UK Elections 2017: Which Candidate Inspires Email Engagement?

Posted by Guy Hanson on

In part 1 of our series, we evaluated the email programs of the UK’s main political parties to see which ones are dealing most effectively with the challenge of deliverability. The Greens and Liberal Democrats came out top. However on average, one in every eight emails sent is ending up in the junk folder. This failure to reach the inbox will have an impact on volunteering, donations, and getting people out to vote.

But getting emails delivered is only the start. If they don’t get opened, and fail to generate responses to their calls to action, then they have failed. In this post, we will evaluate subscriber engagement and how to generate it.

Here is the past 30-day read rate performance for the major political parties:

Again, the smaller programs are leading the way, with the SNP, Greens, and Liberal Democrats achieving above average read rates. We’ll now look at some of the reasons for this.

1. Friendly (or unfriendly) from
Many emails use the name of a politician associated with the party as the friendly from. In the chart below, we categorized that technique by “Leader” (e.g. Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn), and compared it against other friendly froms using “Other” (e.g. not a party leader), or “Party” (e.g. The Liberal Democrats, Green Party, etc.).

Emails using “Leader” as their friendly from achieving better read rates than those using “Other” (less known) personalities. “Party” friendly froms achieve comparable read rates, but complaint rates and deleted unread rates are much higher, suggesting lower engagement with the less personal approach.

2. Segmentation and targeting
We categorized broadcasts by size relative to each sender’s total subscribers. “Highly Targeted” is less than 25 percent of total mailable addresses, “Partially Targeted” is less than 50 percent, and “Not Targeted” are sent to half or more of all subscribers.

read rates are significantly greater for “Highly Targeted” broadcasts, while complaint rates and spam placement rates both increase sharply as targeting decreases

3. Personalisation
Most email programs collect name data as part of the sign-up, and all use this data for salutations. However, only three parties personalize subject lines (Conservatives, Greens, and Liberal Democrats) and we tested this for effectiveness.

Personalized subject lines generate slightly higher read rates. However, the key takeaway is complaint rates are twice as high for non-personalised emails. Subscribers are much less likely to respond negatively when personal real estate (their name) is involved.

Two other quick personalisation learnings:

  • Many of the Conservatives’ broadcasts are split into two cells–one personalized and one non-personalised. Read rates are much higher for the personalized cells (21 percent vs 31 percent) and spam placement rates are much lower (13 percent vs 32 percent).
  • Positioning is also important. Subject lines where names are at the start (and more visible) generate slightly better read rates (28.6 percent vs 28.0 percent) but much lower spam placement rates (4.9 percent vs 14.3 percent) and negligible complaint rates (zero percent vs 0.28 percent) compared with where names are at the end.

4. Emotional Impact
In addition to obvious engagement drivers such as content, offer, and call to action there are also some subtle levers. Here are a few examples:

  • Urgency: Email senders can drive engagement by creating a sense of urgency. However, this approach seems less effective for political senders, perhaps because subscribers feel they are being “told” what to do. High urgency messages (e.g. “This is so important”, “It’s not too late to save the NHS”, “Too close to call”) actually achieve slightly lower read rates than less urgent messages (26.1 percent vs 26.7 percent) and spam placement rates are significantly higher (17 percent vs 13 percent) perhaps because these types of phrases are associated with “clickbait” strategies.
  • Tone: Many voters get turned off by campaigning they consider negative. We categorised emails as negative (e.g. “Just six seats and it’s PM Corbyn”, ”You can’t trust a word Theresa May says”, ”Heartless, nasty and cruel”) or positive (“Standing together”, ”Imagine a brighter future”) and all other emails were tagged “Neutral.” Positive emails generated slightly higher read rates (26.8 percent vs 25.5 percent), lower spam placement rates (11.4 percent vs 15.8 percent) and much lower complaint rates (0.09 percent vs 0.53 percent) compared with negative ones.
  • Positioning: Engagement can vary depending on whether subscribers feel they are being spoken at or spoken to. We tagged emails as “First Party” (e.g. “I want to hear from you”), “Second party” (e.g. “Who do you want standing up with you?”) or “Shared” (e.g. “Be part of our Manifesto Launch”). The results were a little surprising/ Normally subscribers like to be put at the heart of the conversation, but the “I/My/We” First party emails actually performed best with the highest read rates (32 percent) and lowest complaint rates (0.28 percent). This is possibly because this election has been more “presidential” with party leaders far more prominent (e.g. “Theresa May’s Conservatives”).
  • Questions: Presenting an email offer as a question can be a highly effective engagement driver, and the political campaigns do this well. Messages like “Who do you want standing up with you?, “Did we see you?”, and “How far we’ll go?” generated higher read rates (35 percent vs 27 percent), lower spam placement rates (4.8 percent vs 13.5 percent) and lower complaint rates (0.18 percent vs 0.36 percent).

5. Mailbox Provider Engagement Metrics
Mailbox providers have their own interpretation of engagement, also measuring a range of “hidden” metrics–based on subscribers’ behavior. These play a role in determining whether email programs are seen as good or bad senders. For example:

  • Deleted without reading: A strong subject line can have a negative impact if it causes recipients to delete the email without reading it. We showed subscribers don’t like negativity, and the Conservatives’ “This is our chance to fight back against Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP achieved almost a 20 percent deleted without reading rate. Vagueness, e.g. “It’s Time To Change The Game” (Greens, 15 percent) and weak offers, e.g. “Get your limited edition Tote bag now (Labour, 16 percent) will also drive up this metric.
  • Complaints: Subscribers will register spam complaints for similar reasons, and messages such as “Corbyn, Guy” (Conservatives, 3.7 percent) and “My reason” (Lib Dems, 13.9 percent) were both well above average. UKIP’s “Is there a Brexit without UKIP?” (25.6 percent) was truly exceptional!
  • This is not spam: Subscribers who rescue emails from their spam/junk folders send a very positive signal to mailbox providers. Intriguing messages help drive this behaviour, and the two Labour campaigns “She’s handed in her notice” (25 percent) and “A challenge and an opportunity” (17 percent)—were strong performers.
  • Forwarded: This is an important mailbox provider engagement metric for the same reasons as above. It is an indication that the recipients found the content valuable enough to pass along to others Recipients of Labour’s “Our manifesto: share now” did exactly that, and generated a three percent forwarded rate.

Summary
Subscriber engagement is a two-sided coin, and is not just about maximising positive behaviours–it’s also about minimising negative behaviours too. In our next (and final) instalment we’ll pull it all together and showcase some specific examples to answer questions like:

  • How badly has the Conservatives’ engagement tanked since their disastrous manifesto launch?
  • Who is Britain’s loneliest politician?
  • Which party leader let someone else send the apology email following his/her initial error?
  • What are the most popular subject line emojis?
  • Which party has the best preference centre?

I’ll also put my head on the block and use email intelligence to make a bold prediction about who will win the election – don’t miss it!


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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base that now spans nearly 15 years, he is a global e-mail expert and thought leader. Leading Return Path’s International Professional Services consulting team, Guy has worked with a broad range of clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue generated. Outside of work, Guy is the Chairman of the DMA Email Council. In this role, he works with industry peers including brands, agencies, and service providers to promote the best interests of the email industry to a broader audience. He is also a regular contributor to the industry press.

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