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Love Him or Hate Him, You Can Learn from Trump’s SMS Fundraising Campaigns (Part 2)

donald trump sms campaign

In part two of this series, we’ll look at the “feel good” SMS messages in Trump’s campaign. By that I mean the various ways he connected with his supporters on an emotional level. These messages all included the supporter somehow. They felt more like a conversation than a one-way stream of money requests.

That was the goal anyway. By the end of the this, you can decide whether he succeeded. I think he did. And it’s important to note you don’t have to agree with him or like him at all, to understand if his SMS marketing is any good.

Starting at the Beginning

In part one of this blog I began with the initial welcome message for the SMS list. But it makes sense to include it here too because it sets the tone for all the other messages. Here’s what it looked like:

He meets the legal obligations in the first message bubble. After that, it’s all about the supporter who just signed up. It welcomes the person to the “team” and provides a personal message from Trump via a link to a video. When people decide to support a cause, it’s usually because they have a personal connection with it, at least on some level. This message emphasises the connection right from the beginning.

While many of the messages were designed to make the subscriber feel like part of the team, there were quite a few that appealed to their selfish interests too. After all, everyone likes to win something, feel important, or be part of something greater than themselves.

Donate to Win

Trump doesn’t do anything small, and neither did his SMS campaign. Here’s a list of the big opportunities supporters had a chance to win:

  • Dinner for 2 with Trump “and friends”. The details on this offer are a little sketchy. There’s no indication of when or where, but it was supposed to happen sometime during the campaign. It also included accommodations and roundtrip airfare (if necessary). All it took was a $5 donation to be entered to win. Did anyone win? No idea. They didn’t publish anything about it that I could find.
  • Coffee with Ivanka. Trump’s daughter became a bit of a star during the campaign. Despite being a Democrat, and best friends with Hillary Clinton’s daughter, she backed her Dad the whole way. She’s also a successful businesswoman, so many likely donated to get the chance to sit down for coffee with her in New York City. This offer also included travel expenses. No information on who won this either, but she held “Coffee with Ivanka” events in multiple cities around the country. So, this may have just been another one of those.
  • Win a seat at the debate. How you get tickets to a live Presidential debate is a mystery. It seems you need to know someone or be someone, to get them. But supporters had the chance to win them by donating to the cause. All costs would be covered of course.
  • Ride on Trump Force 1. Most people know Air Force One is an impressive aeroplane. Trump has a smaller aircraft that is impressive in its own right with gold-plated seatbelts and a 52” flat screen TV. Catching a ride would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for anyone. I imagine he received many donations in response.

All the offers above are like sweepstakes in that you pay for a chance to win (though in the US people must have the option to enter for free too).  They give supporters a chance to get something “more” for their donation other than a hat or bumper sticker. It also can help them feel like Trump is thinking about them, when he is, in reality, raising money for his own campaign.

It’s common to raise money using incentives. But only he can offer the unique ones listed above, which certainly entices his supporters to donate.

Opinions Matter

While the above offers would provide a chance for something awesome, the campaign mixed in plenty of other messages to make supporters feel important. This made the messages feel more like a conversation than a one-way notification system. Here’s how it was done:

Fill out a survey. One message provided a link to a survey where supporters could choose the topics most important to them before one of the debates. Should he confront Clinton about her email scandal, or instead focus on foreign policy? Theoretically, Trump would use the results to decide where he should make his points during the debate. This meant the opinions of his supporters mattered, not just their money. Again, theoretically. There’s no data available publicly that proves any correlation between the survey and his debate performance.

Opportunities to get involved. As the election grew closer, messages began asking for people to volunteer to help. These included calling campaigns that could be done from someone’s home and ones that required them to get out and work “in the field”. There’s no data available to show how effective the messages were. But given SMS lists usually contain the most ardent supporters they probably worked well.

Chances to attend rallies. One of the things that can’t be denied about Trump is the huge number of people that attended his rallies. Two of his rallies are in the top three largest in United States history (topped only by Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington D.C. in 1963). Thousands of people were turned away at nearly every event. The messages offered subscribers the chance to RSVP for tickets. Unfortunately, that didn’t guarantee them entry – all tickets were first come, first admitted. This is a missed opportunity to engage and appreciate the supporters on his SMS list, by giving them guaranteed seats.

Focused on specific issues. Trump’s campaign messages hit a nerve with many Americans – both good and bad. But he used the ones his supporters most cared about as tools for fundraising. In the examples below, you can see he hit on healthcare and FBI investigations into Clinton.  Anyone who had a vested interest in the particular topic he mentioned in the message is more likely to donate.

