The face of a direct marketing genius?

The face of a direct marketing genius?

Some of the top marketers in the world work in politics…

While I love the idea of doing fundraising with causes and nonprofits, I couldn’t see myself working for politicians.  At least not today’s politicians.  I have trouble trusting any of them.

That said, political marketing is worth watching.  The US presidential election is the world’s biggest popularity contest.  And in an attempt to be “popular,” they spend a fortune on marketing.  Both in hiring talent, and in rolling out campaigns.

Like all advertising, most of it is stupid, and won’t make a difference one way or the other.

But like Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the Bernie Sanders campaign is worth watching.

Why?  Because they’re actually doing marketing that gets results.

Much of their marketing is direct response.  It opens with a conversation on the issues, it asks for a donation in the end.

And, they’re doing well.  They’ve raised more money at this point in the campaign, from more donors, than Barack Obama had at this point in his races (and Obama’s fundraising was record-breaking).

As of late last week, the Sanders campaign had received contributions from over 3.5 million donors, according to their emails.  With an average donation of $27, that put their total fundraising at about $94.5 million — before the campaign that I’m about to tell you about (which I believe pushed them over the $100 million mark).

So I’ve been on the Bernie Sanders list for a while.  I’ve almost unsubscribed a couple times, just because of the sheer volume of fundraising email.  But I’m glad I didn’t, because this week I got to witness a really interesting marketing campaign around the New Hampshire primaries.

Here’s what a great political fundraising email campaign looks like, and why it works…

The Bern’s surging popularity surely counts for a lot of the success of this.  His message resonates with a certain target market within the US electorate.  That’s a HUGE part of everything going on to make his fundraising so successful.  It’s critical to have a message that resonates, or else nothing else works.

That said, I want to talk more about the tactical execution of the campaign than the particular messaging behind the Sanders presidential bid.

Because I think there are lessons not just for political fundraising, but for the nonprofit world more generally, as well as for for-profit businesses and commercial marketers (where I do most of my work).

Let’s dive into how the Sanders campaign turned the New Hampshire primaries into a $7-million-plus payday…

The Sanders campaign asks its email subscribers for money almost every day.  It’s hard to tell where one campaign stops and the next starts.

For a group that’s supposedly pretty poor (the average donation is just $27), that may seem like a lot.  But there’s a lesson just in that.

On February 8th, the day before the New Hampshire primary, Sanders’ fundraising email ended with a critical setup…

If we win tomorrow night, our victory will send a message, loudly and clearly, that “ENOUGH is ENOUGH!” This great nation and its government belong to all of the people, and not a handful of billionaires and their super PACs.

That’s by far the most important message of Bernie’s campaign.  That he’s going to do it without big corporate money-honeys.  That he needs the support of “the people” to win.  And with this message, he threw down the gauntlet that success in New Hampshire meant the people (aka you, his reader) were being heard.

The next day — the day of the New Hampshire primaries — was surprisingly quiet, until he won…

That evening, I got an email, “We just won New Hampshire” — that read very personally and may have been written by Bernie himself (or at least by his copywriter with him in the room)…  [Links removed by the way — if you want to follow or donate or whatever, he’s at  I left the underlines though so you know what was linked.]

Sisters and Brothers –

We just won the New Hampshire primary.

I am about to head downstairs to address an enthusiastic group of supporters and volunteers. But what I am about to tell you is important:

There are 14 primaries and caucuses over the next three weeks, and you can be certain that our victory tonight will prompt a desperate response from the nation’s financial elite and the political establishment who want to stop our campaign to transform America.

Who knows what they’re going to throw at us next. All I know is we must be ready to respond, organize, and win.

Make a $3 contribution to our campaign tonight and we are going to win this Democratic primary, the White House, and take our country back from the billionaire class.

Nine months ago, if you told somebody that we would win the New Hampshire primary, they would not have believed you. Not at all. Too bold, they would have said. Not enough money to compete against the billionaires.

You showed them tonight.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders


There are a few things I want to point out.  This feels very personal and slice-of-life because it starts with the reference to heading downstairs to address a group of supporters.

Then, it positions the fight ahead.  It establishes “underdog” status.  In saying that “we must be ready to respond, organize, and win” — in bold — it establishes financial need, but subtly.  It specifically asks for a very easy financial contribution for most folks to make — just $3 to make a difference!  Then it positions his campaign as already on the road to success — giving credit to the reader (who is also, presumably, already a donor).

Like the politics or not, this one email is incredible on a few levels.  I said I wouldn’t talk about messaging, but this one got it right for its audience, and that’s worth paying attention to.

But on a deeper level, it turned an event out in the world into a reason to take action today, and give money.  Any great marketing campaign will create legitimate urgency using whatever it can.  Here, the combination of the just-won New Hampshire primary (establishing Bernie as firmly still in the race) as well as 14 coming primaries and caucuses created huge and totally legit urgency his supporters could rally behind.

About three hours later I got an email that the money was rolling in…

The subject line read like a very personal email (which is always good for open rates)…  “You MUST see this right away.”

The email started…

This is what a political revolution looks like, sisters and brothers.

Take a look at the response to the speech Bernie gave tonight — each one of these is a real contribution from a hard working American who has HAD ENOUGH of a corrupt campaign finance system in which Wall Street and the billionaire class are able to buy our elections.

Add your $3 contribution to theirs right now.

Immediately under this was a “scrolling” graphic of seemingly non-stop donations pouring into the campaign — from $1 to $100 and more — from folks like “Charles S.”  The “scroll” effect was so fast you couldn’t really ready it, it just gave the impression that a ton of people were donating.

This is pure “social proof” marketing, designed to make you feel like “if they’re all doing it, I should do it, too.”

This email captured the excitement of the moment, and encouraged all fence-sitters to get off the fence and show their support by giving even just $3.

