Three Things Email Marketers Can Learn From the Election
The just-concluded Presidential election was – in a word – interesting.
As a marketer, it was fascinating watching two diametrically opposed candidates take each other on. This was not a test where one candidate was just slightly different than the other – it was a case where the candidates could not have been more opposite.
While you may not be thrilled with the results, there were three key things that all marketers - and especially email marketers - can take away from the drama to make each and every one of their programs be more successful.
Takeaway 1 - A strong brand is better than strong digital - we heard lots of horror stories about how one campaign was the digital equivalent of all email best practices rolled into one, while one was a clown car of purchased lists and spammy messages. Guess what - the campaign with the stronger, more consistent brand won. You might not like that particular brand’s promise but it WAS effective. Whenever things were in doubt, it was easy to understand and repeat the brand promise of one campaign while the other never seemed to take root.
For email marketers, a key weakness is the lack of strong branding in their email programs. How many email marketers can ask the question “What does your email program stand for?” How many of you are focused on small “best practices” like optimizing your subject line or where to place your unsubscribe link rather than establishing the position of your email brand with recipients? How many of you are like the candidate with no clear and emotional connection to your brand? This election - and the last one - proves that a strong brand wins over a weak one. When you match a great brand with great digital, you can make magic happen. But the key ingredient is (and really always has been) a great brand.
Takeaway 2 - Hyper-personalization leads to thought Balkanization
Facebook and Twitter have done one thing very well - they’ve created echo chambers that can easily lead to a stultification of thought. What they have successfully done is what many marketers have long since considered to be marketing nirvana – to “give the customer what they want.” By only giving the customer what they want, news feeds became populated with junk stories designed to capture eyeballs. While it’s great for creating tribalism, some would argue that it hasn’t exactly been good for society. It’s the digital equivalent of giving people nothing but ice cream – you can’t be surprised when that diet doesn’t turn out to hot.
While lots of people are bemoaning the role of Facebook and Twitter in the election, email programs are effectively doing the exact same thing. “Hyper personalization” shows only the products that algorithms predicts you will like, while eliminating anything that it does not know what you might like. Subject line optimization tools are painfully close to becoming clickbait factories. The end result of all this “success” is that you know more and more about fewer and fewer customers. Will you end up creating a sect of super-satisfied people, then end up wondering where the rest of your business/the election went?
Media is a lot like Icarus. In this election cycle, digital media has flown too close to the sun. Is your program in danger of doing the same thing?
Takeaway 3 - Be Bold
The biggest takeaway - for me - was that one side in this election was exceptionally bold while one side kept having the word “calculated” pop up in their description. Whenever pressed by an issue, the calculation was to clam up and apologize for their behavior.
While veering on the edge of unhinged is not a comfortable place for most brands, some level of risk-taking is an exceptionally good thing. Human beings are exceptionally forgiving - people don’t seem to mind an occasional mistake as long as there’s authenticity behind it.
Instead of boldness, far too many brands have poor testing practices. If you’re not executing dozens of tests, you’re not being bold - things like testing the size of the unsubscribe font and/or the subject line aren’t exactly bold…so make sure you think bigger. Take your closely help truisms and blow them up. Be bold. Don’t be afraid. It’s how you make progress.
Whether you’re thrilled or appalled by the results…sometimes we’re given lessons from unexpected places. Work on your brand, mix up what you send and be bold are three ways you can make your email program great.