Obama vs. Romney: Winning the Hearts and Email Addresses of America

A site user visits a landing page, enters an email address, and becomes a part of a marketer’s subscriber list.  With its seemingly simple objective, the importance of the email opt-in is easy to overlook.   While the primary goal for the brand is to build their subscriber base, this first step in the process represents a critical turning point between a brand and a consumer.  By providing their email and granting permission to be contacted, this new subscriber has chosen to initiate an interactive relationship.  By thinking through the opt-in process from the perspective of the subscriber, marketers can kick things off in a way that will be beneficial for the customer as well as the brand.

How does the email sign-up process measure up when applied to one of the most closely watched, high stakes races for opt-ins on the web?  Both Barak Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s campaigns are in full swing, seeking to build support, donations and their voter bases.  We thought it would be interesting to monitor how each campaign is optimizing the email opt-in process and compare the practices they are using to maneuver in the digital landscape.  Over the past week I made several visits to both www.barackobama.com and www.mittromney.com, looking into how each site invited and encouraged new visitors to get more involved with the campaigns.  I’ve broken out the best practices into several main themes across two posts that focus on providing a subscriber-centric, positive experience. Look for the second post to come next week!

Make a splash. 

During this critical campaign time, both the email opt-in and any subsequent donations are presumably top priorities for the candidates, a factor that has motivated both camps to direct new site visitors to a splash page where the opt-in is the primary element.  This strategy is a bold approach, but fitting for the circumstances.  For marketers who are closing in on a major event or launch where high visibility and a maximized subscriber list are critical elements of success, this strategy can be an effective one.  For more typical opt-in campaigns, marketers can still look to the candidate pages for inspiration.  Is your email program a primary driver of revenue or does it enhance the customer experience?  If so, make sure that your opt-in form is easy to find.   If your access point to becoming a subscriber is buried in website content, it’s much more likely to get ignored. 


Romney Splash Page

Make it clear.

Obama Splash Page

By making sure that key elements are present and clear in your form, you can increase your new subscriber acquisition rate.  Both the Obama and

Romney landing pages featured clear branding, a succinct and motivating statement, a strong call-to-action button and a simple opt-in form.   Additionally, both candidates were wise to frame the opt-in in terms of what it means to the subscriber and the campaign.  While each camp did their part in demonstrating best practices, these rivals could improve their pages by taking notes on elements from the other’s site.

The Romney campaign further compelled their audience to action by including a chance to meet the campaign team as a part of the opt-in submission.  By spelling out how opting-in can benefit the subscriber as well as upping the ante with the inclusion of an unanticipated chance to win, the Romney camp was much more likely to capture on-the-fence visitors.  While the addition of contests and giveaways can increase overall subscriber rates, relying solely on this technique can attribute to poor list quality and low engagement rates.  If a subscriber is purely motivated by the chance to win, there’s a high likelihood that they won’t be interested in much else.  By leveraging the contest as a bonus feature of the opt-in as opposed to the primary objective, the Romney campaign has helped temper the potentially negative impacts of a contest-based opt-in.

On the side of compliance and transparency, Obama’s campaign site followed a recommended best practice by including a link to the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service pages of the site.  In addition, the inclusion of a Privacy Policy that is easy to find and easy to understand can help reinforce a site visitor’s opinion of the brand as a reputable and responsible company.


Finally, while these campaign opt-in pages are supporting sign-up as part of a major political event, traditional marketers should also set expectations in regards to what kind of messages a subscriber will receive.  By letting your customers know what they should expect to see from your email program, your brand is much less likely to receive spam complaints from subscribers which ultimately can have a negative impact on deliverability.

Make it easy (or at least look easy).

If your opt-in page sets obstacles between your prospective subscriber and the submit button, you are much more likely to frustrate and/or lose that subscriber.  Is your opt-in hard to find?  Do you have a large set of required fields?   Is the form hard to navigate or intimidating at first glance?  If so, take a cue from the candidates and streamline the process.  Both Romney and Obama’s initial opt-in forms keep things very simple and both pages feature a link to jump directly to the main site in case the subscriber isn’t quite ready to commit. 

Once visitors to each opt-in page complete the initial forms, they are directed to a secondary donation page.  On these pages, we see a clear differentiation, making a strong case for intuitive, approachable form design.  While the Romney campaign’s donation page scores best practice points for pre-populating the email address and zip code fields from the prior page, the design of the form itself comes across as imposing and a lot of work!  The horizontal layout of the form stretches across the screen and continues on past the digital fold, making its 17 fields look far more complex and involved than they are.  In contrast, the Obama campaign’s donation form is approachable and streamlined with a vertical orientation that lends itself to a one-step-at-a-time experience.  Even though it still contains 15 total fields, both the orientation and clean design make this set of required fields seem much more manageable.

Romney Donation Form

Obama Donation Form

If possible, make it optional.

Having access to subscriber-volunteered data, interests and information is great, especially if you’re able to target and refine your message streams based on this data.  Some subscribers abide by lengthy forms while others will simply abandon the page.  Two great best practice insights can be gleaned from both the Obama and Romney campaign opt-in pages.  First, leveraging a multi-step opt-in form is a great way to capture subscriber information without losing out when they’ve hit their threshold of how many fields they’re willing to fill out.  By separating the initial email opt-in form from the more complex donation forms, both candidates now have the opportunity to keep me informed or request a contribution, despite the fact that I abandoned the donation page on my initial visit.  Had they included all fields on one lengthy form, they would have lost the opportunity to win my support and attention at a later time via email.

What does this all boil down to?

A happy subscriber is always going to be a better subscriber.  Do your brand and your customers a favor by kicking off the digital relationship on the right foot.  By taking the time to understand your customer’s needs, wants and perspective, you can prevent and identify areas of your opt-in process that are frustrating or intimidating your subscribers and contributing to both lower capture and satisfaction rates.

So what comes next?  Whether a subscriber has clicked submit or decided not to opt-in, there is still the opportunity to enhance the brand-to-subscriber experience.  Adding structure and strategy to the next phase of the user experience can help positively transition your customers out of the opt-in process and start having them interact with your brand.  This topic will be covered in my second post coming next week.

This post originally appeared in Mediapost.


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