5 Email Marketing Lessons From The Obama Campaign

Politics is a subject that often gets a lot of people riled up… Fortunately, we’re here to talk about email marketing!

President Barack Obama has been noted as one of the most “connected” politicians of his age, embracing social media and email marketing like few before him. While he and Mitt Romney seem to email their subscribers at a similar volume, the President’s team has taken its email marketing efforts to the next level.

Today, we’re going to take a look at some insightful lessons from President Barack Obama’s email marketing efforts. And we’ll even showcase some things that he does wrong! (Sorry, Mr. President.)

Let’s begin…

1. Using Personalized Landing Pages

One of the most interesting strategies I’ve seen the Obama campaign team use is the implementation of personalized landing pages for different promotions.

You might have heard about the incredibly popular Barack Obama “Ask Me Anything” thread on Reddit.com, where President Obama took about 30 minutes to answer questions from Reddit users.

What you may not have noticed was that the link he left in the thread led directly to a Reddit inspired landing page, which you can see below:

redditors for obama

Even though he is the President, that’s still very much a landing page! Best of all, the personalized aspect probably led to some phenomenal conversion rates.

You may also detect the marketing team using “line of sight” here (with another example later on). If you follow Obama’s gaze, it leads right to the sign-up form; and it’s been proven that we have a tendency to follow the gazes of others (as well as arrows).

notice the line of sight

2. Made-to-Click Subject Lines

All experienced email marketers know that subject lines drastically affect open rates, so making your subject lines clickable (and tailored to your audience) is of paramount importance.

Here’s a great graphic from NYMag that shows the subject lines the Obama campaign has used over the past months:

obama email subject lines

Check out some of these…

  • If you’re ready
  • I’m saving you a seat
  • This is critical

Very personal, and they rely heavily on the “information gap” theory of curiosity, proposed by neuroeconomics expert, George Loewenstein.

Here’s where things can go wrong… (Hey, don’t steal that one, Obama! ;))

President Obama can get away with these sorts of subject lines because we know exactly who he is, and political races often inspire incredibly loyal followers.

Now, I have some great open rates for some of my sites (over 60% for my personal site), but I could never get away with these subject lines. That’s okay, though, because the lesson here is to use subject lines that work for your readers. And always be sure to test for improvements.

3. Great Use of Opt-in Forms

One thing you’ll notice about Barack Obama’s website is that the campaign team is all about collecting more email leads.

When first entering the site, you’ll see that a splash page pops up for all new visitors:

stand with the president landing page

Despite the fact that many folks voice strong opinions about pop-up forms and splash pages, the numbers tell the most honest tale.

According to research by Dan Zarrella on his own site, even a pop-up form did not increase bounce rate or incur any hateful emails; and it actually increased email sign ups by a large margin (read the data here).

Not only that, in the actual content of President Obama’s site, there are numerous opt-in forms that encourage supporters to join his email list.

In one of my previous posts concerning where to put your opt-in forms, I noted that the above-the-fold locations of a “Feature Box” (popularized by Derek Halpern) and the top of the sidebar convert quite well across all industries… And you’ll observe that BarackObama.com uses both!

Here’s the above-the-fold form on the home page (past the splash page):

above-the-fold form

And here is the sidebar opt in, which is featured prominently in the BarackObama.com content pages:

sidebar opt in

By the way, the form adjusts for the state that you’re in!

take action part 2

Now that’s smart use of personalization to increase sign ups. Also, the form promotes action, using the copy of “Take Action” and “I’m In!” for the text.

4. Smart Follow Ups

Successful marketers know that smart follow-up messages are crucial for optimizing the results you get from new email sign ups.

While sending new subscribers to a donation page (or a sales page) right after they’ve signed up is a bit too aggressive for most situations, during campaign time it’s almost a given that politicians will ask you to donate.

That in mind, BarackObama.com uses this follow-up/thank-you page for new subscribers, encouraging them to donate and support the campaign:

thank you for signing up

Since people have already taken a small step to support Obama (by signing up for his email list), it’s actually a great time to ask for another action.

It’s a classic example of the foot-in-the-door technique, since asking for a small favor has been proven to be a great way to move people along to another, bigger request.

