The Conservative Party has an overwhelmingly better email programme than any of its election rivals, new research reveals. Yet all of the UK’s main political parties – including the Tories – are making fundamental errors in their mass email communications and are consequently missing opportunities to influence voters in the run-up to this year’s general election, the researchers found.
In Return Path’s first ever research into the effectiveness of UK political party email marketing, researchers from Return Path – the global market leader in email deliverability and reputation services – signed up to the email programmes of the UK’s established political parties and tracked each email campaign over the course of two months.
Return Path’s research revealed that most of the political parties were effectively ignoring subscribers who had signed up to receive email messages. More than half of the parties studied sent fewer than two messages over the two months of the study. Labour sent just one email during this period, while the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish National Party and the Democratic Unionist Party sent none at all.
The researchers also found that Labour and Conservatives both failed to use the demographic data that they collected to target voters with customised messages.
Most Political Parties Failed To Send A Welcome Message
Return Path’s research found that the majority of the parties surveyed either failed to send a single email during the two month period, or sent only one. Researchers had not received a single message from the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party (SNP) or Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) two months after signing up to their email programme. The Labour Party sent one email during the whole period of study. This contrasts starkly with main rivals, the Conservative Party, which sent 12 messages over the two months. The British National Party (BNP) sent the greatest number of emails over the course of the study, but three quarters of their emails (15 out of 20) ended up in the spam folder.
What’s more, none of the three major parties sent a welcome message as part of the sign-up process, although the Green Party and the BNP did send one within 24 hours of sign-up. Meanwhile, the other parties that managed to send emails took a long time to send their first regular message. Again, the Tories performed best with a wait of six days between sign-up and the first regular email; the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) took nine days; and Labour waited 58 days to send their first email.
“For all their platitudes about engaging with the electorate, political parties are certainly not walking the talk when it comes to email,” said Margaret Farmakis, Return Path’s senior director of response consulting, who lead the research. “Sending a timely welcome message that arrives shortly after sign-up provides short-term reinforcement of the subscription, and encourages subscribers to begin browsing and clicking through to news, social media and other content, as well as actively participating in fundraising or other party-related activities.
“If political parties don’t do this, they risk subscribers forgetting why they signed up to the email programme in the first place, increasing the chances that they will click the “This is Spam” button when they do receive a message. The more spam complaints, the more the parties’ email reputation suffers, harming the deliverability of all of their messages.”
Farmakis continued, “Welcome messages are a simple and effective method of validating email addresses, but they’re also vital because they provide an opportunity to begin a dialogue with subscribers, making it more likely that recipients will read and engage with subsequent messages, take an action that’s desirable to the sender and not click the “This is Spam” button. While half the parties validated new subscribers with a Double Opt-In – where an email is sent to the subscriber asking them to confirm their subscription – this doesn’t mean that they should neglect to send a welcome message, personalised with the recipient’s name, within 24 hours.”
Labour and Tories Don’t Use Geographic Data They’ve Collected To Target Messages
Both Labour and the Conservatives collected geographic data, in the form of post codes, from subscribers to their email programmes, but failed to use this information to personalise or target their messages to individual subscribers, harming the effectiveness of the parties’ campaigns.
“Every constituency has different concerns and priorities, so political parties need to tailor their messages to the different interests of the electorate,” said Farmakis. “Collecting demographic data, such as age and location, enables parties to target individuals with personalised messages that are more likely to chime with the concerns and priorities of the recipient – and make them more likely to vote for the party in question.
“Prospective Parliamentary Candidates will always campaign on the issues that are most relevant and emotive to people in their constituency. It makes no sense for central parties not to do the same, especially when the two biggest parties are already collecting the necessary data during sign-up.”
Social Media Not Integrated Into Email
Almost every political party studied promoted their social media presence on the homepage of their websites, with the exception of Labour and the SNP; yet only the Conservatives and the BNP incorporated social media links into their email messages.
“Politicians are increasingly talking about engaging with the electorate and, crucially, listening to them too,” said Farmakis. “Social media, like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube can be fantastic forums for conducting a true two-way conversation between political parties and real voters. But parties that don’t incorporate social media links in their emails are missing a trick, and depriving themselves of a quick and easy way to grow their communities online and dominate debate online. For the same reason, it’s also vital to include “forward-to-a-friend” links in their emails, which is a natural grassroots method of spreading the word about party activity and getting others to sign up to the email programme – yet none of the major parties did this.”
“Our study showed the Conservatives were by far the strongest party in their email communications. They took the least time to engage with new subscribers; sent messages at the promised frequency; and incorporated social media within their messages. If they were judged purely on the superiority of their email strategy, they’d win by a landslide.
“Overall, however, it’s difficult to give any of the parties a vote of approval for the effectiveness of their email campaigns,” concluded Farmakis. “Yet with the short time before the election must take place, there are still a number of simple steps that all the parties can take to improve, and so sway the undecided voters who may well determine the result of this election.”
Founded in 1999, Return Path helps commercial email senders get more email delivered to the inbox. Our tools and services give senders the insight and resources to diagnose and prevent email deliverability and rendering failures by improving and maintaining their email sending reputations. Our Professional Services division then helps our client improve ROI and response by creating consistent and compelling subscriber experiences across the email customer lifecycle. Return Path runs the internet’s most widely used third-party whitelist, the Return Path Certification Program. Return Path also invented the Sender Score, an email reputation measure based on data contributed by ISPs and other receivers of large volume email into the Return Path Reputation Network. We offer free access to our Sender Score to any sender, receiver or consumer of email at our reputation portal senderscore.org. Information about Return Path can be found at returnpath.com.