Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We Need to Bring Back PSAs


Remember PSAs? The 30-second spots, a little cheesy, but a good source of common sense? We need them back, on Primetime TV, and on social media, ASAP.

As an elder millennial (errr Oregon Trail Generation??) I think of two classic sources for PSAs. First, the popular The More You Know campaign of PSAs by NBC, and second, GI Joe cartoons. As an only child (aka no older siblings), GI Joe was particularly significant because it used the same animation style as the cartoon and featured dozens of PSA scenarios.

2017 Airline Videos, Poster Child for PSAs



If ever there was a business case for dialing up PSAs on Primetime TV it's the streak of viral airline videos from 2017. Some of the videos are horrific, poor customer service, where others are borderline entrapment where customers are trying to get their 15-seconds of fame, or win the GoFundMe sympathy lottery.

Like many of you, I've grown numb to these videos. It angers me to see how select airline employees, and select customers are conducting themselves. From a leadership standpoint, I believe the airline industry can do a better job training it's staff to internalize it's own airline policies, and federal aviation laws more consistently.

The airline industry should align to create a member-based organization where the organization publishes, trains and certifies customer-facing industry employees. Customers are tired of airlines being 'judge, jury, and executioner.' Airlines are not providing a consistent or predictable customer experience, including failing to follow it's own company's protocol, embellishing airline policy, and improper citation of federal aviation law.

Sometimes There's No "Good Guy" / "Bad Guy"


If 2015 and 2016 were years of viral police videos, 2017 will be a year of flight attendant videos. Why link fight attendants to police officers? Many of the viral videos we see are typically not the result of initial aggression of the video's villain. Often, many videos involve a repeated escalation of ignorance of the "good guy" towards the "bad guy," ending in a "gotcha" video clip. Examples include customers being narcissistic with airline employees, or citizens being aggressive and non compliant with police officers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending many of these videos. I am emphasizing that often these videos are not the narrative of an innocent bystander being victimized or bullied by a person in power. Meaning, if training is needed for the airline industry for "bad guy behavior," something is needed to counter with the consumer.

Ignorance is Bliss: Reducing Customer 15-Seconds of Fame


Consumers need to understand what airline policies are, what might be possible through discretion, how to make a special request, and how to alternatively plan if a request is not possible. This includes easier to locate FAQ documentation on what can be brought on a plane, and when contacting customer support before the flight (aka before arriving at the airport is appropriate).

Airport Code of Conduct PSA


The pinnacle of this should include PSAs on how to conduct oneself on a flight, and who better to produce these PSAs than the yet to be created industry collaborative organization responsible for customer-facing certifications. These would run in Primetime, and also could be formatted for children's programming. If I learned anything through the D.A.R.E program, and childhood PSAs, it's that children are powerful when it comes to self-policing adults and asking why the adult is behaving a certain way.

Bonus: Classic GI Joe PSAs


G.I. Joe PSA - Barbeque - Don't pull the fire alarm unless there's a fire

G.I. Joe PSA - Hawk - Obey railroad crossing signs


G.I. Joe PSA - Lady Jaye - Stop and think before you act




Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ralph Lauren is in Trouble and I'm Nervous for Them

Left: Google suggested search for "Ralph Lauren"

Right: Google suggested search for "Burberry"

RL + outlet, coupons or perfume, versus Burberry + shirt, scarf, belt


I'm not a fashion-guy, but I know enough to know Ralph Lauren built a great business impersonating British brands with heritage that RL didn't have. πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

In many ways RL is a great example of American approach of "fake it til you make it." It worked. I'm using this as a compliment. In fact, it worked so well an American brand spoofing a British brand that Ralph Lauren signed a 5-year deal in 2006 to be the first tournament clothing outfitter for Wimbledon. πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

Purple Label. It's high end. It's made in England.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label clothes are amazing in design in quality. RL Home makes some beautiful items, stuff you'll see promoted in magazines.

Yes, there's a point to this

Why am I spending so much time on this? Vindication. Specifically vindication late 1990s style. I grew up in a suburban high school in Massachusetts. It was homogeneous, 95% white (think I'm rounding down). One of "the looks" to have in the halls of my high school was a RL polo and carpenter jeans from The Gap... told you, 1990s.