5. Split Testing of Key Pages

With the traffic that BarackObama.com receives, even a small improvement in email conversions can result in hundreds of thousands of new sign ups.

No surprise then, that for its sign-up forms, the Obama team members split test almost everything: buttons, text, and even the home page opt in.

Here’s one version of the home page that I ran into a while back:

home page version 1

On another visit, the team implemented the “line of sight” technique (again!) and included Obama himself, looking at the opt-in form.

You can see that version here:

home page version 2

Learning to split test your web forms is crucial if you are getting a substantial amount of traffic (worry about getting around 800+ uniques a day first), because those small tweaks can have a massive impact.

Showing no signs of stopping, I regularly see new changes to many aspects of BarackObama.com, and it’s not hard to see why: some of the results have been phenomenal.

But Wait… Is He Doing Anything Wrong?

Sorry, Mr. President.

A lot of people have criticized some of the President’s email marketing tactics, and today I’ll go through some of the main problems being pointed out.

In a pretty hilarious segment of the Daily Show, even Jon Stewart took a few shots at Obama’s emails by pointing out how much they resemble spam emails (the vague, mysterious subject lines being one aspect).

The other big complaint seems to be where the emails take you. I’ve noticed that quite a few folks point out certain emails (notably his Mother’s Day email) often lead to donation pages for the campaign – even if the content of the email had nothing to do with donating.

This has frustrated a lot of people, and there’s a big lesson to be learned: in general, people like clarity in their emails. While they don’t mind a hard sell every once in a while, if they feel tricked, they feel betrayed.

Now, President Obama isn’t going to have to worry about his email list flat-lining any time soon, but there definitely are some mistakes being made that marketers can learn from.

Your Turn

What did you think about some of President Obama’s email marketing tactics? Leave a comment below with your thoughts…

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

About the Author: Gregory Ciotti is the content strategist for Help Scout, the invisible help desk software that makes email support a breeze for you and your customers. Get more from Greg on the Help Scout blog.

  1. Hi,

    Excellent post. You have explained that you should have a good landing page which attracts visitors to give information. :)
    Great post buddy. I love the last landing page of Obama :D

    Thank you

  2. Hm. After all that,
    he was behind in money raising for most of the campaign (if you leave out illegal donations)
    and on Tuesday he will be toast come 9pm eastern
    On balance not a model I will follow

    • David I kind of feel like this comment is too politically inclined for me to really respond to. Many folks, including Obama’s critics, have noted how effective the online campaigns have been.

  3. Hi,

    Excellent tips. I have been following your blog and You have explained a really awesome method about landing pages optimization. It seems that landing pages should be good and attractive so that it can attract the new customers.
    Thank you

  4. Thanks for an excellent example KISS! I see they’re still using Optimizely for their tests (which was born from the 2008 campaign). It would be nice to see some of those results!

  5. I subconsciously realised I was doing the line of site thing when you pointed it out on down the page – I guess that proves that it does actually work!

    Some other great tips there as well!

  6. That’s a SUPERB post! I am definitely planning to re-read it and think about it. A lot of insight.

    From my personal perspective, I actually dislike Obama’s e-mails but do like the ones from the Romney’s side.

    Here is why. Obama’s communications would be great – if it weren’t for someone running for the President of the United States. His e-mails, his campaigning on Jay Leno, MTV, Rolling Stone – seriously, this is the level for someone running to be the President of the United States?!

    • Fair points Olga, but I feel like it would be hard to propose a radically different alternative and still achieve similar results. It also has a lot to do with personal preference, but I agree, not all of their campaigns have been to my liking (from a marketing standpoint).

  7. Hey, dude’s team convinced millions of people he was the second coming. Definitely the crew to learn from!

  8. This is probably the only article that involved politics, that I actually read.

    Great tips, very informative and actionable things to take for my projects.

  9. Hi there,

    I’m manager of enashr.com (ecommerce blog in Persian language).
    I read your article and I think it can be very useful for many people who wants to start or optimize their campaign. So I want to translate it for my blog. Can I have permission to use your pictures and link to your post as source in my blog?

    thank you,
    Bahman

  10. I’ve been following the campaign specifically to see their tactics, subject lines, repeating messages, etc. The thing that stands out is the frequency or volume of emails. I’m receiving one daily and each one is asking for money. Probably because I didn’t donate to them, but still, it seems obsessive. I would have long unsubscribed if it wasn’t for tracking what they are doing.

