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What email marketing says about the 2016 presidential race

Havas Helia's Kyle J. Britt and Michael Kinstlinger have some fascinating data on the campaigns' outreach efforts.

Michael Kinstlinger and Kyle J. Britt in podcast mode. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)
You may be following CNN this election season, but Kyle J. Britt and Michael Kinstlinger are following the 2016 presidential race through their inboxes.

The two digital marketers at Havas Helia’s Inner Harbor office started gathering data from the different campaigns on email and social media for the 2016 race. As the race heated up, they started examining the data on a podcast, called Data Defeats Truman. The podcast is nonpartisan, and Havas Helia is sponsoring.
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They spoke about the election data at SXSW, and are set to present at the Light City U creative conference on Saturday.
Like everything in the 2016 race, it started with Hillary Clinton and email. Britt got a Facebook invite from Clinton’s campaign offering a chance to win a dinner with the former secretary of state.
“The marketer in me knew that they were trying to get my email address,” Britt said.
Once he told Kinstlinger, they started digging into the data.
Here are five takeaways from our conversation:

1. They reflect the narrative

Own the meme cycle.

Own the meme cycle.

Emails are reflective of the wider state of the race. As Bernie Sanders gained more momentum, his emails shifted from looking at issues to communicating a sense of urgency. Hillary Clinton’s emails (not those ones), by turn, went from those early meal invites to a tone indicating the campaign has a fight on its hands.
“If you were to just look at the emails blindly [Editor’s note: ?], you would think Bernie’s in the lead,” Kinstlinger said. “He’s talking with much more confidence, while Hillary is on her heels.” The electoral count, of course, doesn’t bear that out.
Instead of segmenting for specific audiences, Britt and Kinstlinger pointed out that Sanders sends pretty much the same message. That’s pretty consistent with the message against income inequality that he’s had since the beginning.

2. Trump isn’t sending many emails…

The Donald's desk.

The Donald’s desk.

We’ve read that Donald Trump is running an unorthodox campaign through the media and Twitter. Britt and Kinstlinger’s observations confirm that.
“Trump is sending the minimum amount of emails that a person can send running for president,” said Britt.
He isn’t directly raising money, and doesn’t prefer the longer, issue-oriented format of email. Enter Twitter, where he has a massive following.

3. …but it’s still all about Trump

Donald Trump pats the back of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump pats the back of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during a Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Dec. 15, 2015. (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Trump is still appearing in plenty of inboxes. In 257 emails that Britt and Kinstlinger analyzed sent by the other Republican candidates before Super Tuesday, Trump was mentioned 410 times. “He’s controlling their narrative,” Kinstlinger said.
Britt questions whether data had a role in the Republican establishment’s failure to recognize Trump’s surprise surge and popularity in the race.

4. Cruz is spamming

Your new laptop sleeve.

Your new laptop sleeve.

Sen. Ted Cruz is supposed to have one of the biggest data operations in the campaign, but he hasn’t been able to translate that into poll numbers. One disconnect came in email.
Britt and Kinstlinger said the Cruz campaign had effective messaging and design, but over the month they analyzed, about 30 percent of the Cruz campaign’s emails ended up in Gmail’s spam folder. That struck them as high. The data point makes Kinstlinger and Britt question the staff, and what lists they are relying on. With many of the emails asking for money, that could result in fundraising dollars left on the table, they said.

5. About those swing voters…

If you’re already feeling inundated, get ready for more. The emails only figure to increase, as the surviving campaigns figure to pick up more money and more staff. And as they need more money, they’ll need to make more email appeals.
“Then it becomes a question of, what are the bounds that the technology will allow you to do?” Britt said. “Right now there’s probably a time element and there’s probably a talent element as to why they haven’t done a ton of segmenting at this stage.”


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