Blue Utopia Blog

Democrats Have A Wells Fargo Problem

Wed, Sep 28, 2016 - 03:58 PM

Posted by Mike Nellis, Revolution Messaging

Goals are good. They help us visualize success and they motivate us to work harder and strive to do a little better with each project. But goals can have a nasty side-effect, especially when they are widely unrealistic.

Wells Fargo learned this the hard way. Executives created rigid, unachievable sales quotas that were virtually unheard of in the banking industry. So, naturally, when faced with a decision to either meet these quotas or lose their jobs, employees forged customer accounts.

Eventually, Wells Fargo got caught and was forced to pay a huge settlement to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the CEO has become Senator Elizabeth Warren’s personal punching bag over the last month.

This is not an uncommon problem on Wall Street or in sales. I personally faced impossible sales quotas when I worked in retail during college. But the exact same issue is fueling a very serious problem in Democratic politics today. Just as Wells Fargo put tremendous expectations on its employees, so do Democratic candidates and committee organizations.

In the age of big-money politics, many digital staffers on Congressional races or at committees are expected to raise unrealistic amounts of money, no matter the ethical cost.

That’s exactly why the DCCC sends monthly emails that look like FINAL NOTICE bills, which have the express intent of scamming and scaring seniors out of their money:

Fundraising Deadline
(Every. Single. Month.)

When you see subject lines like “ALL HOPE IS LOST,” “WE. WILL. FAIL,” or shady methods like de-branding or impersonating issued-based organizations, you’re seeingmanipulative, desperate tactics. That’s what happens when you’re laser-focused on an insane goal with no consideration for the people on the other end of the email.

And it gets worse: the biggest Democratic committees and candidates are the ones that other campaigns and digital consultants copy the most. So it’s no surprise that their shoddy tactics are adopted by a lot of campaigns — including Republican party committees like the NRCC and NRSC who have co-opted much of the DCCC’s playbook in the previous few years. The end result? An immediate bump for your campaign that burns out your list in the long-term. Your campaign may get the lift it’s looking for before the quarterly deadline, but in the long run, you alienate your supporters, burn your list, suppress turnout, and raise less money.

Kamala Harris EmailHere at Revolution, we’re proving there’s a different way. Rather than manipulating supporters via scare tactics or outright lies, we do our best to treat them with respect, appealing to their passion and addressing them as intelligent people. I admit, we don’t always get it 100% right — but trying is half the battle.  Of course we still set fundraising goals, but we balance them with authentic storytelling, a commitment to testing and timeliness, and we’re always brutally honest with our clients. That’s why we’ve had such incredible success in the past two years. You’ve heard about Bernie Sanders, Tim Canova, and Zephyr Teachout — who have blazed a new trail in how to fund campaigns through small-dollar organizing. But we’ve also had incredible success raising money for candidates like Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Dick Durbin and Chris Murphy — and we’ve done it without racing to the bottom.

So here’s the question we all have to ask ourselves as digital fundraisers: are we treating our supporters with respect and running an honest program focused on the issues that people are passionate about? If you aren’t, then you’re probably hoping to dupe 20,000 people into opening their wallets with scare tactics instead of finding a way to inspire them to give to a cause they care about.

My advice: Do your best to set realistic goals based on fluid projections, temper your strategy with ethics, and whatever you do, be honest.

This is a guest post by Mike Nellis at Revolution Messaging and originally posted here.

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Building an effective email program

Thu, Sep 15, 2016 - 03:25 PM

Great, you've decided to put some effort into building a good email communication program with your constituents/supporters.  But where to start?  What tone to take?  What to talk about?  All great questions that usually keep this program where it is right now - nowhere. We've put together these 5 guidelines to help you get started and focus your efforts.

Focus on building your list

First start with the email addresses that you DO have – on linkedin, facebook, in the candidate’s rolodex, gmail, etc.  Get those into a dedicated email program – preferably one that is integrated to your supporter/donor database and updated automatically. 