These were premium priced items. Drive to your local mall and a few bags later you're styling. That polo shirt today, $85. Assuming a high school kid works in 2017, how many hours does it take before he can splurge for a $85 polo? How many can he buy, or expect as a gift for his birthday / holiday season?πŸ‘š

The image of Polo was a fantasy playing a tennis match with Muffy and Buffy at the country club that didn't exist in your town. It was obtainable luxury. With that can come harsh realities. For Polo that reality could come via a suburban young guy dipping a can of Skoal while getting into a Firebird with 12" sub woofers playing WU-Tang's C.R.E.A.M. on blast (great guilty pleasure song btw).

He just might be wearing an authentic polo or he might be wearing a fragrance. If it's the latter, it's probably his first fragrance purchase, and he hasn't learned about applying in moderation.

That's both the problem, and how RL became such a success. All those bright polo shirts allowed for rapid growth. Rapid growth not in the high end cities you see in the bottom line of a print ad, but rapid growth in the suburbs. It also meant the RL brand was less about high end suits and shirts and more about casual-ware.

And that's okay. What can become a challenge is when your audience co opts your brand. Millions of high school and college kids did that with RL. They took the relaxed ook found at American Eagle and went a little bit more fancy with RL, while staying casual.

Several Things Hurt RL, Some Self Inflicted

It would be easy to take pop shots and attack an $85 polo shirt. I won't.
  • C2C E-comm
  • Factory Outlets
  • Young Person Employment Rate
  • Transition from Polos to Suits and Home Decor
  • Upstart Brands
  • Culture of Sales
E-comm channels, both direct and with retailers certainly puts strain on brands such as RL. What also puts strain, were alternatives of purchasing through none of these channels and purchasing through C2C online via websites such as Ebay, Amazon, etc.

Brands such as RL can be sold in mall anchor stores (good), standalone stores (good), and factory outlets (good). All this is helping condition more top line growth and more polo shirts in a person's closet. It's also driving competition against yourself. If you're looking for a new yellow RL polo with it's famous logo, you've got choices to price shop luxury.

Go to a grocery store register at 4:30pm on a Wednesday. Is your cashier or person bagging the groceries look like a high school kid working his first part time job? Probably not, and neither do any of the adjacent registers. For liability reasons you might not want a 16 year old mowing your lawn, or shoveling your driveway like in generations past. I'm at the tail end of the Millennials, I've worked since I was 14. Between some families having the ability to do so, and pressure downward from the Great Recession, young people aren't working like they used to.



To a young person Polo is one of the top luxury brands, and one of the first luxury brands they'll experience. What's the staying power as the customer progresses in various life stages? For RL, this means the potential to extend into home decor, or upscale into the non casual clothing lines. RL has no shortage of customers, or brands for this to occur. Ignore my earlier Gap carpenter jean comment, The Gap manages life stage shifts of it's customers better than almost any other brand. Baseline with Old Navy (amazing kids clothing design and prices), customers 'graduate' or 'overlap' with The Gap, and then move towards Banana Republic. The price, as a dollar amount or percentage, are much tighter than the range of RL's lines. The Gap does an amazing job, whether you're shopping at Old Navy or Banana Republic, you're also able to organically shop at The Gap.

Within this decade social media has helped fuel upstart brands. That $85 polo now has 3 companies that didn't exist 5-10 years ago with an amazing Instagram feed and email marketing program. They might promote on a slightly different fit, some unique materials, and likely a very different buying experience. Some of the cool factor is the newness, and the leap of faith that you're ordering the right size online. These upstarts are focused on content marketing, user experience, and have a level of brand recognition with exclusivity. The fact they aren't in every department store, standalone store, or factor outlet is making them desirable. At the $50 - $85 polo shirt level, what is a disadvantage in higher manufacturing cost is somewhat recouped in a leaner sales distribution channel. They've kept to this scaled back approach (thus far) and surprisingly haven't made the mass market expansion into retail anchor stores.

