How to Adjust Email Communication to the COVID-19 Crisis
We know that you're tired of all this coronavirus 2020 data - stats, numbers, precautions, charts, self-isolation tips, and gloomy predictions. We’re tired too. And would rather write about creative design findings or new tools. However, the circumstances dictate other terms, and as marketers we have to deal with it.
This post is how we see the situation based on the two-week market observation. Like with anything else, uncertainty is a word to describe what’s going on in the marketing world. However, from international giants to local companies, different brands around the globe are looking for new ways to run a business, support their communities and provide help where needed. Some COVID-19 practices are worth mimicking, and we hope they would help you move in the right direction.
How Businesses Are Navigating the Coronavirus Outbreak
Although the main goal of business is to sell and generate profit, many brands have addressed the crisis with support programs, extended loyalty memberships, free access to content, donations and volunteering, each in their own way.
1. Everyone who can move any of their services online is moving online:
- Education industry has moved online more than anyone else;
- Fitness industry has launched in-home training classes;
- Museums, galleries, parks, zoos, and other outdoor locations offer webcams and virtual tours;
- Concerts, stand-up, karaoke, theatre plays, etc. are also moving to the online format;
- Pet shops offer online Q&A sessions;
- Handicraft-related services (from knitting to scrapbooking) are launching special self-isolation kits;
- Beauty companies release advice of home care procedure and routine;
- HoReCa has switched to takeaways.
Noticeably, that a big part of such activities is free. Some companies add donation CTAs or links under their online broadcasts, but in general, everyone is trying to commit to their best.
And that’s probably one of the few good things that we’re noticing right now. Some may call it smart strategies for positive brand image building but we don’t care as long as they work and provide at least some use and support.
2. Companies are looking for new ways to speak out, putting video format on the rise. Communication methods gaining popularity are:
- webinars, how-to videos. Q&A;
- live streaming;
- Insta stories.
Seeing this, YouTube and Amazon Prime have announced to reduce streaming quality to reduce network load and meet the new demand and avoid web traffic problems.
3. Many brands have made official statements to encourage people to stay home and prevent disease spread. Some went even further, changing or upgrading their logos or mottos.
In headers of their social pages of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, McDonald’s Brasil has separated their golden arches with space to promote self-isolation.
Coca-Cola did the same on its Times Square billboard:
Burger King France changed the motto of one of its stores with the same purpose:
Instagram has launched a series of “Stay Home” stickers to encourage people to stay inside:
4. Many companies have opened access to gated or paid content, like educational materials, reports, statistics, subscription-only articles.
PornHub has extended Free Pornhub Premium worldwide until April 23rd.
5. Some companies offer discounts, free shipping or cashback for categories related to self-isolation.
An online banking app monobank has announced 20% cash back for all purchases aimed to entertain during the quarantine period.
6. Many brands offer discounts and % off for frontline workers - medical staff, social workers, police, food industry workers, etc.
7. Brands with relevant products are donating to local hospitals and social services.
Ikea has donated 50,000 masks to local hospitals. Kering has announced to provide the French health service with 3 million surgical masks imported from China. Xiaomi has shipped tens of thousands of respirator masks to Italy. If you browse the Internet for a bit, you’ll find way more examples of how different businesses are trying to make a difference.
Current Email Communication During COVID-19
Email remains the main communication channel, however, we must admit many are trying too hard by sending dozens of emails that have effectively the same message or no message at all.
Below, there are the COVID-19 email examples from our Inboxes we as customers didn’t find meaningless, annoying or virtue-signaling. Apart from saying "We're all in this together," these brands are trying to resonate with the situation, use email marketing in a smart way, and incorporate their services into delivery of practical or entertaining content helping make it through the outbreak.
And by the way, this is your answer to “Should I send a COVID-19 email at all?” It’s Yes, if you’re sure you can deliver any kind of value through your messages and actually support people. How exactly?
- Pret offers health workers hot drinks on the house and 50% off everything else.
