Email continues to be the killer communication tool for churches today. It’s ubiquitous, inexpensive, response driven and easy to use. It’s a great way to move people to action within your church … whether it’s getting them to attend, volunteer on a team, give to your mission or anything else. Like all digital communications tools, its use is constantly evolving and we need to keep learning how to maximize it.
Presidential campaigns offer fascinating case studies for churches to learn about communications. They are attempting to rally millions of volunteers to their cause, raise donations from donors and ultimately get people to show up and make a difference. It’s widely believed that the team behind Hillary Clinton’s current bid for the Oval Office includes some of the smartest people in marketing and communications in the world. [ref] I subscribed to her interest list to get a sense of what we could learn about the “best in class” in email marketing and communications. Here are some of the early lessons that jump out at me as we look at leveraging this tool to push the mission of our churches forward:
- Send Many Emails—I’ve been signed up for her list for 44 days and I’ve received 54 emails … that’s more than one email per day on average! However many emails you are sending on a regular basis, your list will probably tolerate more. Try increasing the send rate and watch what happens.
- Short Subjects—They keep the subject lines quick and to the point. This is particularly important on mobile devices because 2/3 of all email is now read on a mobile device. [ref] Recipients don’t have as much screen space to see long subject lines. Shorter subject lines also lead to more intrigue and beg you to open them.
- Very Few Graphics—Most of the emails are just text. Maybe a “call to action” button or Hillary’s logo … but not a lot of images. Too many images can junk up the communication and make it obvious that it’s marketing. Make it look like an email from a friend rather than a flyer from a company.
- Keep It Short—These emails are shockingly short and to the point. They’ve worked hard to compress their message into as few words as possible. Email is an “on the run” form of communication … keep it simple and short … don’t make people scroll to get to the heart of your message.
- Segmented Lists—The Hillary team breaks down its list based on a number of factors. They send emails for organizing meetings based on where you live. They also change the emails based on what actions you’ve already taken. If you are a donor, they respond to you differently than if you haven’t given yet. This is critically important for churches to understand. Stop sending the same emails to everyone on your list. Instead, send targeted emails based on what you know about people. The more customized the emails are, the more likely people are to read them and respond.
- Call to Action—All of these emails have a very clear next step that they are asking people to take: donate $1, attend a meeting, buy a t-shirt, share a message on social media. Email is a direct-response mechanism. Know what action you are asking people to take with every email you send them. Make the main thing the plain thing. Ask them to respond in a simple and straightforward way. Stop using email just to inform people—use it to move people to action.
- Side note: Often the calls to action are incredibly urgent … like sending an email on Saturday about attending an organizing meeting on Monday or asking for a $1 donation before the end of the day. I wonder if there is enough urgency built into our communications. Are we giving people too much time to respond to requests when we tell them so far in advance about things?
- Different Voices … Same Message—The emails from Hillary’s campaign have come from 15 different “senders.” Rather than sending from a generic “Hillary for America” email address, they are written to look like they are coming from various people on Hillary’s team. I find this fascinating. Always using the same “FROM:” name will wear out people over time. There is natural intrigue when you get an email from a different person. Also, you are spreading out the messaging because you’re giving different perspectives on the issues at hand. Do your church emails always come from the same person? Maybe it’s time to change that!
- Sound Personal—The emails are written to sound like they are being written to a friend—an individual—not a mass audience. Hillary sends reflections from the road … supporters talk about what it’s like to attend a rally … organizers talk about what they love about their community and how Hillary can help it. These emails attempt to scale personal relationships to a whole new level. Often church communications can sound stuffy, corporate and stale. We are in the human connecting business. How can we sound more personal in our emails?