The last factor I'll focus on is the culture of sales, specifically items being on sale. Part of this is the rise of Ecomm, C2C sites like Ebay and Amazon, commoditized offerings in standalone stores, anchor stores and factory outlets. Sticking to the yellow RL polo example, if you're in the market for one you'd almost have to try to pay full retail. All these channels are make it hard to "wow" a person. Unless you need it for tonight, or it's not your credit card being used, you may feel guilty to pay the $85 retail when you can walk 500 feet to price check a few stores down, while searching the price online as you walk. The latter is hurting anchor stores, and standalones if they are not constantly discounting and the fear of becoming "Amazon's showroom" is very real.

I'm guilty of doing this. I've have several barcode scanner apps on my phone.

My $80 RL Raincoat

During the 2016 holiday season I was blown away at some of the sales that Macy's was having. My high school observations, combined with Black Friday 2016 shopping was my inspiration for this post. One of the items I bought was a new Ralph Lauren raincoat. It's 3/4 length, and while I don't remember the retail price ($395 ?), with the sale + using my Macy's card brought the price $80 range.

I love this coat. Living in Atlanta it's rare to need a heavy winter coat, so this is a good substitute on colder days. It's cut well, and on the inner pocket there's that "Lauren" tag... Note, it's not a "Polo" tag, it's a "Lauren" tag. However, this would mean something more if the tag was purple in color. My tag was green. It was made overseas, not in England, but instead in Asia. This is RL Green Label. Upside, it looks great and fits great. Drawback includes needing to provide occasional maintenance with scissors to trim a random khaki treading. Why? RL Green Label is going to involve more machine manufacturing process, where Purple Label is more handmade. Annoying, maybe even a little disappointing for a person that didn't know all the RL clothing line tiers.

The reason why I love coat is it is balanced. I had an RL peacoat in college. It still fits, it's sleek, and I wear it about a two dozen times (though it needed it's lining replaced several years ago). Also purchased at Macy's circa 2001, believe it was just under $200. How long will this new raincoat last? No clue. I'd be happy with 2-3 years, I can see 5+. It serves a purpose, it's nice, but not so nice that I'm afraid to wear it. I'm careful, but if the bottom gets caught along my car door, I'm not going to panic.

For years I've always wanted a Burberry raincoat. I like the look, and I know it will last. I also fear, I'd be obnoxiously anxious to be around wearing it, and would protect it from wear and tear. I know this because I have two Burberry polos and an iconic print tie that are so old if they were children they range in age of being able to do basic math multiplication problems, ranging all the way to studying to get a learners permit.

I don't have that fear with my Green Label raincoat. While cutting back a thread here or there is annoying, few things can touch it for the money.


From Polos to Raincoats and Beyond

Back to the problem, how does RL take the MILLONS of young people with one or more polos, or whom are regular fragrance users, and then convert them into raincoat, bath towel, and bedding customers? How can RL fight off the upstart polo manufacturers, and avoid a pricing race to the bottom through sales channel conflict?

These are big questions to work out. Very few buying an $85 polo will ever buy a $2,500 sports coat. If you're in a large retail space, organizing the journey from polos to $2,500 sports coats is not an easy task. It's compounded further when a buyer needs to see that $85 polo on sale under $50 to stay competitive with other sales channels. Those discount percentages, and the culture it creates also makes it tough to stay firm at $2,500 for that sports coat.

I don't think Ralph Lauren is going anywhere. The stories about the significance of closing it's Fifth Avenue Store are sensational, especially with so many retailers in trouble. For many RL represents obtainable luxury, and often one of their first luxury brands. RL in 2017 has an advantage in this field. The cache and pedigree it prematurely projected decades ago when launching, it's obtained, and it's authentic. The question becomes, do you want to sell more polo shirts at a lower average price, or sell less and protect the price?

Can RL shift consumers from associating it's brand with outlets, coupons and perfume? Do they want to?
Can RL shift consumers from associating it's brand with outlets, coupons and perfume? Do they want to? Who knows. Before we sound the alarm on this luxury brand, let's look to another luxury brand, Ferrari. If you're in the market for a $2,500 sports coat, you might also be arriving in a Ferrari, or similar car. Just like there's only so many RL customers for those premium sports coats, there's a cap on super car buyers. RL solved this with $85 polos, and Ferrari makes a fortune doing the same with sneakers, t-shirts, and other accessories.

