UK Election 2017: Which party has the most effective email campaign?

Guy Hanson, chair of the email council at the DMA, sheds light on how well (or otherwise) political parties' email campaigns are performing.

The UK general election is just a day away and campaigning is in full swing. Unsurprisingly, email is being heavily used by each political party looking to communicate with, and influence, voters.

Email has become one of the most effective communication platforms and is, according to the DMA, often a consumer’s preferred method of contact.The UK general election is just a day away and campaigning is in full swing.

Unsurprisingly, email is being heavily used by each political party looking to communicate with, and influence, voters. Indeed, email has become one of the most effective communication platforms and is, according to the DMA, often a consumer’s preferred method of contact.So, which parties are winning in the email campaign race? Using email intelligence, we can gain insight into who is conducting the most successful email campaign, how voters are engaging with these emails, and how this reflects their voting intentions.

Whose emails are being delivered? First, let’s evaluate deliverability. Each party’s email program plays a vital role in persuading supporters to volunteer their time, donate funds, and cast their vote, so ensuring emails are delivered automatically gives each party an advantage. The email deliverability performance of the major political parties so far indicates that the Green Party and Liberal Democrats are achieving above average Inbox Placement Rates (IPRs), while the Conservatives and UKIP are both under-performing. UKIP in particular is struggling with email deliverability, with only 43% of emails reaching subscribers’ inboxes – around half compared to every other party’s IPR.

The volume and frequency of each party’s emails heavily influences deliverability.

Higher volume/frequency senders can struggle to achieve good IPRs if subscribers don’t feel the emails are appropriate or engaging. Ahead of the election, the Labour Party has the largest email list and is also generating the most email activity. The Conservative party’s list is less than half the size of Labour’s, and activity is also lower with an average of two emails per week compared with Labour’s three. This may reflect the Conservatives’ larger war chest, with more funding being directed toward (more expensive) social media channels.

Subscriber complaints are, perhaps unsurprisingly, also one of the biggest influencers of email deliverability. If a recipient feels that they are being sent irrelevant or too many emails, they can label them as junk. This has a negative impact on a party’s email campaign as not only will the email fail to reach its audience, but future emails are at a higher risk of being filtered. Of all the major election senders (we’ve only actually seen 1 campaign from UKIP!) Labour has generated the highest complaints.

We have also identified a clear relationship between complaints and negative messaging. Average complaint rates for all parties have increased following the launches of their manifestos, and the tone of the messaging has deteriorated as they have attacked each other’s policies. What’s engaging with voters? How subscribers engage with emails is hugely important to the success of an email campaign. In fact, many of the major Mailbox Providers (MBPs) consider subscriber engagement as an additional deliverability factor. When looking at each party’s email campaigns, SNP subscribers are highly engaged with 47% of their emails generating engagement, compared to just 13% for the single UKIP campaign we saw (“Is there a Brexit without UKIP?”). The Liberal Democrats come second with 33%, followed by the Green Party (30%), the Conservatives (27%) and the Labour party (26%). Getting emails delivered is only the first step, however. If they get opened and don’t generate responses, they have failed.

Many of the campaign emails use the name of a politician associated with the party, such as Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, as the “friendly from”, which is achieving higher read rates than those using less known personalities. Emails that appear to come from the party, as opposed to an individual from the party, achieve comparable read rates, but complaint rates and deleted or unread rates are higher, suggesting lower engagement with the less personal approach. Indeed, personalisation is an important element of modern-day email campaigns. In this election, only three parties are personalising subject lines – the Conservatives, Green Party, and Liberal Democrats. For the Conservatives, emails are split into two cells – one personalised and one non-personalised. Read rates are much higher for the personalised emails (21% vs 31%) and filtering rates are much lower (13% vs 32%).

Are voters being targeted effectively?

Having the right target audience is also paramount for the political parties. When looking at each party’s email campaigns, only 24 percent of recipients are highly targeted. Less than half are partially targeted and more than half are sent to non-targeted subscribers. Predictably, read rates are significantly greater for the highly targeted emails, while user-marked spam rates and MBP-marked spam rates both increase sharply as targeting decreases.

Email senders can also often 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, including ‘this is so important’, ‘it’s not too late to save the NHS”, and ‘too close to call’, are achieving slightly lower read rates than less urgent messages and filtering rates are significantly higher. This could be because these types of phrases are associated with “clickbait” strategies.

Email is undoubtedly a big part of each party’s election campaign this year, with some relying more on it than others. Labour is, by far, conducting the most amount of email activity and has the biggest target audience, however this doesn’t mean they are the most effective. In fact, Labour is currently experiencing the lowest level of engagement, although this is compensated for to some extent by its broader email reach. Other parties, such as The Green Party, the SNP and Liberal Democrats are all enjoying more positive interactions and achieving higher IPRs, which could be down to more strategic targeting, engaging content or optimal timing and frequency. As we enter the last day before the results are announced, it will be interesting to see if engagement levels are reflected in the final vote.

Guy Hanson is chair of the email council at the Direct Marketing Association and senior director of professional services at email deliverability specialist Return Path.

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