Of the four major Republican candidates left seeing the party's presidential nomination, two are doing a credible job of using email, one is doing a poor job—and one is missing in action.
That's the assessment of Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations for email marketing and marketing automation service provider Silverpop. McDonald seeded names into each candidate's database, and has been tracking their communications.
The two field leaders—Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum—are using the medium "as well as your average email marketer, and better than some," says McDonald. Ron Paul, McDonald feels, is running a fairly static email campaign in terms of content offered.
And then there is Newt Gingrich, whose campaign appears to have abandoned email communication. As of March 8, two days after the 10-state Super Tuesday contests, none of the seed names McDonald is tracking had received any email from Gingrich since mid-January.
"Maybe they are all getting blocked and we are not seeing them, but I have not heard of people receiving them," McDonald says.
Ask Early, Ask Often
One aspect of email the three main candidates using email have embraced wholeheartedly is the ask. Emails from Romney and Santorum have large red call-to-action buttons seeking donations—one at the top of Romney's messages, and two at the top and bottom of missives from Santorum. Paul's messages have two banner ads with calls to action—and then a few more hotlinks in the body of his letters.
Beyond that, however, there are significant differences. Paul's messages have a feel more akin to long-form direct mail pieces as opposed to email communication, right down to substantial P.S. statements with additional links to his website in them.
Paul's messages tend not to comment on recent events, favoring instead longer polemics which reiterate the candidate's libertarian outlook. "Ron Paul is like a recording," McDonald says of the candidate's emails. "He just sticks to the same old script. He's less focused on attacking the other guys."
In contrast, Romney and Santorum's pieces reflect and comment on events such as the state of the union address from President Obama, or recent nomination contests, or attacks on competitors (in Santorum's case, on Romney, and in Romney's case on President Obama – although this has varied when Santorum has made inroads into the nomination process).
Tone wise, however, emails from the two top candidates differ significantly. "Romney's are very slick and professional," McDonald says. "They look like they are done from smart marketers, but they lack the 'Who is Romney from a personal human voice' perspective."
The Romney emails are often signed by other individuals, such as campaign manager Rich Beeson or campaign digital director Zac Moffatt. These individuals are featured in the messages' "from" lines – to their detriment, according to McDonald.
"The average voter out there is thinking 'Who the heck is Zac Moffatt?'" says McDonald. "It is one thing in the email itself. It could be signed by, and come from, the campaign manager if that is the person you want to deliver that particular message, but from an email recognizability standpoint I am a fan of making [messages] from the one you opted in to."
To his credit, Romney has used email messages in creative ways. McDonald, who is based in California, has not received a vote solicitation note yet, as California won't hold its primary until June 5. (McDonald did not disclose his own political leanings, as he is monitoring the candidates' messages for professional reasons.)
But McDonald did receive a request from the Romney campaign to help with the Feb. 4 caucus in neighbor state Nevada. "They used my zip code, knew I was in California and were trying to get me to go to the other state," he says. "I thought that was reasonably sophisticated."
Santorum's emails are ostensibly from the candidate himself – at least, based on the "from" line – and often include his digitized signature at the bottom of the message.
But the Santorum campaign has experienced its share of hiccups as well. One of the seeds McDonald entered into the various candidates' files didn't have a first name, and for a while he was receiving messages addressed to "Dear NULL".
"I am not going to be overly harsh on a candidate because marketers make that mistake every day," McDonald says. "But someone was asleep at the wheel and missed it—for several weeks." It has been corrected, he says, and emails directed at that account are now addressed to "Team Santorum".
For all the simplicity of the Ron Paul emails, his campaign did incorporate data into email cleverly at least once.
"They had some sort of formula breaking down the number of donations they needed in each city to reach $1 million," McDonald says. "They took the cities people lived in and calculated what they needed from each. Mine was five people at $15 apiece. Another seed name in a Wisconsin city was told the campaign needed six people. That was reasonably creative and sophisticated.
"They personalized it by first name, added this formula, and broke it down to a really local, personal level. They made me think it was just me and four other people. That makes it feel less overwhelming to someone who is considering whether to part with 15, 25, 50 dollars."
Super Tuesday Changed… Some Things
As of two days after Super Tuesday, McDonald still hadn't received any email from the Gingrich campaign.
The first note from the Paul campaign after Super Tuesday arrived mid-day on Thursday. McDonald notes Paul didn't do very well in the March 6 contests, and both the time lag and the tone of the message reflect the campaign's need to determine how to spin the contests.
And spin it did. The note, addressed to "Dear Liberty Activist," observed that comparatively few delegates were chosen on Super Tuesday, and that the focus on who won various contests was misplaced. Paul pledges to battle on, and to skewer "the pretensions and historical rewrites of ALL the mainstream candidates"—and then lists Gingrich, Romney and Santorum.
As was the case with previous messages, the note contained both two call-to-action banner ads in the bulk of the message, as well as a lengthy P.S. with two hotlinks seeking donations and a third banner ad.
The Romney campaign sent out a "strong, really strong" email (in McDonald's evaluation) on Wednesday from campaign manager Beeson. The email bore the subject line "Easy Math," and touted his candidate's win in Ohio—a critical state—as well as the 205 delegates claimed and 1.4 million votes garnered during the day. It also incorporated bar charts emphazising candidate delegate totals before and after the day's contests.
"I think what we saw, and what we are going to see from Mitt, is more of this 'I am the inevitable candidate and here is the math,' message," McDonald says. "This is what they have been doing on the talk shows, and the emails are going to pound this home and focus less on Santorum and more on this core of "Nobody else can catch up with me. Even though I am not there [with enough delegates to claim the nomination] yet, the math is in my favor."
The Santorum campaign's first post-Super Tuesday message put a brave face on the results, touting the states where the candidate won outright and mentioning the closeness of the Ohio results "despite being outspent 12 to 1."
That email, which is titled "Underdog", reflects a new template. The undertone, and one which the campaign will likely carry forward, according to McDonald, is "I would have done better with [Romney's] money."
The two click-through options, along with directions on how to donate by phone or mail, are geared at helping level that playing field.
In McDonald's opinion, all of the candidates are failing to use email to generate social media activity. None of the messages come with requests to share them on Facebook, or Twitter, or any other platforms.
"This would grow their subscriber base, and offer a fundamental way of getting their message out there," McDonald says. ""If I am an avid follower, and one of these emails really hit home, I would want to click a link and share that out into my Facebook news feed. These emails are almost designed to be shared on social channels and they are not enabling it. So in that they get an F."