Obtainable luxury. It's a powerful lure for luxury brands to cash in by harnessing the mass market. Done right, it'll enhance the brand and can be a large portion of the brand's revenue. Even if they are wearing the equivalent of Polo, or Green Label, these customers feel included and part of Purple Label experience that the high net worth luxury buyer enjoys.

So c'mon RL, let's get people searching for shirts, sports coats, and home decor, and less on outlets and coupons.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Seattle's Pike Place Market is a Mantra Must


In spring 2001 I remember hearing about Fish in my Operations Management class. It had some interesting and relatable concepts around transforming what should be repetitive low energy work into a top performing team... oh and using the fisherman from Seattle's Pike Place Market was a great visual.

MTV filmed The Real World Seattle a few years prior with many shots of fishmongers chanting to each other throwing fish in the air. Not since Tom Cruise had liquor bottles flying through the air in the movie Cocktail had I seen anything like that.



I've recommended this book to dozens of people over the years. It's a quick read and admittedly it was sitting on my to read list for a longer than I'd like. I remember purchasing it at the Virgin Megastore in Orlando. Made for a great poolside read while interning at Disney, especially since Disney organically has several of the book's concept's present with how cast members interact with each other and with guests.

The book was written in 2000, before Millennials entered the workplace in volume. Much of the book's content is evergreen and a precursor towards much of the office culture and productivity content often written about today.

Fish! A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results

Amazon.com Review: Here's another management parable that draws its lesson from an unlikely source--this time it's the fun-loving fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Market. In Fish! the heroine, Mary Jane Ramirez, recently widowed and mother of two, is asked to engineer a turnaround of her company's troubled operations department, a group that authors Stephen Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen describe as a "toxic energy dump." Most reasonable heads would cut their losses and move on. Why bother with this bunch of losers? But the authors don't make it so easy for Mary Jane. Instead, she's left to sort out this mess with the help of head fishmonger Lonnie. Based on a bestselling corporate education video, Fish! aims to help employees find their way to a fun and happy workplace. While some may find the story line and prescriptions--such as "Choose Your Attitude," "Make Their Day," and "Be Present"--downright corny, others will find a good dose of worthwhile motivational management techniques.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

10 Lessons I Learned From My Cat


Meet Reagan. He's a 5 year old ragdoll cat that you'll often hear me call "kitten." In true tradition of enjoying writing, here's some lessons learned from him. Many apply to business and personal -- if a few catchy gif images or memes were added, this probably could be a Buzzfeed article!

For those unfamiliar with ragdoll cats, here's a few fun facts. They are BIG (ragdolls can be 2-3x the size of other cats). Ragdolls are very docile -- they often lay on the floor on their backs totally relaxed. They will greet you at the backdoor when coming home. They are young at heart -- while most cats tend to act like a kitten for about 2 years, ragdolls tend to stay that way for 3-4 years.

Another way to put it, ragdolls are 'puppy like' with the benefit of being litter box trained.




1) Non Verbal Communication: Anyone whose studied communications knows that non-verbal communication is 90% of communication. Cats do this partly with their eyes, specifically by the intensity and pace of blinking their eyes. "Slow blinks" are reassuring are communication that things are good. Try it sometime, you'll get some slow blinks back (also works with dogs).

2) Emphasize Key Words in Verbal Communication: Understand we get exposed to lots of communication, emphasize the key phrases that matter. Kitten can understand certain words, with emphasis and repetitive context how you use the word being important.

He knows about a dozen words, including synonyms that he'll respond to. First the obvious ones: hungry, food, water, and thirsty. Now the fun ones: basement, movie, brushed, paper, scratch, kitten-house, blanket, play, marshmallow, head-butt, na-night, and bedtime.

3) Value Life's Essentials: Learn to be humble and appreciate the basics. That simple act of adding a little food to a dish, or refreshing a water bowl can take you 15 seconds and be acknowledged by an amazing amount of happiness. It's one of those things that causes you to pause, what other little things can you do towards others you interact with that brings happiness?

