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Sensitivity in Email Marketing During a Global Crisis

The world is in a collective state of crisis right now with coronavirus (COVID-19). During a pandemic that impacts literally every single person in the world, the role of marketers has shifted. What is the best approach to email marketing during this difficult time? Should you send emails about COVID-19? Should you pause all your messaging? It's tricky to find the right balance. We're laying out some of our thoughts on how to proceed as you move forward with your email marketing program.

Should You Send a COVID-19 Email?

This is the time for every brand to be ultra-sensitive to what is going on. Only send an email about COVID-19 if it is relevant for your brand and customers. The cardinal rule of email marketing is that every email should have a purpose and provide value to readers. If COVID-19 doesn’t relate to your customer experience, don’t send one just to send one. Instead, go straight to connecting with them on a human level and acknowledge the microbial elephant in the room. We’re all staying home and navigating new territory together, brands and customers alike.

Adapt Your Messaging

Now is not a good time to try and stay business as usual. Day-to-day lives are anything but that—it’s ok to reflect that in messaging. You don’t have to promise enhanced cleaning protocols to combat COVID-19. That’s not necessarily what subscribers are looking for. They might, however, appreciate a thoughtful, “we know things are hard and weird and confusing and scary right now, but we’re still here and we’re ready to help you through this in the best way we can.” Don’t reinvent the wheel, just be genuine. Be human. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you map out a quarantine-friendly email strategy:
  1. People are scared, stressed, and stuck at home while they face a whole slew of challenges. There isn't an end date yet in sight.
  2. It’s okay to acknowledge what people are going through. Pretending nothing has changed can come across as tone-deaf.
  3. The economy is not great, and brands are not the only ones feeling it. People are losing their jobs altogether, which means spending power is down.

Be Sensitive to the Economic Impact

It’s just flat out not a great time to try and sell something that is not genuinely helpful to people. Will your product add efficiency to their day? Will your offering teach them a useful hack that will make any of this easier? Can you entertain their kid for half an hour so they can join a meeting or take a shower? Will it take the edge off? Look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is the instinctual logic of how humans prioritize things in life. Hierarchy of Needs Source: Each need must be fulfilled before a person can consider the next one. If basic needs aren’t met, nothing higher up the rungs will be given a thought until physiological then safety needs are taken care of. Right now, customers’ basic needs either are not being met, or they’re fearful they soon won’t be. People are starting to worry about how to pay rent, if the grocery stores will have toilet paper back in stock soon, and how to balance entertaining young kids while adjusting to working from home. How can you shift your message so you can help fulfill those basic needs? Compassion yields ROI. Plus, it’s just the human thing to do. When a brand goes the extra mile to show customers they are human too, it goes a long way to build trust and affinity with your audience. People will remember that. If you’re not sure your email strikes that cord in these turbulent times, reconsider sending it.

Be in Service

There are plenty of brands that are perfectly positioned to help during this crisis. This is a prime opportunity for them to step up and be leaders in the community. If you’re an agency that works with businesses, use this time to offer services that will help them adapt their strategy and marketing to these new times, or will help their team overcome communication issues as they navigate working from home. Every brand has a niche. Get creative and find a new angle for how your brand can be in service to your customers. Taking a people-first approach to marketing is the best thing to do right now. It will be noticed, and it will be appreciated. We are all human and it’s okay for brands to act like it. Check out the awesome guide that Megan Reed built to help email marketers figure out if/what they need to email subscribers around COVID-19: should you send an email?

When in Doubt, Play it Safe

As Darwin said, "it’s not the strongest that survive, but those that are most adaptable to change". If quarantine is the new normal for the foreseeable future, it’s not only okay but absolutely necessary to adapt your email strategy and messaging to be sensitive to that. How else can we be sensitive while keeping business trending up? We’re all learning here, and this is uncharted territory for everyone. If you’ve found any guidance or other tips that can be useful to your fellow marketers, please share them in the comments!  
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