Next, every physical interaction should include an effort to collect emails addresses.  At every event, every rally, and fundraiser, you should be collecting signups.

Advocate Online.  At the core of a political campaign is a set of common values and there are opportunities to build your audience around those.  Petitions are a great tool and in conjunction with social media, you can spread your reach to earn new supporters.  Depending on your campaign, opportunities can be as big as the impact of a coal train traveling through your area, to a neighborhood project.  Use these opportunities to engage your supporters, allow them to build your audience via social, and then build your audience with more supporters.

Forget the presidential campaigns.  Focus on creating valuable information

If you’ve succumbed to the calls to join the email list of a presidential or any high-dollar statewide campaign, then you’ve seen a systematic abuse of email as a way to try to fundraising a few dollars at a time, from every findable email address and nearly every possible day.  It’s a churn-n-burn system of sacrificing the long-term potential value of an email program for the near-term benefit of raising money to get elected.  Don’t emulate these campaigns!

Instead, treat your email program as an effort to deliver useful information to your constituents.  Talk about issue-related events and they relate to your campaign.  Go super-targeted and talk to a small segment about an incident in a specific neighborhood.  Car-wash fundraiser being held by a local school?  What a great opportunity to use your platform as a representative of your district.  These are just a few ideas that represent a completely different approach to your email campaign as a tool to build relationships and loyalty among your constituents.

An effective email campaign is not a 6-month campaign with an end-date

Most campaigns send out a big blast email after not being heard from for about a year and a half and immediately start deluging us with a barrage of emails asking for money.   For candidates that just held office, this approach ignores the opportunity to provide actual useful information to supporters during the time in office – an approach that would have made the pleas for money more effective.  The day after the election, a winning campaign should thank their supporters.  The week after that, they should transform their site into a slightly more legislative tone and begin communicating on the import of their job.  Taking this approach will consistently build your audience and their participation. 

Create emails that easily digestible

You’ve built your list.  You’ve taken a longer-term approach to email communication.  Great.  But people are already deluged with email.  So you need to create the content in a way that’s effective.  In short, that’s creating easy-to-consume content.  That means avoid long text-heavy updates, balancing your pictures with your text, and creating good subject lines.  Link updates in your email to individual pages on your website that go into more detail. 

Get your emails delivered.

This is really about the technical layer of delivering emails.  Do not think for a second, you can do this yourself from Outlook or Gmail.  Find a reputable email vendor that can deliver emails to your constituent’s inbox.  There’s nothing worse that spending time on a communication piece and then having an abysmally low read rate because most of them ended up on peoples’ spam box.  We wrote about Email Deliverability here.  

This post was designed for political campaigns and, as such, is designed as a quick start to the subject matter.  For more info on our approach to blog content, check out our Welcome Message: Scope and Intent.  




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Getting Read by Creating Better Subject Lines

Mon, Sep 12, 2016 - 10:30 AM

Email Subject Lines

Even with all proliferation with communication medium like facebook, texting, skype, twitter, and many others email is still a primary channel for most of us.  And our inboxes continue to be full of both wanted and unwanted emails – which just makes it a little harder to be seen.

First, a caveat to this article:  Here at Blue Utopia, we’ve preached for years that there is only one sure method of effectively communicating via email and that is to consistently deliver messages to your audience that delivers value.  That means over the long term and taking the time to really talk to your audience about things they want to read. 

Everyone knows though that you have to start these relationships somewhere and many times, that’s in the inbox.  And where much of the challenge used to be getting people to read past the first few lines (remember Outlooks preview pane?), it’s also increasingly about getting the user to just open the email.  That’s where the subject line comes in.  We’re not advocating going overboard on the attention you give subject lines.  Most campaigns’ email lists are under 10,000 with somewhere near a 35% read rate.  So a great subject line that increases the read rate by a whopping 5% results in an increased read total of 500 people – substantial yes, but not something that changes the riches of a campaign.   