4) Find a Quirky Vice and Embrace It: A quirky vice adds personality. For me, mine would be between having an iced coffee or eating chicken parm. For kitten, it's getting a hot cocoa sized marshmallow. He knows the word -- he knows they are kept in a container that makes a 'poppin' sound when opened. It's not a daily thing, and it's not a reward for good behavior. He goes wild hearing the word "marshmallow," then the contain top popping open. He'll "alligator role" on the floor when presented with one. Some cats like a piece of chicken, others shrimp, this one likes marshmallows and embraces it with a sense of humor. Again, quirky vices add personality.

5) All Kittens Head-Butt: Ever do a weird multi-step handshake with an old friend? Dorky? Yes. It's fun, and likely ends in nostalgic laughter. Just like the idea of slow blinks, I learned a few years ago that all kittens head-butt each other as a sign of happiness / non verbal communication. Don't be afraid to be a little dorky and embrace nostalgia.

6) Find Enjoyment in Simple Things: While marshmallows are a quirky vice, it easily could have also been the brown shipping paper found in Amazon delivery boxes. Between that, and an old school piece of string or ribbon, it serves as a reminder that simple things can be some of the most enjoyable. Often these simple nothing to experience.

7) Gamification Makes Adulting Easier: Ragdolls need to be brushed periodically. That's the animal equivalent of adulting -- not always fun, but necessary. 15 years ago I read the book Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. A takeaway I've carried since then was the idea of "play," which today many would call "gamification." Long story short, through trial and error I've turned what should be a struggle to brush into something he enjoys.

8) Tolerate Laser Pointers: a red laser dot moving around the room is a fun game -- it's distracting -- but ultimately it's a game. No matter how many times your paw touches the dot, you never really 'capture it.' The game is fun, the game is distracting, but an old school piece of string is more fulfilling -- it's real, you can touch it.

9) Value Relationships: We all know the saying, "you get what you put in." Many of the items above are little things that only require thought and consideration. Often the relationships we value most mirror this.

10) Appreciate Time: Something we all tend to reflect on is how much time we have left with someone or something, relative to the time that's elapsed. I've had 5 great years with kitten, lots of memories. I hope he's part of my life for many years to come, and at the same time I'm reminded to not take that potential for granted. Maybe that's why I'm able to put together what ended up being a long list with much longer descriptions than expected.


What do you think? Anything you'd add?


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Search Engine Land + A Decade of SEO

There is no doubt that Search, specifically SEO, was my first love and entry to digital marketing. When I started my MBA thesis in 2006 the 1998 Tim Berners-Lee concept of the semantic web caused me to view it as a disrupter to replace to the Yellow Pages. I saw this as being accomplished by semantic programming language on websites aided by emerging mobile phone technology fascinated me.

What seemed like sci-fi marketing tech futurism at the time, is possible now. Through advancing in content tagging (rich snippets) and artificial intelligence, we're seeing a preview of of a different type of marketing. A smarter type of marketing.

Keith Hanks MBA Thesis (2007) Cover Providence College. Thesis titled, "Non-Traditional Marketing Impacting Multi Collaborative Networks"



Recently Search Engine Land featured an article, 8 ways SEO has changed in the past 10 years. It was a trip down memory lane and caused me to dust off the old thesis remembering an example, about how local search for pizza restaurants, would look in the future.

  1. The rise of content
  2. The death of link schemes
  3. The reshaping of local
  4. SERP overhauls
  5. The rise of the Knowledge Graph
  6. Mobile prioritization
  7. The soft death of keywords
  8. Update pacing and impact


#3, "Local Search" as a vocab term was not listed in the thesis, and would not become common terminology with marketers for several more years. This was just as much triggered by advances in algorithm sophistication, new taxonomy portals to document local listings online, and arguably by a decline in traditional Yellow Page industry revenue.

Source: Keith Hanks 2007 MBA Thesis (pg 58)

What's the next decade hold? In my opinion the innovation will have challenges duplicating the last decade. Instead of pure technology advances I predict we'll see growth focused around HOW the tech advances of today, or rather, the last few years, will be applied and democratized from big budget brands down to the SMB markets.

