3 Reasons Trump’s Email Marketing Strategy Works
Donald Trump’s email marketing strategy has been of interest to me since I first read about it for a couple of reasons. I sincerely believe a well-constructed email marketing program is one of the best ways a small business can bring in leads without a big budget. I’m always trying to learn more, so I decided to sign up.
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Mr. Trump’s, so I knew being on his mailing list would be a sacrifice. I had no idea how MUCH of a sacrifice. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Why Would I Do This?
I tend to bang on about email marketing, specifically how we at Create That put a ton of time and effort into figuring out what works for each unique small business. We have maintained open rates of about 15% higher than the industry average for several years.
The way we do this is by following best practices. And also by completely ignoring best practices and doing our own thing.
I’m not really joking. Successful email campaigns often come down to staying on top of the ever-changing recommendations from email marketing software makers, reading the latest research and then tracking performance and making adjustments.
Our secret ingredient is using our experience to know when a client’s audience would respond well to something not usually recommended and trying that too.
Trump’s Email Marketing Tactics
With that in mind, the barrage of recent media coverage detailing how effective Team Trump’s email marketing practices was fascinating.
On the one hand, Donald Trump’s two political action committees brought in $122 million last year, more than the republican senators and congress members combined.
On the other hand, outlets like Rolling Stone mercilessly mocked his “spammy” methods. Business Insider calls the emails “aggressive and weird.”
I had to know. I had to know what methods Team Trump was using to such great success and such great criticism. I decided to sign up and find out.
It became readily apparent to me why Trump’s methods would be incredibly effective. Despite that, I’m going on record now to say that trying to replicate them is still a terrible, terrible idea for small businesses and basically anyone who is not named Trump. Here’s why:
1. Flood the Zone with Shit
Donald Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon said in a 2018 interview that the way to handle criticism of his candidate is to just “flood the zone with shit.” In other words, create such a deluge of garbage information that your opponents can’t settle on a single damaging message.
As we say all the time around here, you lose the audience if you can’t narrow it down to a single strong message.
In one week, Donald Trump and his retinue sent me 56 emails. FIFTY. SIX. I was hard-pressed to find ANY of my emails in that mess, let alone any emails from competing causes. This was the “flood the zone with shit” tactic in action.
By firing off 8-ish garbage emails a day, potential competitors with better email manners will get edged out of the donor’s inbox.
2. Urgency IS THE MOST! IMPORTANT! STRATEGY! IN THE WORLD!
If my nerves weren’t already dialled up to eleven during this age of plague and war, the daily Trump emails would have done it.
It’s not a stretch to imagine these missives being shouted by a street corner doomsayer, telling me the end is nigh.
They predict disaster and promote “limited time offers” to prospective donors, such as “matching” donations by 600%. I’m no math whiz, but it seems to me if they had access to 600% of the contributions they are soliciting, they wouldn’t need to send eight emails a day.
This one promises that if the donor acts in the next two minutes, Donald Trump will “see their response,” which is both ludicrous and reminiscent of late-night infomercials offering a discount to people who “order right now” at 3:56 AM.
3. Bullying Tactics
Some of the language in these emails is designed to confuse and mislead, no doubt about it. One subject line, supposedly penned by Trump himself, reads, “I’ve been told you haven’t stepped up yet.”
I’m dying to know what marketing genius decided “vaguely threatening” is the best vibe for an email campaign, but I certainly don’t recommend it.
I intended to stay on the mailing list for a couple of months to gather more data points about the day and time sent. After one week, I couldn’t take it anymore. I unsubscribed. And there was zero change in the number of emails I got. I unsubscribed again. They continued to drown my poor exhausted Gmail account. Like Trump himself, the emails just keep showing up.
Is There Anything to Emulate Here?
Trump’s email marketing tactics would be enough for me to start to hate even my favourite politicians. It certainly isn’t something I’d tolerate from any business—total turn-off.
So how the hell did this clown car of a marketing team raise $122 million with this strategy? The answer is pretty straightforward: it’s a numbers game.
Team Trump spent the last five years obsessed with growing their mailing list. Every rally, every merch drop, every meet-and-greet was an opportunity to harvest contact information from supporters. With the sheer number of audience members and the sheer number of emails, the campaign inevitably finds people who believe their donation is matched 600%, people who want Donald Trump to see their name on a list, and people who feel so personally attached to Donald Trump that they feel uncomfortable when he e-scolds them.
I think only two things are worth emulating about Trump’s email marketing tactics. Obsessively growing your list, you are more likely to reach people picking up what you’re putting down and being willing to do the opposite of what experts recommend if you have good reason to believe it will work for you.
So go ahead and take risks. Send long emails. Include too many or not enough pictures. Send emails more or less often than is recommended, or on a day the experts say isn’t good. (like Sundays!) Just be willing to change direction if it doesn’t work out.
And maybe aim for fewer than 56 emails a week.