You’re using the wrong software. Email marketing for municipalities is not marketing and not all about opt-in content.

Email marketing for municipalities is what municipal communication managers often have to search for when they are looking for email software because “email marketing” has become a blanket term for all broadcast emailing. But it’s really not about marketing at all and that’s what we’re discussing in this article. We are sharing some tips for communication professionals working at municipalities on how to make their community engagement program a success.

Most organizations have a challenge with content: there never seems to be enough of it. Municipalities on the other hand have seemingly endless content but face challenges around planning and executing an email engagement strategy to communicate with residents from multiple departments within the municipality – all the while being compliant and keeping admin overhead to a minimum.

The biggest challenge, however, is not bad strategy or lack of good content: it’s using software that truly fits the needs of a municipality.

You’re using the wrong software: it’s not email marketing for municipalities!

Most of the popular email platforms are for marketers. Mailchimp and Constant Contact are the ones everyone heard of and there are dozens (hundreds?) more. They are for marketers, loaded with marketing automation functionality, e-commerce, landing page builderd and sales nurture campaigns. None of these features are applicable to communication professionals whose job is to effectively disseminate information that contacts, in this case the residents of the city or township, are subscribed to and want to receive and content they need to receive.

To run a successful email communication program, the first thing you need to do is use software that is not built for marketers. You can easily evaluate this: If the purpose of key features promoted by a software provider is to generate commercial revenue then you’re using the wrong software and this will result in constant friction.

Email marketing for municipalities is in fact about communication, not marketing

A software that’s up to the job for municipalities is Envoke. Envoke is a permission based email platform, built for communicators with advanced list segmentation, subscription management, compliance and brand management at the core.

Envoke doesn’t help with email marketing for municipalities. It helps with meaningful email communications and engagement.

So called “standard email tools” such as a drag and drop email editor, form builder, email reports, etc. are included by default. Find out more about how Envoke is different from Mailchimp.

It’s not all opt-in. Residents must receive some information.

Opt-in emails are straightforward. People subscribe and they unsubscribe. But municipalities often have content that people have to receive as part of the community. For example emails about emergency preparedness, property taxes, COVID directives and essential service updates need to hit inboxes even if residents are unsubscribed from newsletters and other optional messages.

This relates to the issue with software for marketers vs. software for communicators. Email marketing software (Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc) will not let you send emails to anyone who is unsubscribed. You may be able to temporarily resubscribe them for the duration of the send but often that’s not even possible. You’re faced with a compliance challenge: you have an internal obligation (or in the case of sending emails to staff, a contractual obligation) but you can’t send those important emails because some contacts are unsubscribed.

What do you do? Send them emails manually, 20 at a time from someone’s Outlook account? That doesn’t sound like fun. Instead, consider using software that differentiates between mandatory and optional emails and lets you easily send the right type of content to the right list.

How to send emails that contacts need to receive even if they’re unsubscribed from newsletters?

Managing multiple departments and users with different roles

You have a police department, a library, parks and recreation, arts, etc. and many people involved with each department to plan and create content. 

Users from the police department shouldn’t be able to see contacts from the museum’s list and vice versa. Some users shouldn’t be able to see contacts at all as they are designers or copywriters. Admins must have an easy way to manage access and lists.

This level of distinction between departments and user role based access can often only be achieved by opening separate standalone accounts that are billed and managed separately. This creates a lot of overhead.

Envoke’s tiered account structure means you can use a single account with multiple departments that operate independently with admin oversight. Each department can have their own subscription lists and own users. If someone unsubscribes from emails from the museum, they will remain subscribed to emails from the golf course.

Single corporate brand with customizable branding for departments

When it comes to email communications, branding is not just about your logo in the header of emails. It’s about contacts not seeing the provider’s logo. It’s about a branded unsubscribe page. It’s about tracking links that use your domain as opposed to some cryptic third party tracking link that people get suspicious about as they hover over links. It’s about templates that can incorporate locked, standard content but also give departments the flexibility to add their own custom content. It’s about customizable forms that blend in with your website and custom footers in all emails.

What you should be looking for is a way to achieve branding that gives departments some flexibility and customization while enforcing top level / corporate branding guidelines. Here are some examples of elements of a branded email template:

Email template with locked content blocks and custom tracking links
Email template editor creating fully branded messages
Custom footer in emails helps with branding
Custom footer in emails helps with branding
Email marketing for municipalities requires managing email preferences beyond unsubscribing.
Branded email unsubscribe page

Subscription and permission management

The page where contacts land on after they click the “unsubscribe link” in emails should be more than just a simple unsubscribe page. A typical unsubscribe page is, again, a marketing feature: You don’t want to hear from us so we let you unsubscribe so you don’t report spam. This is a standard, basic unsubscribe page:

Basic unsubscribe page

When you have (community) members that you have a relationship with and not just a list you can potentially sell to then subscription management becomes more about managing the relationship. Yes, part of this is to unsubscribe but there is more to it.

Instead of adding a link to emails that read “Unsubscribe from this list”, use something different: “Manage your email preferences”. This means you will let members update their profile and language preference and show them details about what type of messages they are receiving, how often and why. You will also be able to communicate to them that some content is opt-in and some is mandatory and do it on a page that is fully branded. 

Here are a few examples of an email preference page to illustrate the level of customization that’s possible to match your communication objectives.

Email preferences page
Customized unsubscribe page

Next steps?

Envoke is a permission based broadcast email platform for compliance-conscious organizations sending opt-in and mandatory content with an emphasis on data security and subscription management. We wrote this article to highlight the differences between email marketing for municipalities and email communication for municipalities having a decade of experience under our belts working with municipalities, small and large.

If you can relate to the challenges and found some of the ideas useful in this article you should read the case study District of West Vancouver — Sending a Clear Community Message to see how Envoke helps this municipality of 40,000 residents send 800,000 meaningful emails a year.

District of West Vancouver email communication case study
District of West Vancouver email communication case study

Learn even more about Envoke’s approach to email communications on our website and book a discovery call to discuss your requirements and establish or rule out a fit.

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