great indicator of how email will be changing as companies get better at linking the emails they send to the behavior of consumers. Just as Obama and Romney know what makes you press the donate button, companies are getting better every day at knowing how to make you purchase. In the future, it might not just be presidential candidates who are ending emails in colons and varying senders to figure out who you connect with – it might be your local farmers market stand.
Please tell us more about the Obama and Romney emails you’re receiving in the comments and if you want to know more about the future of email marketing, check out Klaviyo. And – go vote.