Thinking About Campaign E-mails/Patrick Ruffini is Right

Yes, sometimes I even agree with those on “the other side.”

One of those people is usually Patrick Ruffini.

Yesterday, Patrick wrote an amazing post, entitled “E-mail’s Moment of Truth.”  In it, he points to the burst of last-minute fundraising appeals by candidates mere hours before the moment of truth in Iowa tomorrow.

He says:

“For many campaigns, it’s still mostly just fundraising. For Republicans and Democrats alike, e-mail is the new finance direct mail.

That points to a troubling breakdown in how the ethos of the Internet failing to change the culture of the campaigns. We have this incredible self-organizing medium that is capable of generating buzz and activity far beyond what a bricks-and-mortar approach alone can muster. And yet the part of it that dominates is the part that takes this incredible energy and converts it to cold hard cash to be funneled through a decidedly un-Internet-like top-down machine. The community that donated the money will have little say over how it is spent, or (in most cases) even the slightest bit of participation in the campaign activity they helped fund. The message from most campaigns to you is not: ‘Take direct action for the candidate.’ It’s, ‘Let us (the campaign) take direct action on your behalf by buying media and printing mail.'”

Patrick is absolutely right.

I’m going to start with the argument for e-mail blasts.  After all, what’s the problem with e-mail?  It raises money.  It points supporters to an action.  These supporters know the latest push from the campaign.  It broadcasts a message quickly and efficiently.

But in those statements are some flaws and drawbacks.  With the money ask, e-mails are always cumbersome.  With fundraising as the sole action being asked, campaigns miss the opportunity to use goodwill in other areas.  With the impersonal broadcast, messaging might not resonate as much as a targeted one.  With the latest pushes only being money, supporters become fatigued.

Many of my friends and colleages in the “new media” front — namely those on the non-political side (and I think Patrick gets at this, as well, in his entry) have been preaching something that I don’t think many campaigns consider: customer service is the new marketing.

Susan Getgood says it like this:

“In simple terms…what they are getting at is that the customer’s experience with the company, with the product/brand, is what forms his decision to purchase, or not. And that experience is created by much more than exposure to a few marketing campaigns or the occasional customer service call. Blogs, online forums, word of mouth are all becoming part of this experience, and companies need to understand and respond appropriately.

Companies also have to understand that now more than ever, it is ALL about the customer. No matter how great the product, how wonderful the blog, without a customer, there is no business.”

This is certainly the trend in online campaigns in the business world, but I also think that this is highly applicable to the political realm: simply replace “customer” with “voter,” and “business” with “votes” and it makes perfect sense.  Instead of bugging the crap out of people for money, why not provide a service that will endear supporters to a campaign and help reaffirm their support?

Thinking about it in this light, we come to two questions:

1) Are current e-mails a service, or are they a burden?  I’m not talking about it as a service to the campaigns.  They clearly are, and they’ve raised a crap-ton of money for campaigns this cycle.  I’m talking about it being a service to the potential pool of voters.

2) If these e-mails are not a service (and I’d argue that as a supporter of some campaigns, they’re a service sometimes — namely when they give poll numbers —  and a burden for the rest.  They create a lot of “noise,” and their value isn’t necessarily “there” for me all the time), how can e-mails become a service for supporters?

Here’s what I’m thinking (crazy idea alert): consider the wealth of content that campaigns produce (with more and more content each day, especially as social media takes off).  You’ve got a ton of campaign ads and issue papers around certain topics.  You’ve got blog posts about these topics, too.  News clips about certain subjects are always added to campaign websites.  Yet, as a supporter, I have no clue about this content unless I subscribe to RSS feeds (and with these RSS feeds, they’re not topic-based, they’re content-based — say, an RSS feed of all the campaign ads), check the website religiously, or subscribe to a blog like PrezVid.

What if campaigns started using e-mails as a service to provide customized newsletters to both concrete and potential supporters, and WITHIN this service is the fundraising ask?

We’re obviously taking opt-in here.  The supporters would self-select interest areas, and all of the campaign’s content surrounding those issue areas would be funneled to the supporters.  Therefore, you increase the value of e-mails and create service.

And by creating the value, you create new support.  Supporters learn that the candidate cares about issues that are important to them and is actively discussing these topics, creating reinforcement.  And as a result of this new connectivity and service, supporters are more likely to donate when asked to (and we know that connectivity towards a campaign is the main ingredient for successful online fundraising).

It’s quite easy on the technological side — all it’d take is correct tagging of the content as it’s uploaded into a campaign’s content management system.  From there, the content would be automatically funneled.

Regardless of the “crazy idea” about e-mail, here are some parting thoughts on the subject:

1) Campaigns need to bump-up value in e-mail-based outreach.  Fundraising e-mail after fundraising e-mail is valuable to campaigns, but not supporters.

2) The “service as marketing” philosophy that Susan, Brian Solis and Kami Huyse (and many others) discuss needs to be employed.

And my final thought: campaigns are looking to “virtually handshake” with potential supporters.  By using correct methods in blogger outreach, this is possible on a very individualized and personal basis.  But it can be cumbersome when a campaign is trying to reach a large base quickly.  Therefore, campaigns need to re-think the e-mail model as an effective way to do this.  Bump up value, narrowcast as you broadcast (they’re not mutually exclusive, especially when you employ customization), and I think e-mail tactics can be improved.

~ by Brad Levinson on January 2, 2008.

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