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Coronavirus email marketing tips: How to communicate during the COVID-19 crisis

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Nearly every business has needed to reevaluate its marketing practices in the wake of COVID-19. Optics aside, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted campaigns, stalled sales and forced businesses to reconsider how to communicate with customers. That doesn’t mean all marketing should stop, however; in fact, email marketing remains one of the best channels to maintain communications. The following details why businesses should continue to email customers, what types of emails they should send and email marketing tips that will compel – not repel – customers during the coronavirus crisis.

The case for email marketing during the COVID-19 crisis

There are multiple reasons to engage in email marketing during the coronavirus pandemic, including:

Email caters to quarantines and social distancing

Outdoor advertising, many forms of print marketing and face-to-face meetings are ineffective or impossible during quarantine and social distancing mandates, but email marketing can reach customers at home and on their terms. Whether via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, many people check their emails every day, providing an excellent opportunity for brand communication.

Email makes it easy to tailor messages

It’s difficult and expensive to change an ad campaign at the last minute, but email requires just a few minutes of editing to tailor messages according to the latest news and developments. That grants businesses finite control over communications and allows them to cater to different audience segments with appropriate tone, empathy and calls to action.

Email is affordable

Faced with mandated shutdowns and straggling sales, many businesses have had to tighten the purse strings to survive the economic slowdown. Email remains one of the most cost-effective tools in any business’ marketing arsenal, boasting a median ROI of 122%. Emails cost next to nothing to create and send, especially when compared to online advertising, media buys and print marketing. Thus, email empowers businesses to continue marketing without budgetary restraints.

Email works

While competitors scramble to “discover” some new way to effectively market during the crisis, businesses would be wise to avoid overlooking tried-and-true strategies such as email marketing. For example, the average email open rate ranges between 20 to 30% and the average conversion rate is 3 to 6%, depending on the industry. In short, email marketing works, so it’s an ideal way to communicate with customers during the crisis.

Types of emails to send during the COVID-19 crisis

Companies should only send emails to those subscribers from whom they have permission. Even during a pandemic, companies must be aware that almost every communication could be considered marketing. Companies should also be careful to avoid aggressively marketing during the pandemic. Rather, they should focus on crafting useful content customers will appreciate. Here are some ideas.

COVID-19 response emails

Many companies have already sent these emails, which detail how they are responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Coronavirus response emails include information such as:

  • Precautions the company is taking to ensure customer safety
  • Business location closings and updated hours
  • Revised policies due to the coronavirus
  • Delays in shipping and service, and what customers can expect
  • Alternative ways to continue businesses, such as online shopping and order pickup
  • Waived fees and payment due date extensions
  • Updated delivery schedules, if applicable
  • How customers can get support, including email, phone, social media and live chat support

Value-added tips and tricks

Businesses can send emails that offer helpful information that helps customers solve problems, enhance their lives, cope with the crisis and even entertain themselves while quarantined. Ideas include:

  • How-to instructions
  • Tips for hobbyists
  • Family activities to enjoy at home
  • Solutions to common problems, especially those caused by the coronavirus
  • Lifehacks
  • Resource lists, such as places individuals can find food or financial support during troubling times

News response

The news cycle is inundated with daily coronavirus updates. Businesses can send emails that:

  • Detail how new developments impact their audience
  • Offer advice for how people should respond to the latest updates
  • Provide links and resources where people can get accurate news and find additional information

Customer spotlights and inspirational stories

Companies can reach out to customers via email to find out how they’re coping with quarantine and what they’re doing to help the cause. They can then send emails that:

  • Showcase unique customer activities, such as fun games they’ve developed or how they’re maximizing family time during the pandemic
  • Recognize customers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help others in need
  • Inspire others to find the silver lining in the crisis and identify opportunities to enhance their lives

Brand and employee spotlights

Similarly, companies can send emails that detail what they and their employees are doing to provide relief during the coronavirus. For example, a company could send an email that:

  • Recognizes employees who are volunteering for food banks and other relief efforts
  • Discusses measures the brand has taken to help, including donations to coronavirus-related charities and how those organizations contribute to the cause
  • Lists what local associations they’re involved with are doing to help; for instance, the local Chamber of Commerce
woman reading email on phone

How to get and give help

Many people are seeking help with food, bills and healthcare during uncertain times. Others are seeking ways to help. Businesses can send emails that:

  • List local resources for finding assistance
  • List different ways people can assist with the relief effort from home
  • List coronavirus related charities and links to donation and other support pages (not all donations are monetary; for example, blood and plasma donations are needed to maintain emergency reserves)

Relevant deals and special offers

Though companies shouldn’t use email to aggressively market during the pandemic, they can use it to deliver special offers on relevant deals. Many people are stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean their lives are on hold. They still want to buy the products and services they need, and discount offers are more than welcome right now. For example:

  • Discounts and waived fees for food delivery
  • Buy one get one free offers on household essentials and other supplies their audiences need
  • Extra loyalty rewards program points that help customers get more bang for the buck
  • Discount gift cards that can be redeemed at full value now and post-pandemic
  • Free trials and other freebies to join, try or renew memberships and subscriptions