- Petco offers a Q&A series for pet owners:
- Chubbies shares the team self-isolating stories:
- Fandango announces in-home access to movies from the studios:
- Society6 offers a free download of artist-designed coloring pages:
- Comscore offers ungated articles with the analysis of customer behavior during the crisis:
- Moe’s offers free kid’s entree during the quarantine:
- Jacadi invites to listen to a podcast story of Walks at the Musée d'Orsay:
- Paper Source shows how to keep yourself busy indoor:
- Gymshark offers free live home workouts:
- Biscuiteers offers free UK delivery to send a bit of supportive treats to your friends and family:
- YETI releases a series of films on the outdoors to enjoy every evening:
- The Lighting Company suggests how to keep your kids busy:
- National Sports shows what gear can be used for staying active at home:
As you see, there are countless ways to keep up the email conversation with your community, being supportive and useful at the same time. Find the one applicable to your business and adjust your marketing strategies correspondingly.
Email Marketing Advice on COVID-19
As usual, any email strategy you employ depends on your type of company, service, and audience. Healthcare, social services, deliveries, and retailers of food essentials are facing big challenges due to heavy workload, meaning they have totally different marketing strategies.
On the other hand, travel agencies, transportation services, entertainment, and event industries handle a lot of cancellation and refund issues, and the load on all communication channels is huge as well.
The rest of the businesses that aren’t on a frontline right now need to revise their email marketing approaches, and these are the steps we suggest considering.
1. Send only important COVID-19 updates.
Don’t send for the sake of sending. We’ve all seen enough of COVID-19 in our Inboxes, social media feeds and… actually everywhere. So don’t add to the tension with another Coronavirus urgent!! subject line. Reach out only if you have really important news that affects your work operation, shipment, return policy, etc., for example:
- store closure;
- changes in online order management, if any;
- changes in-app orders;
- changes in price policy;
- possible problems with delivery due to a high demand or transport restrictions;
- volunteering services you might be offering for seniors;
- assistance programs to customers in need, etc.
Just saying how you care about everyone’s well being isn’t what people want to hear from you right now. It’s expected that you do it on a regular basis. Send only practical information that can help deal with economic and emotional struggling people are currently facing.
Consider using other channels like SMS and Web Push to send short crisp messages with only essential details.
2. Revise the content of automated emails that were scheduled before the crisis.
Take a look at the campaigns included in automated workflows and answer the following:
- Could they seem inappropriate (or even offensive) to some recipients?
- Do they promote things the least relevant right now (travel items, luxury items, limited booking sales that expire soon, etc.)?
- Do they contain subject lines or copies with words or emojis that may seem inappropriate: hugs, kisses, high fives, handshakes?
- Do they contain other sensitive words - crisis, virus, disease spreading - used in a figurative sense?
- Do they contain any challenges/tasks involving physical contact or outdoor activities? For example, now isn’t the best time to announce a challenge Hug 100 friends in a minute.
If anything of this takes place, rewrite the copy or pause the campaign.
3. Show empathy and ask if people feel like hearing from you.
As Mother’s Day was approaching, some brands sent this kind of message asking if subscribers want to opt out of Mother’s Day emails.
The issue is really sensitive for people without mothers, so the tactics drew a big positive response - people appreciated brands being respectful of their preferences.
Consider applying this approach to the current situation as well. Ask people if they want to somehow update their preferences or pause some kinds of messages for a while.
Also, ask what kind of content they would like to receive during the quarantine. Don’t be afraid of mass unsubscribes - empathy and compassion are always appreciated.
4. Consider pausing your promotional emails or reducing the sending volume.
Yes, the decision may be hard to make but is necessary to adjust your marketing strategy to the current situation. Take a look at the categories of your products, and if they have not much relevance to the nowadays situation, pause the corresponding sending.
5. Adjust recommendation algorithms.
During the crisis, customers can make purchases that are beyond their regular shopping behaviour. Those brands who use AI-supported recommendations in their campaigns, need to adjust recommendation settings, otherwise people may see medical masks and hand sanitizers in Recommended for You or Staff Picks long after the pandemic is over.
6. Segment your audience.
This is when segmentation is more important than ever. An international brand should monitor the situation in each country it operates in, and adjust the strategies correspondingly. Pay special attention to countries that struggle the most: your Italian, French and Spanish subscribers are hardly thinking about shopping right now.
