As someone whose livelihood depends on political email traffic, my ears perk up whenever email becomes more than just background noise and instead makes national news.
So, a few days ago, when digital dumpster fire Gawker ran a piece entitled “Send Help: Lost in the Uncanny Valley of Cruz Campaign Emails,” I had to hold my nose and click through to see what all the fuss was about.
The piece not-so-subtly mocked the Cruz campaign’s email operation for its clickbait from names, in-your-face subject lines, frequent mailings, and open-at-all-costs tactics. If you’re a Republican with an email address, you probably know what I’m talking about.
The central implication of the piece was one or both of two things: Either Ted Cruz’s campaign is an amateur operation that can’t get its email act together, or they’re shameless carnival barkers who will do anything to get you to open an email.
Is the Ted Cruz campaign working hard to get your attention? Yes. The undeniable truth of email is that you will get no results if no one reads your messages. So, whatever you have to do to get your email opened is worth doing.
Is his campaign a group of amateurs? Absolutely not.
On the contrary: Ted Cruz’s email operation is professional, highly sophisticated, and extremely effective.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I consult on email fundraising for a political action committee supporting Ted Cruz. That said, my political affiliation has no bearing on the tried and true tactics that make a successful email.
No matter your political leanings, what works is, quite simply, what works.
The author, Gabrielle Bluestone, opens her piece by admitting that the Cruz campaign’s tactics accomplish exactly what they’re meant to do: “Several times a day I receive an email that, at first glance, I really want to open. But it’s not. It’s a fake email from the Ted Cruz campaign.”
For starters, there’s no such thing as a “fake email.” If an email is in your inbox, it’s real — or, as “real” as a digital communication can be. And what’s more, if it’s in your inbox, it has made it past a gauntlet of spam filters, traps, and ISP blocks that were designed to keep out so-called “fake” emails just like this one. The fact that you have seen this email is, in and of itself, a testament to the sender’s ample knowledge of how email works.
Second, the fact that she “really wants to open” this email is a feather in the cap of the sender. The average email user receives 122 emails per day. That’s a lot of people vying for your time and attention. Necessarily, a good email marketer will do whatever he can to get you to open his email before you open any of the other 121. How will he do this?
In short, he’ll do what the Ted Cruz campaign and their team have done. He’ll rigorously test every component of that email and optimize for the best results he can possibly achieve.
Let’s say an unorthodox from name like “[email protected]” lifts opens by 10 percent. The Cruz campaign just raised several thousand dollars more than they otherwise would have. Does “Incoming voice message” perform even better? Then they’ll use that, and raise even more money.
Does the subject line “Need a BIG favor” boost opens? Test it against “it’s important.” When you find a winner, take what you learned, and test it on the next one.
Innovation gets emails opened. And more opened emails means more donations to the campaign.
As hard as I work to create a beautiful product for my clients, that’s not what email fundraising is ultimately about. It’s about getting as many dollars in the door as possible. At the end of the day, whatever it takes to accomplish that goal is what must be done. Ted Cruz’s campaign understands this, which is why they’re running circles around the rest of the Republican field online.
In many respects, email fundraising grew out of the political direct mail industry, which established many of the common testing methodologies and creative best practices used in both political and commercial direct mail to this day.
But with the instant results provided by digital communication, political email marketers now also have access to the same analytics and testing tools used by clickbait giants like Upworthy, Amazon, BuzzFeed, and, yes, Gawker.
Ted Cruz’s campaign is the only one in the race with the good sense and the political will to make use of these tools. It’s why he is raising money at a staggering rate. It’s why he is building a grassroots ground game unmatched by anyone else in the field. It’s a major reason why he stands as the lone remaining conservative in the 2016 field.
So, dear reader, if you have received five Ted Cruz emails since this morning (like I have), rest assured that you are in the hands of a highly competent, very sophisticated team that has figured out how to harness the power of digital communication.
That’s not just good news for Ted Cruz. It’s good news for all conservatives.
Eric Josephsen is the Senior Digital Strategist at Active Engagement, a digital fundraising firm based in Leesburg, VA. He specializes in email acquisition, email fundraising, and data management for a wide range of conservative political and nonprofit clients. Follow him on Twitter @EricJosephsen.