    While all emails are from info@barackobama.com, the person it’s from changes, and to be honest, when it says it’s from Obama it sounds more like a marketer. Each line is almost too polished. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did polling on their emails – lol. And the only links are to a donation page. No linking to learn more about what he’s running on. Just donations. Maybe loyal followers don’t see this but I’ve been surprised and it has been pretty interesting.

    Thanks for putting this together. Always enjoy what you have to say.

  11. Hi,

    Thanks for putting this together,Thankyou for this informative article keep on writing.

    Thanks

  12. Great post. I have been doing email marketing and landing pages for a long time and I have been paying close attention to the email marketing President Obama has been doing. I did find the click to a landing page for donations a very bold move, but I am sure it has been effective since they kept doing it. I do have to say that sometimes their emails were heavy on graphics and many times flagged as spam. Actually, most of his emails went to my junk email box. Also, I don’t think they have optimized their emails to be mobile friendly. While this technique hasn’t take off as fast as I thought, optimizing your email to display correctly on your mobile phone is a necessity and will make you stand out from the other guys. Overall, awesome post.

  13. Personally, I’ve signed up for the President’s emails simply because I respect his marketing team, and I think we can all learn from them :) Keep in mind that the creators of Optimizely ran his fist digital marketing team.

    These points are great, and there are many other lessons that we can take away from Obama’s marketing strategy.

  14. Wow, these are great examples. I’m gonna use the line of sight example today!

  15. Good morning, Greg.

    I most certainly must thank you for moving me along with the landing page for my new site. It’s been sitting blank waiting for inspiration to strike – nothing doing, I’m afraid!

    I know what to do – the line of sight thing is on the agenda as of now!

    Kind regards,
    Linda

  16. These are really good tips. Thanks for writing them up. In my opinion, we can always learn from these strategies of successful politicians. There are excellent teams of people behind them, all with great experience and it is no wonder that the campaigns with which the came up actually works very effectively.

  17. His camp has always done a very good job. More so targeting the younger generation – his first on a live Reddit was a great tactic too!

  18. Wow! That’s pretty impressive.

    PResident Obama’s team is really doing a great job. With all that effort even in the website, it looks neat and easy to navigate from and to.

    Learned a lot about your review of the president’s email marketing techniques.

    Kudos!

  19. I will say this, the Obama campaign did an amazing job with their web branding and marketing approach. Their use of colors and conversion metrics really put Obama in front of the pack when it comes to political internet marketing.

  20. Wonderful campaign . It is perfectibility suitable for the email marketing.

  21. This post is appreciable as there is enough material in it for the readers. Thanks for nice sharing!

  22. this is a really insightful and useful item. thanks

  23. Wow! Amazing analysis. Love your explanation on Obama email campaign. I had bookmark this page for future reference.

  24. Hey i am really impressed with your writing style and your given idea’s with example.All information is very useful for me.
    Thanks!

  25. I agree with the points you made and think the campaign marketing team did an outstanding job, especially in landing pages.
    However, one thing that irked me through the whole campaign was when “Barack Obama” or “Michelle Obama” would be the sender–and the content of the email asked for $5 — specifically. Sure, the first couple of times, it probably yielded a higher CTR due to the sender’s name, but from a brand perspective–I found it to be less than ideal, to say the least.
    Could be just me, I guess.

  26. Hey Gregory!
    Very nice understanding. great research on obama’s website.
    Really smart people can do like this. I am really impressed by the way you deeply explained the whole marketing sense.
    Thanks.
    Matt

  27. This was a very interesting read, and you pointed out some really strong features of this email campaign. Unfortunately, for me, all these nuances were overshadowed by the sheer volume and frequency of these emails. There were days when my inbox couldn’t stay clear for 2 hours without intercepting an email from Mr. or Mrs. Obama.

    I’m sure each of these emails was effective enough to warrant the persistent deluge, but you have to wonder: have they ever heard of the economic principle of diminishing returns?

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