Customer appreciation emails

Businesses can send personalized thank-you emails that express customer appreciation and wish customers well. It’s a good way to stay in touch without being overly promotional, and it can foster trust, confidence and long-term customer loyalty. A good customer appreciation email:

  • Thanks customers for their businesses
  • Expresses empathy, yet lends a positive vibe to inspire hope
  • Offers support and asks customers what the business can do to help
  • Is personalized (personalization can be automated with email marketing platforms)

Automated lead nurturing email campaigns

Savvy companies have automated lead nurturing and drip email campaigns, which begs the question: should these be paused during the crisis? Not necessarily, because customers are likely still subscribing and expect to receive the promised content. However, businesses should:

  • Review and evaluate all emails in lead nurturing series to ensure they add value to customers’ lives (this is a good idea anyway)
  • Revise or augment any messages that could alienate subscribers under the current circumstances
  • Adjust special offers to reflect financial hardships during the pandemic
email notification on laptop

Coronavirus email marketing tips

It’s important for businesses to remain sensitive to customer circumstances. Done right, email can help companies maintain communications and provide a much-needed sales boost, both now and post-pandemic. Done wrong, however, and businesses risk alienating, insulting and upsetting customers. Businesses can follow these tips to stay in customers’ good graces and get the most out of their email marketing.

1. Avoid aggressive marketing

Now is not the time to deliver a strong sales pitch. Businesses should avoid time-limited offers and over-aggressive marketing tactics that could alienate customers and influence unsubscribes. Many people are anxious and worried about the future, so companies should also avoid playing off those fears to land sales. Rather, businesses should work to support customers with helpful emails that foster trust and confidence.

2. Add value to customers’ lives

Every email should put customers first. Businesses should think from their audiences’ perspectives and try to identify their current needs, problems, concerns and desires. That insight can be employed to craft valuable email content customers appreciate, which can endear audiences to brands and inspire long-term loyalty that benefits companies both now and well after the pandemic subsides. Use email to promote people, not businesses.

3. Create descriptive, transparent subject lines

Businesses should avoid deceptive or “clever” subject lines just to increase open rates. People are inundated by emails, many of which add no value and simply annoy them, so companies can differentiate themselves by making their messages clear in their subject lines. In other words, they should let customer decide whether an email is worth their time before they click.

4. Keep emails brief and easy to read

Flooded inboxes make long, complicated emails tedious to sift through. It’s much simpler for subscribers to click “delete” than wade through blocks of text. Email marketers, then, should keep their emails short, sweet and easy to read with multiple headlines, minimal text blocks and easily identifiable links. Simple emails make for pleasant reads and motivate response.

5. Add a call to action

Avoiding aggressive marketing doesn’t mean companies should also avoid placing strategic calls to action in their emails. Rather, CTA buttons and links should direct to meaningful resources that lend value for subscribers. For example, a button that links to a donation page or hyperlinked text that directs to a list of helpful resources is better than a “buy now” button.

6. Segment audiences

Not every email is right for every subscriber. Businesses that cater to multiple customer personas and audience types can segment emails for tailored, more personalized messages. This approach is far better than sending a single email that attempts to reach all audiences at once. For example, an online clothing retailer might send one email that lists indoor family activities (and comfortable clothes to wear while doing them) to quarantined mothers, and a different email that lists outdoor exercise safety tips (and performance wear) to amateur athletes.

7. Adjust the tone

Emails sent during the coronavirus pandemic should have an empathetic tone yet avoid the doom and gloom pervasive in many communications. While companies probably don’t want to load emails with excitement and exclamation points, messages that inspire and offer hope are more likely to resonate with subscribers than those that promote anxiety and fear. Businesses can still foster trust and confidence while recognizing the realities of the pandemic.

8. Stop or revise automated emails

As previously mentioned, it’s a good idea for businesses to evaluate lead nurturing and drip campaigns for tone and content. They should also examine all other automated emails, from subscription sign-up form thank-you’s to abandoned shopping cart emails. Any automated messages that might offend potential customers or could be misconstrued should be stopped or revised to address the current climate.

9. Send emails sparingly

Businesses should not deluge customers with emails, which is a quick way to land in the spam folder. Instead, they should send emails only when they have something helpful and unique to say. The goal is for customers to recognize that a brand’s communications have value so they’re inclined to open, read and trust their email content. That, in turn, can yield huge dividends now and post-pandemic.

10. Analyze and revise

Companies should track email metrics and analyze results to determine how well emails perform. Open rates, clicks and conversions lend insight into which types of emails subscribers appreciate and which they do not want to receive. That, in turn, can inform the direction businesses should take moving forward. Consistent tracking, analysis and revisions improve results over time and ultimately help businesses deliver exactly what customers want from their email marketing efforts.

Businesses and their customers are facing an unprecedented crisis, but that doesn’t mean communications should cease. A strategic email marketing strategy that puts customers first, caters to their needs and adds value to their lives is a powerful way to inspire confidence, foster trust and influence long-term loyalty. Companies that keep these tenets in mind are well-positioned to maintain success through the coronavirus crisis.

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