A Consensus: UK Political Parties Miss Opportunities to Connect with Email

Margaret Farmakis
By Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting

As an American living in the UK, there are a number of things I don’t understand about my adopted home: the British obsession with regional accents that apparently indicates not only where you come from, but your class and status as well. Some accents are “posh” and others aren’t. I have yet to figure out the difference. Then there’s the surprising realization that while we may be speaking the same language we have very different ways of expressing ourselves. I won’t go into why the Brits find the term “fanny pack” so hysterical, and if someone tells you that you’ve “lost the plot” or are “throwing your toys out of the pram” (two of my favourite British expressions), that’s a poetically descriptive way of saying you’ve lost your cool. Then there’s the spelling, with all those extra “u’s” and “s’s” instead of “z’s, and I won’t even mention the weather.

That being said, when it comes to email marketing, while there are some distinct differences between UK and US marketers there are also many similarities. Two recent Return Path studies analyzing US and UK subscriber experiences showed that 60% of US marketers do not send a welcome message (compared to 55% of UK marketers). Our studies also found that it took US marketers 9 days to send their first email message to subscribers (compared with 13 days in the UK); and 83% of US marketers neglected to personalize or customize their first message to subscribers despite collecting personal data at the point of sign-up (compared to 86% of UK marketers).

What all this boils down to is that email marketers on both sides of the pond struggle to implement the best practices that will improve email ROI and revenue. Return Path’s latest research focusing on the top UK political parties and the subscriber experiences they are create for their constituents only reinforces this point. While I can’t pretend to understand the nuances of the British electoral process, I do know that all the parties we studied missed opportunities to create dialogs with their email subscribers, reinforce their unique message and win crucial minds (and votes) in what promises to be a very close race.

For example, of the parties we studied, 38% collected geographic information (e.g., address, post code), yet none used this data to customize their messages. In a close political contest, sending an email message customized with information about a particular constituency’s local concerns and issues seems like a great opportunity to be relevant. Sending relevant messages helps subscribers, engage with the brand (or party) marking it more likely they will take the desired action (in this case, voting for the party in question).

Another missed opportunity was the failure of most parties to integrate their email communications with their social media presences. Eighty-eight percent of the parties we studied had a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace were the most popular), yet only 75% promoted that presence on their website and only 25% promoted these efforts in their email messages. The Conservatives and the British National Party (BNP) consistently provided links to view YouTube clips, and the BNP featured Twitter and Facebook icons linking to their pages in one of the email messages received during the study period.

The primary benefit of having a social media presence is the ability to reach a wide range of like-minded people quickly and without much effort – social media is viral by nature–and to engage with these followers and fans on a personal, one-to-one level. These inherent benefits complement any marketer’s brand building strategy, but would be particularly useful for a political party looking to spread the word about where it stands on social and economic issues that affect constituents and inspire people to cast a vote in what is presumed to be a May election (although in an odd twist of the British political system, that date still has not been set yet).

While it’s still anyone’s race with just a few months to go until election day marketers would be wise to learn from the missed opportunities outlined in this study. Whether you’re an online retailer in the US, a travel company in the UK or a publishing company in Germany, relevancy is still going to be the primer driver of response for your email program. When you send emails that are interesting and useful, your subscribers are more likely to open, click and convert and less likely to tune out, unsubscribe or report your message as spam. That’s surely a practice that can be universally appreciated and implemented.

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