So try to create subject lines.  Don’t’ go overboard.  Move on to the rest of the campaign.  With that in mind, here are 10 good practices for creating effective subject lines.

Ask a question

Sometimes an interesting question can spark curiosity and engagement.  Here’s an example

Have you see the latest poll?

Make it personal

You have an event.  You send an email.  Here are two possible subject lines: 

a:  “Join us at the Doe Event”

b:   “Hi Melisa, will you be joining us at the Doe Event?

Wow, those are very different in terms of grabbing someone’s attention in a crowded inbox.  To do this in Blue Utopia, you simply add %firstname% into the subject line.  Most email vendors support dynamic content like this so just look for how to do that in your email program. 

Convey a concise value.

About half of all email is now opened on mobile devices where the screen size is limited to around 35 characters.  So get to the point as quickly as you can in your subject line.    

Here’s an example:  “Early Voting Starts Today!”

Use emojis in the subject line.

Like them or hate them, people use emojis to communicate.  So using an emoji in your email subject line can be an effective way to identifying with your audience and increasing your read/resonse rate.

Luckily, inserting an emoji into your Blue Utopia broadcast email is as simple as copying the emoji from a website and pasting it into the subject line – just like coying and pasting any peice of text.

Two great sources for emojis are Facebook Symbols and Emojipedia.  Simply go to these sources, or any other of your choosing, and copy the item, then paste it into the subject line field of your email.  That’s it.

This article is a part of our series on Email Broadcast. 

This post was designed for political campaigns and, as such, is designed as a quick start to the subject matter.  For more info on our approach to blog content, check out our Welcome Message: Scope and Intent.  


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Getting Your Email Delivered

Mon, Sep 12, 2016 - 10:11 AM

Did you know that well over 50% of all email is spam?  And that number has been reported as high as 90% in years past.  The reason you don’t see the vast majority of spam email is because ISP’s do a very good job of filtering that out for you.  But the systems are not perfect and one consequence of that is that about 22% of legitimate email never makes it to the inbox. 

Create great content that people want.   ISP’s use all kinds of metrics when processing your email. Many of the individual things they look at roll up to what is referred to as your sending reputation.  The performance of your emails does lot to determine your sending reputation.  For instance, a high percent of opt-outs or consistently low open rates can hurt your sending reputation and hence, your ability to deliver future emails.  Solve that by creating content that your readers look forward to, read, and engage with.     

Keep your database clean.  When you send out a broadcast email, if you’re sending to a high number of bad email addresses, or if you’re sending to an address that has bounced in the past, or a spam-trap – these hurt your reputation and can have an impact not just on your future email sends but can put even your current email at risk.    

Have a clear unsubscribe.  A clear and easy way for a recipient to stop receiving your emails is critical.  First, many ISPs will not even deliver if they can’t programmatically identify an opt-out mechanism.  Additionally, you risk recipients flagging you as spam.  Why?  Because people frequently take the easy route.  If someone doesn’t want your email and there’s an easy to use method for flagging your message as spam and a not-so-easy way to unsubscribe, then they’ll choose the easy way.  Spam reports are a killer for your ability to deliver your email.

Pick a reputable broadcast email vendor.  You simply cannot deliver a bulk list of emails from a personal email account.  Personal email systems are not set up for queuing and metering your send requests.  A personal email system also wont likely have many of the required authentication systems in place such as; SPF records, DNS (A) records, an IP address with a stable reputation, and many more.         

Avoid ‘unlimited’ email plans.  Just sending thousands of emails is not complex.  But doing all the things that are required to help you deliver emails to your supporters’ inbox is not simple at all.  Choosing an email vendor that offers a great-sounding unlimited emails is usually the surest way to deliver a bunch of emails to the bulk/junk folder.           

This post was designed for political campaigns and, as such, is designed as a quick start to the subject matter.  For more info on our approach to blog content, check out our Welcome Message: Scope and Intent.  If you want to know a LOT more about deliverability, there are some great resources.  One we recomend is Return Path's Deliverability Guide.

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