Trump's First Fundraising Email Had a 60% Spam Rate

Email Tracking Firm Says Rookie Mistakes May Have Resulted in High Rejection, Low Open Rates

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The Donald Trump email that helped the campaign generate $3.3 million didn't score well by accepted email measures. According to email tracking firm Return Path, the first-ever fundraising email sent by the campaign had a remarkably high spam rate and a very low open rate.

Political organizations love email, and they love it for one reason more than any: fundraising. But just as his campaign has eschewed many traditional campaign tactics, Donald Trump wasn't using email for fundraising until very recently. That changed Tuesday, June 21, when the campaign sent what it said was its first fundraising email.

"This is the first fundraising email I have ever sent on behalf of my campaign. That's right. The FIRST ONE," declared the email, aptly named "The First One." The email came after Ad Age published a story on June 13 about the Trump camp's lack of fundraising emails.

Donald J. Trump, Jr. signed another email missive from the campaign on June 22 claiming that the fundraiser broke fundraising records, as his father had forecasted.

"The campaign raised $3.3 million on Tuesday and $3.4 million yesterday," Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Ad Age. "Only a portion of that was via email marketing and the remainder is attributed to online donations."

Nearly 60% of those first-ever fundraiser emails, however, never reached inboxes. Instead, they were automatically relegated to recipients' spam folders, according to Return Path, which evaluates email campaigns using estimates based on its panel of 2.5 million active email users.

The email tracker also reported that just 12% of recipients opened the email and 6% deleted it without reading it.

In May, 7.9% of the emails sent by the Trump camp were caught up in spam filters, according to Return Path. Even that nearly 8% spam rate is considered very high by industry standards.

So why were a far larger percentage of the Trump camp's first-ever fundraising emails snagged by spam detectors? It could be because those emails came from a domain that the campaign hadn't used in the past, said Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path.

Throughout the primaries, the Trump campaign sent emails from the domain but on June 16 it introduced its domain into its email efforts. Spam filters did not recognize the domain.

"Since it's a new domain he's being penalized," said Mr. Sather, noting that trained email marketing professionals would be aware of this threat. "These are things that professional email marketers prepare for," he said.

The latest Federal Election Commission reports filed by the Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns show a gaping chasm between the two in terms of fundraising prowess thus far. Mr. Trump had just $1.3 million at the end of May while Ms. Clinton had $42 million stashed away.

The real estate tycoon in early May said he would begin accepting donations for his general election campaign, after months of promising to self-fund his presidential run and suggesting that other candidates are beholden to big-money donors.

The Clinton campaign has evinced greater sophistication in its email marketing capabilities than the Trump camp. By Return Path's estimates, the Clinton campaign's email subscriber list is 7.6 times larger than that of the Trump campaign.

The company also reported recently that the Trump camp sent out just 21 different targeted email messages in May, 7.9% of which were marked as spam by people who received them. The Bernie Sanders campaign sent out 272 different email messages, 0.3% of which were deemed spam. Ms. Clinton's campaign sent a whopping 658 different email variations, none of which got the spam label. In general, high spam rejection rates can also suggest some email addresses in a list may have been purchased rather than generated through organic signups.

Mr. Sather compared the singular Trump fundraising email with the most successful email sent by the Obama re-election campaign on June 26, 2012, titled "I will be outspent," which garnered $2.6 million. "Obama's team was able to achieve this amount through extensive A/B testing and behavioral targeting," said Mr. Sather.

The Clinton campaign's high volume of email variations indicates that several voter segments are being targeted with tailored messages based on things such as geography and interests in particular issues. In contrast, the Trump campaign appears to be taking a less targeted approach, possibly only segmenting by geography when promoting campaign rallies in certain regions.

"According to Return Path's data, we see no evidence that the Trump campaign did any testing or segmentation with his email campaign, 'The First One,'" added Mr. Sather.

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