Twitter Got Trump This Far, Does He Need Email to Take Him the Rest of the Way?May 5, 2016 | By Fluent
Publication date 5/4/16
A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton’s super PAC reserved $35 million worth of summer advertising for its candidate in swing states including Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Meanwhile, Donald Trump was grousing about the $8 million he had to spend to win Indiana, which he did handily yesterday, making it ever more likely he will be the one battling Hillary in those states in the general election. But is Trump, the Earl of Earned Media, prepared for the negative TV ad onslaught that will play out across those states in a one-on-one confrontation?
As demonstrated by both Trump and Bernie Sanders, digital marketing channels have changed the way candidates get elected. Bernie collected more cash than the Democratic National Committee, one $27 email pledge at a time. Donald’s trash-talking on Twitter won him an estimated $40 million in free TV time from a mesmerized media. But Trump never did much with the email channel that Barack Obama showed delivers donors as well as voters. Trump boasted he had $9 billion of his own and didn’t need the help of super PACs or dedicated followers. But he may change his tune as general election TV spend—nearly 90% of a candidate’s budget—begins to suck away his fortune.
The sizes of candidates’ war chests tend to parallel the sizes of their email lists. By late April, Clinton had raised $262 million, Sanders $186 million, and Trump $51 million, according to the New York Times. An email activity study done by eDataSource in March showed Clinton reaching 7.1 million inboxes, Sanders 5 million, and Trump 819,000. Campaigns go to email to ask for money, and the bigger the email list, the bigger the bankroll.
“When he gets to a national election with a large national audience, I don’t know how he does it with tweets. There’s no way of tracking the behavior of the people reading them,” says John Landsman, director of analytics at eDataSource.
Perception of Trump’s Twitter messages may also be re-interpreted in the bright spotlight of a general election, according to JC Medici, who runs Rocket Fuel’s D.C. office as national director of politics and advocacy. “His earned media thus far has been more effective than his paid media. Reaction to it has been favorable. But in a general election, will it become a detriment? Is it possible for him to translate what he’s done his entire career from earned media into paid media?” Medici wonders.
That learning process could prove costly, and Trump may not be able or willing to foot the bill. Both Obama and Romney spent close to a billion dollars apiece during the 2012 election. Rich folks like Trump get richer by gambling with other people’s money, not their own, and since Trump has refused to release his tax returns, there remains the question of exactly how much he’s worth. In a story in Fortune recently, Shawn Tully, who previously did an investigation of just how much the Vatican is worth, posited that Trump interprets corporate revenues as his personal fortune, and that its real value is probably a third of what he claims.
Which brings us back to email. Once those spot and network TV bills start rolling in, Trump is going to need a cash infusion and his email strategy will begin in earnest. “He will be at a major disadvantage from the ground game perspective unless he rapidly scales up his list,” says Jordan Cohen, CMO of Fluent, an adtech company that follows consumer political attitudes on fluentpoliticalpulse.com. “There is power in being able to communicate on one-to-one basis, daily, and the ability that email gives candidates to ‘own’ the conversation with the customer. Earned media is immensely powerful, but ultimately you are ceding control to the storytellers.”
There is good news for the Trump campaign in that political donors likely to favor him are unlikely to spend their candidate budgets on Hillary. Also potentially good for Trump is the fact that rivals like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were not as reticent as he was to grub for money on Yahoo and Gmail. Their lists are large (Cruz at 4 million; Rubio with 2.4 million) and their future political ambitions could see them setting aside personal differences and making deals with the deal artiste. “Those lists, I suspect, will end up in Trump’s hands,” Landsman predicts, though he adds that a merge of the Clinton and Sanders lists—with only 28% overlap—might prove an even more formidable data file.
Medici, too, thinks there’s time for the Trump campaign to turn around its paid media and email games, but it will require a fundamental change in marketing strategy. “Trump’s people have been energized to vote; Sanders’ people have been energized to donate and vote,” he observes.
It would be the ultimate irony of this election cycle should the committed capitalist learns how to raise money from the confirmed socialist.