To keep connected with consumers during lockdown, 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 to 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 Sydney, Australia-based Bidinis Bags, who has decided to halt her company’s email marketing efforts for the moment.
With a little rigor, you can help ensure your emails respect your customers' time and attention—and their inboxes. Distinguish your messages from COVID-19 opportunism with purpose, personalization and by applying an appropriate tone.
1. Personalize your messages as much as possible.
Message customization 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.”
Bidini agrees, adding that crafting a headline and body message that is relevant to a specific person is always best, including during this crisis.
“Try segmenting your email list into different avatars,” she 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 personalization.”
2. Provide value.
Mountaineer Brand, a West Virginia-based men’s grooming company that provides items from soap to lip gloss to deodorant, is considered an essential business during these times and, as such, founder Eric Young is sending out around two to three email messages per week. One is always focused on products, although not a hard sell, while the other is focused on education.
“We aren’t just selling; we are highlighting helpful blog posts and following our mission statement to educate people on grooming,” he says.
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.
—Emily Carroll, marketing coordinator, Drive Research
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 percent off, which can go a long way to reinforcing the brand’s reputation in the eyes of their customers.”
3. Prioritize tone sensitivity.
On April 16, National Stress Awareness Day, Young and his team at Mountaineer Brand sent out an email with the subject line, “Let Mountaineer Brand Help You Manage Stress At Home.” The contents of the email touched lightly on the crisis, but then offered advice on the importance of using creativity, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly as ways to fight stress. The message also included links to the brand’s products, but the products weren’t central.
“Our messaging is sensitive to the current world we’re living in,” says Young. “We are very in tune with our audience and feel the importance, now more than ever, for our emails to reflect the authentic voice of our brand.”
Tone sensitivity—making sure all messages are appropriate right now—is paramount during this time, says Barker.
“Make sure to check your automated emails,” she 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 humor (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.”
Photo: Getty Images