To keep your connection with consumers during the COVID-19 crisis, it's imperative that you communicate over digital channels. But a lack of thoughtfulness in your approach can do more harm than good, especially when it comes to email marketing, where outreach fatigue is causing many recipients to unsubscribe from anything coronavirus related.
“During the first few weeks of COVID-19, my inbox got utterly decimated with every single business I had given my email to in the past 10 years, which included a hotel from a holiday I went on nine years ago,” says Caterina Bidini, creator of Australia-based Bidinis Bags, who has decided to halt her company’s email marketing efforts for the moment.
With a little rigour, you can help ensure your emails respect your customers' time and attention – and their inboxes. Distinguish your messages from COVID-19 opportunism with purpose, personalisation and by applying an appropriate tone.
1. Personalise messages as much as possible
Message customisation is key, says Emily Carroll, marketing coordinator at market research firm Drive Research. "Early messages from companies seemed really canned," she says, adding that the flood of COVID-19 emails finally prompted her to unsubscribe to the emails she'd been putting off.
Even if your email is being sent to a mass list, try to make sure you reference the recipient’s name, company and job title. The personal touch will be appreciated and can easily be configured through most automated-email services.
“It’s best if you are able to segment your lists and speak directly to what your customers are going through,” she advises. “Try asking your customers what your business can do to help during this time, maybe in the form of a customer survey where clients can share the challenges they are facing and how your company may be able to help them overcome those challenges.”
Crafting a headline and body message that is relevant to a specific person is always best. Virgin Active, the UK-based health club chain, sends personalised online workouts to each of its members, addressing them by name and including a brief survey where they can request content that’s even more tailored to their needs.
“Try segmenting your email list into different avatars,” Bidini says. “Mail merge does make life easier, but the devil is in the details, and the quickest way to be deleted is a lack of personalisation.”
2. Provide value
During these times, email communications shouldn't come off as hard sells – the messaging should be helpful or educational, even if it's product-focused.
Providing real value to customers is an important distinction, says Anna Barker, founder of personal finance site LogicalDollar, who believes that all email marketing messages right now should be truly useful to consumers, otherwise businesses are just clogging inboxes.
“Offering information that is useful is a great step for helping to promote customers’ perception of your brand,” she says. “Just make sure to keep messages empathetic, concise, and save the sales-y language for another time.”
Today, you should be thinking about the emotional state of your customers. What can you do to get them into a more positive state? Try giving them resources and tools that can make their lives better.
Another way to provide value is to offer discounts. (However, don’t call your sale a “COVID-19” sale or instruct consumers to use the term as a promo code – it can be seen as insensitive.) When offering money off your service or product, if possible, Barker recommends making it a large amount of money.
“If you’re in a position to offer a sale significant enough to make it clear that you’re not profiting from the situation, this can be a great thing,” she says. “I’ve seen companies offering free online courses or online fitness memberships at 90% off, which can go a long way to reinforcing the brand’s reputation in the eyes of their customers.”
Of course, it’s important to remember that value extends beyond monetary offers and discounts. Biscuiteers, a UK-based confectionery company, is hosting a weekly web event, sharing recipes and videos on how to bake and ice biscuits. It's a fun resource that families can engage in, and is a great way to create brand awareness. Delivering value to your customers through a tough time can really nurture long-term loyalty.
3. Use a sincere tone of voice
Tone sensitivity – making sure all messages are appropriate right now – is paramount during this time, says Barker.
Instead of acting like it's business-as-usual, be proactive about understanding how the current environment might be affecting your clients. MADE, a UK-based furniture retailer, observed that buying furniture might not be a top priority for its customers. So instead, it simply decided to ask its email subscribers what it could do to help them.
“Make sure to check your automated emails,” Barker recommends. “Many of us have emails that are sent out when someone signs on to a specific mailing list. Those emails may mention things that don’t really work in the current situation. Go back and make sure those messages are better aligned with what readers are likely going through in this moment.”
Without offering forced humour (which can also be off-putting), try to be positive in your messaging, and, as Carroll suggests, drop the so-called ‘tired’ phrases of the time.
“Early on, companies were constantly writing about the ‘uncertain times’ to show empathy, but now those terms are tired and overworked,” she says. “Today, you should be thinking about the emotional state of your customers. What can you do to get them into a more positive state? Try giving them resources and tools that can make their lives better.”