While that sounds exciting, there's a catch... sophistication. For upwards of two decades we've enjoyed the prospects of a high school student, and at times, a middle school student, being able to help a mom and pop business with digital technologies such as websites, and other marketing disciplines. While technical emersion will happen at a much younger age the idea of being able to 'read a few books and blogs, then create something' is going to have a much stiffer barrier.

Search is a much more mature industry today, and it appears to be shifting into two directions. The first is an integration with more traditional copyrighting and content disciplines. The second, is much more technical and programmatic. The later is white collar today, but very easily can become more vocational, the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians of our generation.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ready for AI Marketing 1.0? Mapping Out Programmatic Basics

Many marketers find themselves 'chasing' the next thing, when really, the ingredients for a satisfying frittata are right in front of them. (image: foodnetwork.com)

Those close to me know I love metaphors. For all my marketing friends that are also foodies (aka lots of them), this post is for you!

Dish: "Keith's Programmatic Marketing Frittata"

Overview: Inventory the media in your 'marcom fridge' -- preheat the oven to 350 -- ready a prep board and a few oven skillets.

Serves: Several hundred - to - several million guests

Directions: on a clean surface lay out your ingredients. Since each frittata has different ingredients use the following guidelines to prepare.

  • Wash and tenderize in-house SMEs.
  • Using your analytics team, apply ROI effective vendors to a "customer journey mixing bowl." 
  • From your strategy team, take marketing architecture, including APIs and connect them into the same mixing bowl. Don't be nervous if it looks like a mess right now, we'll fix that in a second. 
  • For the right color and texture, consult with your creative team. Don't be surprised if they are little busy and suggesting not just "A" list of ingredients, but also want to test a "B," "C," or even "D" for a multi variant culinary experience. 
  • Lead nurture with a whisk until ingredients blend. If e-commerce, don't be afraid to add a dash of cart abandonment -- the recipe will have a better chance of converting your audience, in addition to having them often returning for a second helping (or more). 
  • Brush a thin layer of butter into the "executive sponsor cooking pan." When buttering up the pan, you don't want to be too greasy, or use too little and risk burning. 
  • Plate & Serve **
** Don't forget the mobile app experience! When serving the frittata each guest might want to eat it differently. Some will eat at their desktop, others on the run and prefer a mobile experience.


Takeaways for AI: Marketing tech continues to grow in complexity, often at a much faster pace annually than what teams can implement. Like a frittata, look for items (techniques, media, etc) that compliment each other. For a frittata to be great you don't need an entire serving of each ingredient, you just need to connect the ingredients together. 

What did this recipe do? Essentially it mapped out by hand, programatic marketing could look like if automation was applied. That's the key lesson, there's no one recipe. Before you can think AI, you'll want to test the recipe out, make sure the tastes blend, and the guest experience is great whether eating at a traditional table (desktop), or on the run (mobile web and/or mobile app experience). 

As always, play to your strengths as a 1.0 baseline. Not all the ingredients will make sense together; some may be almost lost sitting in a pantry, where others might be fresh, but perishable. Within your SMEs, vendors, and data, seek additional ways to get more. Look for overlaps in how data is captured, stored, queried and usable for actionable messages. 

What do you think? Any other recipes, marketing, or else wise, you'd like to share?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Friday for Political Email Marketing


A post about balancing 1st amendment rights, ISPs and direct mail ROI.

Fun exercise. Look at your personal email(s) this morning + later today. Because today is 9/30, thus the last day of the month and quarter, many of your are going to get a spike in political emails. 

Question is, will you see them in your inbox or will they be sitting in your spam folder?
I'm referring today as "Black Friday for Political Email Marketing," because political campaigns FEC fundraising data they'll need to report on, and the race to 11:59pm is both a sign of a campaign's strength, and much needed infusion of cashflow needed for the remaining weeks before the November election. 

Inbox vs. Spam: For campaigns having an email go to a person's inbox versus spam is a night and day difference. A message not being delivered, or being delivered to spam could be an indication of an individual's preferences and past email behavior with the sender. Read on...

Balancing 1st Amendment Rights; Email vs Classic Direct Mail:
Like many communication teams when done correctly email has a tremendous ROI. This is especially true when compared to expensive mail pieces physically mailed to homes (even factoring in bulk mailing cost reductions). Direct mail does have one advantage, if you send it, the USPS will very likely deliver to a person's mailbox. Doesn't matter if you're sending to as many people as possible, or if the content is mudslinging, the 1st Amendment protects you. 