Push to Take Action

The final set of messages all focused on getting his supporters to actually go vote. It wasn’t about money anymore, he needed them to take action or he’d lose the election. As we now know, he succeeded in getting enough people to do so.

The messages he sent though, weren’t a generic “Please go out and vote today”. It included specific information on voting in the state where the subscriber lived, encouraged them to bring other people with them to the polls (who otherwise might not vote we assume), and a link to a page that supposedly helps them find a location to vote. You can see how it looked below.

That message was followed up a few hours later with another link to find a voting location. The call to action is very clear.  These messages, along with his other grassroots efforts provided him with the win.

Not Without Mistakes

Overall, the SMS campaign included a wide variety of message types that made a supporter on the list feel wanted, special, and important. There were also blatant requests for money (covered in detail in Part 1 of the blog).

I’ve covered a lot of what he did right above (and in Part 1), so now it’s time to see where the campaign made mistakes or missed opportunities.

“Well, where’s the thank you message”?

That’s what I was thinking when reviewing the messages after the election. There were so many messages, all asking for money or support of some kind, but there was total silence after he won. For a man that jumps on Twitter as fast as he can, I would have expected a big thank you message via SMS the day after the win. But his SMS supporters didn’t get that message until November 14th, six days later.

When it did finally come, it included another request for money in exchange for a limited-edition T-shirt. Despite the wording of the message thanking supporters, it could come across as a little ungrateful – and confusing. If he already won, why does he need more money? Why did it take a week to say thank you?

My guess is whoever was running his SMS marketing decided to wait on the thank you message until they had the T-shirts sorted. That was a missed opportunity to show real appreciation for the supporters. Especially since they planned to keep asking for money (in the US campaigns can continue to raise funds to help offset their debt, but that’s something most American’s don’t know about).

As of this writing, the messages are still arriving. They’re offering Christmas ornaments and other goods for purchase or in exchange for a donation. Will the good will of his SMS supporters continue after the election? Time will tell, but probably not if they forget to be timely in their basic manners.

Did they do it?

On multiple occasions, the messages asked for donations to meet a certain goal. Usually, this was a financial goal, something like $10M in two days. But only once in the messages did I see them let people on the list know if they met the goal.

That’s a let-down to everyone who contributed. Wouldn’t you want to know if a goal was met if you donated to a cause? Granted, many people donate a few pounds (dollars in this case) here and there and don’t think anything of it. But people who agree to be on an SMS list aren’t just any old person. They are ardent fans or believers in the cause. I think this was another missed opportunity on the part of the campaign.

Whether they made the goal or not, informing their supporters of the outcome would be another way to engage them. If someone contributed they could cheer and feel more connected to the cause because they were a part of it. If they contributed and the goal wasn’t met, that might help them be more willing to give more next time they were asked. And if someone didn’t give, knowing that the goal wasn’t met could push them to donate next time too.

Who won?

I couldn’t find any reference to who won any of the trips to NYC or on Trump Force One. Did they pick anyone at all? This omission can raise some doubts about the truth in the requests. Donors could feel like they’ve been scammed if no one won the trip.

Disclosing the outcome of sweepstakes like this helps build trust with donors. I don’t know if doing so would help people donate more, but I do know that if they don’t trust the person asking for money they won’t give more.

All it would take is one short message thanking everyone who gave, then provide some identification of who it was that won. Trust would be maintained and the donations would keep coming in.

No exclusivity

It didn’t appear than any of the requests, sweepstakes, or opportunities sent to the SMS list were exclusive. Even though multiple messages referred to his “most ardent” or “BIGGEST supporters”, it looks like the offers were available on every channel he used (email and his website).

When fundraising you obviously don’t want to limit who can donate by only contacting a select list of people. But there are ways to make the SMS channel exclusive. Perhaps SMS supporters could have received early access to the items they were selling, guaranteed seats to events, or another smaller giveaway exclusive to the list.

Wrapping it all up

This was a deep dive into many messages sent by the Donald Trump SMS campaign. It’s clear whomever took over his SMS marketing late summer knew how to effectively put the channel to use. He engaged his supporters, made them feel connected to his campaign and they gave him money when they asked. In the end, they took the action he requested by voting for him.

Now, his whole campaign encompassed more than just SMS, but the examples shared here show how the combination of message types contributed to his success. For anyone looking to run a fundraising campaign using SMS, it’s an interesting set of lessons that can be applied to other organisations.

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