The truth behind the buzz: what really made the difference in Obama’s re-election

One of the big stories in digital marketing in recent months has been about a campaign whose results have a major impact on people around the world – the US Presidential Election. Marketing pundits representing all channels have had an opinion on how Obama’s campaign led to his re-election but I would argue none was more significant than the use of email.

Let me start by saying there is no doubt this election was won by email. Here is a direct quote from an article published by Business Week; “Most of the $690 million Obama raised online came from fundraising e-mails”. And by the way,  $690 million represents nearly 75% of the $934 million raised in what ended up being the most expensive Presidential election in US history. This makes email, by far and away the No1 non-political contributor to the drubbing of Mitt Romney.

So why has there been so little said about this incredible achievement by email marketing pundits, ESP’s or their PR machines? When you look at the fuss made over the 2008 campaign – allegedly won by social media – the silence from the email industry has been deafening. When anyone does mention it, there has been a tendency to attribute the success of Obama’s email fundraising activities to anything other than email.

Some may suggest that without the “age old lessons [and presumably wisdom]” passed down from wise-old DM to rather awkward, gauche and somewhat unattractive email marketing the story would have been very different.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Here is what really happened. Obama won because he sent more email to more people more often than Romney period!

According to numbers put out by eDataSource and Return Path, Obama mailed a staggering 40+M subscribers compared with Romney’s 4M, on some days they sent 350M compared with 26M from Romney. So while relevance, engagement, creative – ugly or otherwise, Subject Line testing etc. did play some part in his success, they pale into insignificance compared to the impact reach and frequency had in his success.

What seasoned email marketers might find surprising (I see this as further proof of the fact that frequency drives engagement) is that the Obama database was more engaged and less likely to view the emails they received as spam. The figures below which I extrapolated from numbers published by eDataSource and Return Path illustrate this clearly:

Obama Read 15.85% Total 6,340,000
Romney Read 7.94% Total 317,600
Obama Delete Unread 9.01% Total 3,604,000
Romney Delete Unread 5.11% Total 204,400
Obama ISP Spam 17.95% Total 7,180,000
Romney ISP Spam 52.51% Total 2,100,400
Obama User-Marked Spam 0.02% Total 800,000
Romney User-Marked Spam 0.03% Total 120,000

 

The Obama campaign raised an average of $17.25 per subscriber, if you assume Romney was able to do the same, he would have generated $69M from email compared to Obama’s $690M. So if you were Romney what would you have learned from this, A) Segment and test your way to $172.50 per subscriber or B) Send email to a lot more people more often?

Email delivers something DM cannot. Broadcast reach at near zero marginal cost.

If you don’t want to leverage that, stop sending email!

I have read lots of peoples’ take on the article and what they found most interesting and would like to share mine – something Bloomberg Business Week chose to call a counterintuitive. I don’t and I think it is an awesome admission: “Most people have a nearly limitless capacity for e-mail and won’t unsubscribe no matter how many they’re sent”. Now read the comments made by the very people who made the campaign successful. Note how few said they enjoyed the blitz yet on average they donated $17.25 each.

Now that’s an insight!

I know for certain that they are not the first people to have worked this out, but they are the first significant entity to come out and say it.

Let’s give credit where credit is due in the 2012 presidential election; segmentation, targeting and testing techniques were the tail, reach and frequency were the DOG!

This entry was posted in Acquisition, Frequency, Metrics, Strategy on by .
Dela Quist

About Dela Quist

Dela Quist, has nearly 15 years of online media, advertising and marketing experience, the last 10 of which have been in the email space. He is CEO of Alchemy Worx, a digital marketing agency with a 100% focus on email and a diverse client portfolio of global and UK based brands such as Tesco, Vodafone, Hilton Hotels, Lilly, AOL, Intercontinental Hotels Group, The Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Holidays.

Dela is regularly invited to speak on the creative, legal, commercial and technical issues that affect email marketers.