One of the first steps to creating any digital marketing strategy is to identify your goals, establish your KPIs and envision the steps it will require to get from where you are to where you want to be. However, the end-game for most digital marketing campaigns is increasing ROI or establishing an engaged audience, not catapulting yourself into the highest position of power in the United States.
Due to the scale and the stakes of a run at the oval office, one might assume the digital marketing strategies would be much more nuanced and complex, but it may be surprising to find out President Trump’s digital efforts were managed, for the most part, using the same tools the rest of us use. We’re going to delve into what it takes to run a successful presidential digital marketing campaign so hopefully you can glean some insights to give your future campaigns a presidential effort.
There are several aspects of Donald Trump’s digital marketing campaign which those observing could see and think, “I don’t know why they’re doing that, but if they pull it off they’re geniuses.” One such instance of this bold strategy was his email marketing effort since Trump opted to send his very first fundraising email more than a year after Clinton’s campaign began their email fundraising. This “don’t attack until you see the whites of their eyes” approach seemed like a foolhardy way to go about campaigning but, like the apparent overall theme of Donald Trump’s campaign, when he struck he made it count.
Apart from the very first fundraising email, 61% of which didn’t reach an inbox, Trump’s email campaigns bested Clinton’s for the better part of the year. With a higher frequency (13 emails a week as opposed to Hillary’s 9), higher engagement, and a larger email list when things were all said and done, Trump’s inbox bombardment was clearly effective in reaching his audience with the message they wanted to hear.
The content of what Trump’s audience wanted to hear was interesting in and of itself since, throughout his overall email campaigning, he most often channeled the emotions of joy, fear, anticipation, trust and pride. Out of all of them, pride and fear elicited the most successful engagement rates, which seemed to be a common theme across all of Trump’s channels of communication.
This sense of fear and pride is best represented in the wording of his email subject lines. Eye catching titles like “We’re Being Overrun” and “I’m fighting for YOU” stimulate a sense of obligation and urgency in the recipient and certainly resonated with his audience. That sense of urgency is only intensified by the election day countdown included in 40% of his emails.
He also maintained a very personal tone in the content of his correspondence, beginning each email addressing the recipient by name. This dynamic name generation may seem like a hum-drum piece of tech to those with any email marketing experience, but you may be surprised to find out that Hillary Clinton never even attempted to utilize such technology, beginning all of her correspondences with either “Hey there” or “Hi friend”. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a friend, but if you have odds are you have never addressed them as such.
Call to Action
Trump began his email marketing campaign by incentivizing recipients to donate to his campaign, promising to match their donations, up to a total of $2M. According to the Trump team, the initial push more than exceeded goals and spurred further fundraising email promotions. The successful email in question contained two very simple CTA’s: “$10 DONATION [$20 WITH MATCH]” and “$20 DONATION [$40 WITH MATCH]”.
After the initial email, Trump’s team maintained a consistent strategy of employing 1-2 CTA’s per email, all soliciting donations. A nice touch in some of his CTA buttons was including the recipient’s name, so instead of “Donate $1”, it became a much more personal plea of, “Linda, donate $1” (if your name is Linda, of course. Very nice name, by the way).
Trump began his email marketing efforts without many of the benefits of a life-long politician; benefits such as a lengthy email list of opted-in subscribers. Instead, Trump leveraged his publicity from other communication channels such as his public appearances and controversial Twitter posts (see below) to build a subscriber list that, by the end of the campaign, was 9% larger than Clinton’s. There is, however, evidence of Trump using rented or bought email lists to some degree because at a certain point during the campaign his subscriber numbers blew past Clinton’s overnight.
Interestingly enough, as Trump’s pool of subscribers grew deeper, his engagement rates slowly fell off. Towards the end of his campaign in October, Clinton’s average open rate rose above Trumps to the tune of 18% to 12%. Clearly, this didn’t end up making much of a difference since Trump maintained the most engaged audience over the span of the campaign.