The next morning, another email about the victory…

This one with the subject “Here comes the kitchen sink.”

Much of the messaging was the same, and isn’t worth including here because it doesn’t add much new.  What this message did do was basically reinforce to followers and supporters that The Bern is the anti-establishment candidate, and that his win in New Hampshire would lead to mudslinging he’d have to be prepared for.

What’s worth mentioning here is the frequency.  Once you’re neck-deep in a campaign, it’s often hard to mail too much.  As long as you have something relatively new and relevant to say, send another email.  When you have something timely going on, you’ll lose a few followers by sending “too much” but your total financial results will justify the occasional unsubscribe for someone who probably wasn’t going to give you money anyway.

Maybe five hours later, the numbers start to roll in…

By mid-afternoon, the Sanders campaign was feeling good enough about itself that it wanted to share numbers.

The subject line was, “An audacious goal:” and the message began…

Sisters and Brothers –

I am going to share some information with you that will send shivers down the spines of the nation’s financial elite and political establishment:

Since the polls closed in New Hampshire yesterday evening, we have received more than 150,000 contributions from people across the country for a grand total of $5.2 million… in just 18 hours.

So we’ve set an audacious goal, but one we can reach together if everyone chips in:

Contribute $3 right now to help our campaign reach $6 million raised online since the polls closed last night in New Hampshire.

Following this was a progress meter visually demonstrating the goal (which as I write this has been updated to show that they’ve actually raised $7.4 million against an updated-again $7-million goal).  As well as a contribute button.  Plus, beneath that, more positioning copy, as well as restated urgency regarding the 14 upcoming primaries and caucuses.

There’s a lesson in selling and marketing that you have to tell your whole story, every time.  You don’t know who’s going to open what email.  If someone has waited until this email to open, they may be excited by the opening copy, but may need reinforcement of the core message and urgency.  The Sanders campaign continued to do this in every email throughout this campaign — even if I haven’t mentioned it every time.

And what I thought was really important about this email — that really established this as a “campaign” and not just a set of emails — is that it finally established a deadline for action.  While the others gave some specific urgency-motivators, this one finally asked you to donate that day.

The final email on the day after the New Hampshire primary — roughly 23 hours after the email announcing the win — said “We’re gonna need a new goal.”

Notice the informal, personal copy throughout.  “Gonna,” not “going to.”  This is direct marketing mastery on display.

The email continues the message from the subject line…

Earlier today we set an audacious goal of raising $6 million in contributions after the polls closed in New Hampshire.

Well, you already crushed that goal in just a couple hours. So, in the spirit of this campaign, we’re going to reach for a bigger but difficult goal — raising $7 million by the end of the day today.

I’ll be honest — right now, the math looks difficult to raise another $1 million today. But I think it’s important for us to try, and not just because there are 14 primaries and caucuses over the next three weeks.

Can you help us try to hit our new goal with a $3 contribution today?

Again, the progress bar graph, which today shows even the $7-million goal has been surpassed.

And I should note.  Some of these messages have been “from Bernie.”  The latter ones were from Jeff Weaver, his Campaign Manager.  Throughout, they carry the unified Sanders messaging and “we’re in this with you” tone.

The last email didn’t really say that they wanted you to donate TODAY, though it gave that implication.  This one came out and set a midnight deadline.  That’s big.

Looking at the arc of this campaign, here’s what the Sanders campaign got spot-on.

Of course, the messaging got Sanders’ key talking points right.

It also captured the “critical moment” messaging that is so key for survival in the race right now.  Candidates are dropping out left and right now that the first votes have been tallied — you MUST show promise if you want to remain viable now.  These emails nailed that.

But what the campaign did better than anything else was created an increasing sense of urgency toward a deadline.  If you’re a student of the Product Launch Formula, this is a master class.

All-in, I went through important elements of six emails.

The first barely mentioned what was coming, but it set the stage perfectly.  It was a kind of pre-launch.

The second opened the flood gates.  With the win in New Hampshire, it injected new energy into every element of the campaign, including fundraising.  This was most definitely the launch (and marked the starting point of the donation tracking).

The third and fourth only reinforced the messaging of the opening salvo.  It was still about the excitement of the launch, not yet really about the deadline.  They did create social proof, and reinforced the need to take action, but they used more natural urgency of the moment than deadlines.

The fifth and six created the perfect ending to what was really about a 24-hour campaign with a shot across the bow a day before that.  They established excitement around a big, hairy, audacious goal.  They set a deadline, and manufactured urgency to get you to respond immediately — layering that on top of the real-world urgency outside the campaign.

The end result?

Like I said, my unofficial calculations based on their unofficial numbers (which I think are pretty accurate) said they were at $94.5 million in donations before this.

This campaign, according to the updated graphic in the last couple emails, has raised $7.4 million.

Drum roll please, while I get out my calculator…

That means the Sanders campaign has just broke the $100,000,000 mark in fundraising (in 9 months), with a total of $101.9 million raised!

This still puts Sanders behind Clinton’s last-reported total of $115.6 million, as of January 31st.  But assuming these numbers are accurate, this does mean that Sanders has raised about $25 million in the last couple weeks, which is blisteringly-fast.

Not only that, Clinton is raising big money, while Sanders — as he likes to point out — is getting an average of $27 per donor.  If he were to “double” his lifetime customer value with a few more campaigns like this, every other candidate in the field would suddenly be in his rear view mirror in terms of dollars raised.

Like I said at the beginning of this, these are some of the best marketers in the world.

I don’t care if you agree or disagree with their politics.  I don’t care if you work in the political field, in nonprofits, or in commercial direct response.

These folks are worth paying attention to, studying, and analyzing.  Because what they’re doing works, and it works well.

There are many lessons to be learned!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr