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Now that the dust has settled on the 2018 Election, it’s time to look more deeply into the impact of sender names. It’s a small, yet often overlooked aspect of an email campaign.
Do email campaigns perform better when using the candidate as a sender name or the campaign staff?
The simplest way to answer this question, of course, would be a straight A/B test. But we were curious to learn more than just the impact of that single variable. We wanted to know how the kinds of content that tend to come from each sender performed over time in the real world. So we decided to undertake a small observational study by comparing a few key email statistics from one client.
Here’s what that sample dataset taught us.
We used a number of sender names in our email fundraising campaigns. To make it easier to comment on sender name performance, we grouped the names into 2 categories – the candidate and campaign staff. As you can see from the bar graph below, we sent a total of 31 fundraising email campaigns – 12 of which used the candidate’s first name or full name as the sender name and 19 of which used a rotation of 5 members of the campaign staff as a sender name.
When we compared open rate averages between the two sender name categories, we found that campaign staff sender names were able to cut through the inbox clutter more than the candidate. At the outset, we assumed varying the sender name would elevate the campaign’s brand name and help the candidate outperform the campaign staff. Other email marketing blogs suggest that if you present your brand consistently (in this case our brand is the candidate), users will become more familiar with your brand, gain your trust, and open your emails more often.
However, our results showed that the candidate didn’t yield a higher open rate, the opposite was true in our case. The campaign staff beat out the candidate 13.73% to 11.78% for a difference of 1.95% – a sizeable bump in inbox curiosity.
To judge the quality of the opens of each sender names, we compared the rates of email unsubscribes per email delivered and the rates of email unsubscribes per email opened. The difference between the rates of email unsubscribes per email delivered was negligible – 0.33% for the candidate and 0.32% for the campaign staff. When we contrasted the rates of email unsubscribes per email opened, we found less uniformity. The campaign staff emails yielded slightly higher quality email opens beating out the candidate with a lower unsubscribe rate 2.18% to 2.84% – a difference of 0.66%.
The results flipped when comparing average click rates. While the campaign staff sender names garnered more visibility in supporters’ inboxes, fewer on average clicked on email fundraising links. The candidate’s click rate outperformed that of the campaign staff, averaging 0.45% to 0.27% for a difference of 0.18%.
Now we get to the million-dollar question: which sender name had the content that converted the most donors? Of the supporters who clicked on fundraising emails sent by the campaign staff, only 22.31% went on to complete their donations. A much higher percentage of supporters who clicked, 36.91%, completed their donation on the candidate’s emails.
1. Unfamiliar or ambiguous campaign staff sender names – sometimes with first names only and no candidate/brand context – proved more enticing for supporters to open the email.
2. A higher open rate from campaign staff sender names emails didn’t yield a higher unsubscribe rate, like we thought they would. These emails produced slightly higher quality opens. We were surprised, but encouraged, to find supporters hit the unsubscribe button at a lower rate than they did on candidate sender name emails.
3. Even though supporters were less likely to open an email from candidate sender names, they were more likely to take an action. The click rate data was more in line with what we expected. The results showed that the candidate, the most familiar and personal of sender name choices, yielded a higher average click rate.
4. Supporters who clicked on candidate sender name emails were substantially more likely to convert their initial action into a completed donation.
We expected the candidate sender name option to win outright in every comparison category, but the results were mixed. The campaign staff sender names won the open rate and quality of opens head-to-head, while the candidate sender name took the click rate title. The conversion rate comparison demonstrated that when supporters reached the final step in the conversion workflow (open > click > donation), candidate sender name emails were much more likely to donate to the campaign.
The purpose of this cross-section of emails were used to convert as many donations for the campaign as possible. For that reason, the candidate sender name emails were more effective in achieving our goal. Perhaps supporters feel more comfortable donating to emails from the candidate? We are curious to test this hypothesis during the 2020 campaign.
We are also interested in testing campaign staff sender names as a supporter re-engagement strategy. Could introducing or re-introducing them re-engage inactive supporters? We are excited to examine this theory as well.
As digital strategists, we understand that a observational study like this introduces plenty of conflicting variables – like different subject lines and landing page copy – that also affected each email’s overall performance.
As we continue to crunch the numbers from the 2018 election and learn from the variables we tested for our clients, we are eager to see whether these sender name trends continue across the board.
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