When president Obama was elected in 2008, people heralded the victory as “the election won through social media”. This trend of utilizing social media channels to stay in constant contact with voters has only intensified since then and proved to be one of the most influential factors of the 2016 election. According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of American adults claimed to have turned to the social media posts of the candidates for news and information about the election. When you compare that to the mere 15% who claimed to get their news from the candidates’ websites or emails, you begin to get a clearer picture of just how important a tweet or status update was for the candidates.
The constant publicity surrounding Trump’s Twitter account often overshadowed the activity going on with his Facebook account but, with all things considered, the strategy that went into his Facebook success is far more interesting to consider.
Trump’s likes: 13.5M
According to EzyInsight’s research, it really comes down to the Trump team’s understanding of how Facebook’s news algorithms work so they could manipulate it to their advantage. The general trend tends to be publishers post more during large public events (the world series, the royal wedding, etc.) and their public engagement increases exponentially. The Trump campaign took that idea and artificially created spikes of “news” that led to higher engagement. By essentially choosing a random day to bombard Facebook with posts, they became the news themselves which launched their otherwise average engagement numbers into the stratosphere.
This graph clearly shows the three times this technique was used during the month of October – the 7th, 12th, and 22nd – to incredibly impressive results.
If you followed this election at all, you know of the media’s obsession with Trump’s Twitter account. The power of attention, be it positive or negative, was a tool wielded so skillfully by the Manhattan Millionaire turned President it left politicians and poll-makers scratching their heads in disbelief. Whenever Donald saw himself being ignored in the news (which didn’t seem to be very often) he would simply open Twitter and fire off something controversial and for the next week or so he would feel the warm glow of free publicity on his smiling face. It didn’t matter how ill-thought or insensitive the sentiment was, every time he said something seemingly disagreeable, his poll numbers would go up.
Trump’s followers: 14M
Regardless of what you think of the man, this election will certainly go down in history as a perfect case study in the marketing principle/cliché “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” But, if there were useable takeaways from Trump’s twitter account, they would be the following:
- Know your audience
- Speak personably. No one wants to hear from a faceless brand.
- Post consistently
One of the things which made the outcome of this election so unbelievable to so many people was the wide margin by which Hillary was projected to win pre-election night. As soon as the final votes came in and Trump was confirmed as the president-elect, Clinton supporters nation-wide demanded an explanation as to why the polls were so radically off to the point where they seemed irrelevant in the first place. Many were quick to point their fingers at big data but, just like everything in this election, the answer is never that easy.
Both Hillary and Donald utilized big data in their campaigns but to radically different degrees. In fact, Trump rejected the use of big data for the large part of his campaign until he hired a company called Cambridge Analytica shortly after receiving the nomination. Although it has not been disclosed how exactly this company utilized data, their director of product for Trump’s Cambridge Analytica team, Matt Oczkowki said about the controversial battleground states, “…our models predicted most of these states correctly.” When questioned about the mistrust of big data, he went on to say,
“Data is not dead. Data is alive and kicking. It’s just how you use it and how you buck normal political trends to understand your data.”
Many believe it was the way in which the data was collected which became the issue with the early polling data. In key states, many of whom were surveyed because they had been flagged as someone who had voted in a previous election. This assumption fails to take into account all the voters turning out for the first time to support the candidate they believe in. The data collected by the Trump camp on the early voting numbers drove key adjustments to digital advertising and campaign messaging in Florida and Michigan, states Donald needed if he wanted to have a chance at winning.
The key takeaway here is making the effort to fully understand your data inside and out. Where did it come from? How much of your audience does it account for? What is it really asking? And once you know the answers to these questions you can only begin to ascertain the true meaning behind them. It is only with repeated testing of your hypothesis should you begin to gain true confidence in the insight you pull from your data.
Hopefully you found this break-down interesting if not insightful and possibly gleaned some actionable tips for your future digital efforts. But, even as much as we know now, we are still only beginning to unpack all of the varied elements, digital or otherwise, which went into the outcome of this historic and unprecedented election so keep an eye out for updates as they develop.