What Businesses Can Learn From Donald Trump’s Email Marketing Failures Lauren Nelson | July 18th, 2016

The Trump campaign made waves last week with the release of a poorly designed new logo. Like, really poorly designed. Like, begging for all kinds of jabs and jokes of a NSFW nature. And as some pointed out, there really was no excuse for the selection.

It took the team 24 hours of online ridicule to realize their mistake and pull the logo out of circulation. Frankly, I can’t believe it took them that long.

Will the ill-fated design have any significant impact on the campaign? Probably not. If we’re being honest, there have been a slew of PR and marketing missteps made by Team Trump in the election cycle thus far, and none of them have had the impact one might expect.

But there is one arena in which poor marketing strategy is have a deleterious effect on the campaign: email marketing.

It was the 2008 election that really propelled email marketing to the status of a core component of an effective campaign, serving as a huge driver of campaign donations. By 2012, the numbers were astounding. As MarketingLand reports:

One statistic that still jumps out: Obama’s 2012 campaign cost $690 million, a staggering kitty. What’s more impressive is how the majority of those dollars were raised through email.

Approximately 4.5 million people donated, with an average gift of $53. Toby Fallsgraff, who directed the 2012 email program, told MarketingSherpa, “You can do the math and figure out a lot of people gave more than once.”

It wasn’t solely because of their passion for the incumbent or their love of the process. Fallgraff’s team used an email model that was beautifully orchestrated and integrated.

The candidates in this election cycle learned a lot from the success of email campaigns, and have poured extensive resources into email marketing this time around. Well, most of them have. Donald Trump has not, and it’s showing. As AppBoy writes:

Last month, following media reports that Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, had fallen significantly behind his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in fundraising, the Trump campaign sent out its first email soliciting donations. Now, normally there would be nothing notable about a political campaign using email to ask its supporters for donation: it happens all the time. But the way that the Trump campaign handled that first fundraising email was so problematic that it’s spurred multiple complaints to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and an international incident involving legislators in at least five countries.

Ouch. Talk about a disaster. Where did he go wrong? More importantly, how can businesses avoid making the same mistakes? Here’s the low down.

Be Careful in Your Email List Management

Under U.S. election law, candidates may not solicit or receive donations from non-U.S. citizens. Yet, in his very first fundraising email, Trump wound up blasting foreign nationals from around the world. As the Washington Post reports:

Sir Roger Gale was puzzled when a string of emails from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign landed in his inbox. As a Briton and a member of Parliament, Gale is barred by U.S. law from giving Trump money, much less voting for him.

“I’ve gotten rid of most of that rubbish,” Gale said in an interview.

The emails to Gale were among a wave of fundraising pleas inexplicably sent by the Trump campaign in recent days to lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Australia and elsewhere. The solicitations prompted watchdog groups in Washington to file two separate complaints Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the Trump campaign was violating federal law by soliciting funds from foreign nationals.

“The scale and scope of this does seem somewhat unprecedented,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which joined Democracy 21 in one of the complaints.

Most businesses don’t have to worry about the sort of legal consequences that Trump might face, but poor email list management can land them in hot water anyway. Failing to target your message to appropriate segments of your mailing list leads to poor ROI and may have a negative impact on your brand equity. If the emails are being flagged as spam or receiving a high rate of complaints, your email service provider account could be in jeopardy, as well. Curate your list carefully before sending, and make sure that the contents is explicitly relevant to the recipients.

Be Careful About Your Email Content

On of the other big stumbles for Trump came in the actual construction of the email. Poor design and content meant that the emails didn’t convert the way they should have. Ad Age explains:

Nearly 60% of those first-ever fundraiser emails, however, never reached inboxes. Instead, they were automatically relegated to recipients’ spam folders, according to Return Path, which evaluates email campaigns using estimates based on its panel of 2.5 million active email users.

This is one problem that is definitely not unique to election campaign emails. Most companies who engage in email marketing will run into this problem now and again. It usually stems from putting too much focus on what you want to see in the email without due attention to what the spam filters don’t want to see. By making deliverability a significant element of your email marketing strategy — being cognizant of words to avoid and using tactics for signaling personal acquaintance — your emails will get where you need them to go.

Be Careful With Your Subject Lines

A good subject line can make all the difference in terms of open and click through rates. You want it to tantalize without sounding cliche and indicate information of value in the email’s contents. That was another area where Trump’s team fell down on the job with the fundraising email. Ad Age points out that only 12% of the emails were opened, with 6% of recipients deleting the email without opening it. Those metrics ain’t pretty.

You can make sure your business emails get a better reception by putting significant effort into your own subject line construction. Keeping it short and simple, leveraging A/B testing opportunities, and finding ways to make the subject about your audience and their interests are just a few of the things you can do to get it right. Need inspiration? Check out these exemplary subject lines that other companies have used.

Listen, email marketing isn’t easy. It takes practice and time and research to really get it right. But as you move ahead with your own email marketing strategy, avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued the Trump campaign is a good place to start.

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