While the 1st Amendment allows you to do the same in email, the guarantee it will end up in an inbox is not guaranteed. It may end up in a spam folder. Unlike residential mail, there is not second mailbox the USPS sorts your mail into that acts as the equivalent of spam folder for emails. 

Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL Treat All Marketing Emails Equally:
This is a blessing and a curse. For the consumer, this provides protection. For starters they can hit the spam button on any message. This is bad for marketers. For example if a person with a yahoo.com email address hits "spam" other messages that marketer is sending to other yahoo.com email addresses have a lower chance of being delivered. Send a message that doesn't resonate, or is unsolicited, and the odds of this activity occurring grows. There's no option like this with physical mail, and no repercussions if the consumer wants to stop receiving such messages. 

Because ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc treat messages the same, the rules other marketers must abide by also apply. Doesn't matter if you're a bank sending monthly statements, a retailer sending weekly sales, or an online casino. For political campaigns this means the same best practices need to be followed. Examples include, ensuring the recipient has opted into your email (wants to receive messages), has an ability to unsubscribe (typically a link in the email's footer), and the frequency of emails is active enough to keep the political campaign's sender reputation strong, but not so frequent that a ISP flags messages as spam. 

Challenge for Campaigns: Email is about balance. Think of a high performance engine, you can increase the RPMs and power to a point. With some enhancements to the engine, you can push the RPMs further. Eventually you're going to either add on some additional engine enhancements, else you risk blowing the engine if the RPMs go to high. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road, and campaigns do not want crucial emails for fundraising and local appearances ended up in spam. 

Bigger is Not Always Better:
The size of a large email database only has value if it was grown organically. These recipients signed up, and gave approval to get messages. However, not everyone interested in a candidate signs up, and communications a campaign might want to send to a person's physical home may not have an email address associated with it for follow ups. Two ways additional names are typically emails, list rentals and what I'll call "mysterious thumbnail drives"
  • List Rentals: These recipients may or may not have opted into your list. Often these emails are sent third party, about your candidate, on behalf of another respected politician. The benefit is these lists, in theory, are well-maintained and have an existing relationship with the email recipient. Assuming the message is on point, and the recipient likes both the sender and your candidate (subject of the email), effective results will follow
  • Mysterious Thumbnail Drives: Remember the 2014 election? What about 2008? Injecting old names (variety of sources) that align with your candidates party is a tactic that occurs often. In situations where a campaign has a 3-5 month window before a primary, getting large organic lists where people opt in is a challenge. Here's the problem, besides the fact an opt-in didn't occur (protected by the 1st Amendment to email, but not typically allowed within an ESP's Terms of Use), that thumbnail drive isn't likely current. The emails on there might have been valid in the past, but there is no certainty they are valid today. If you send emails to accounts that haven't been opened in significant time (ex person abandoned the account, died, etc), the ISP may view you as a "spammer" and penalize other sends. The way you combat this is having enough opens and clicks elsewhere in the list to balance. 
^^ going into a bit of a gray area in the above, but that's the pragmatic answer that balance 1st Amendment rights, Terms of Use of ESPs, and quality expectations by ISPs.

Running email for a political campaign is hard. It's often a several month contract through a primary with an opportunity to continue if the candidate wins. That's not a lot of time for innovation or sophistication at the candidate level. Think back to the engine RPM example. Grow the program, find the upper limits, don't overheat the engine, and make enhancements when appropriate.

Back to the original scenario. Last day of the month. You're going to get a lot of email from candidates. Did you get the email in your inbox or did it go to spam?

If spam, do you know why, or how to fix it? 

I do :)

Follow Me: @KeithHanks


Keith Hanks has an extensive digital marketing background with lead generation and e-commerce websites. He regularly presents to various V-level and C-level executives. He has worked with retail, professional services, home services, financial services, legal, hospitality, healthcare, technology, and entertainment. Keith has an MBA from Providence College and a Bachelors from Bryant University with dual majors in Marketing and Computer Information Systems. All opinions expressed are his own.