7. Don’t send COVID-19 messages as transactional.
Because they are actually not. You may send such notifications as transactional (to people who aren’t subscribed to you to) to alert on the important changes - ticket change, booking cancellation, possible problems with delivery due to high demand - in the service or product they have paid for.
All the rest is nothing but a reminder of your existence. People who unsubscribed from you years ago don’t want to know you’re taking care of the health and safety of your employees and doubled your sanitizing routine. Such an approach won’t win them back but rather confuse and annoy.
8. Don’t capitalize on anxiety.
We’re all going through hard times now. Many businesses, like booking platforms, travel companies, hotels, cinemas, took an especially big hit. But staying respectful and caring of your customers should still be a priority.
With so much anxiety around, many find it hard to stay focused and make the right choices. Don’t take advantage of panic and stress by selling “illness prevention wellness programs,” “antivirus supplements,” or “silver ion masks to battle pandemic.” Of course, you should take advantage of any little demand that’s still around to make money but don’t do this by manipulating people’s fears and anxiety.
What Do I Say to My Customers?
And that’s a really challenging question. To send or not to send? How to be supportive without adding to the Inbox clutter? What words to find when nothing sounds right? How to act if I can’t think of any way my particular products can support the community?
We don’t know the certain recipes that would work for everyone. However, we’ve made a short survey among our staff and customers, asking the two questions - What would you like to receive from a brand you’re subscribed to during the crisis? and What are you tired of receiving over these two weeks? Here are the most popular answers you may consider when (and if) crafting your next campaign:
I’m tired of
Updates on cancellation, refunds, rescheduling, booking of the events I have signed in for.
Multiple messages sent every day with no meaningful information at all. Constant updates on how you clean your store and keep your staff safe have nothing to do with my convenience and support. Moreover, I expect such actions are taken by you on a regular basis anyway.
Fun pics of pets are always ok: puppies dressed up as doctors, pets annoyed of humans staying home, pets fighting the crisis - just make me smile and forget for a while about all the madness around.
I don’t need 500-word long messages that tell me nothing but that the brand exists and it has a website I may visit if I feel like.
Lists of 20-second tik tok clips, songs, fun monologues that I can listen to while washing hands.
Physical visits encouragement. At this moment, emails telling “Our doors are open to you” offer nothing but to violate safety instructions.
Recipes of meals I can cook using products with a long shelf life like pasta, beans, lentil, etc. No fresh oregano and basil pesto, or other recipes that require going to a grocery store.
Don’t play on sympathy by declaring your desperation and telling how tough it is for your small, local, independent business. We’re all going through hard times. Like many others, I’m also not sure how I will pay my bills next month. However, I’m trying to stay positive and show support to those around.
Activities I can do at home without buying a lot of extra stuff. Mind also that some of us live in multi-story buildings, so our neighbors from downstairs won’t be happy if we organize a dodgeball championship.
Seemingly encouraging emails with brand mentions or product images across the entire copy.
List of tools I can use to craft something online, like greeting cards, family albums, clips, animation, etc.
Offers to become a VIP member with access to the limited collections (unless these are the limited collections of medical masks). Luxury shopping is the last thing on my mind right now.
How to keep my kids busy.
Invitations to plan my next trip.
Lists of services that offer online educational classes, virtual tours, webinars workshops, etc.
Real stories of how your team handles the quarantine. But please no aggressive promotion in every sentence. I don’t need reminders, this is a commercial email.
With the above said, we’re not offering you to cease all the communication. It’s ok to promote your brand as long as you resonate with the current situation and deliver value through your messages. Don’t be tone-deaf and adapt your services to support the community in any available way. Living to your values instead of simply declaring them is what will win you customers when all this mess ends. And it will end, make no mistake about it.
More to Read
- Coronavirus Research | March 2020 by GlobalWebIndex.
- Coronavirus Research | March 2020. Series 2: Travel & Commuting by GlobalWebIndex.
- Coronavirus pandemic and online behavioural shifts by Comscore.
- Beware of Virtue Signaling or Outright Greed in Brand Communications About COVID-19 - we strongly recommend reading it to every marketer.
- Daily impact of COVID-19 on consumers and the CPG and retail industries by IRI.