The COVID-19 crisis currently unfolding is affecting everyone in some form, but certain industries and local businesses will carry a heavier burden in terms of customer communications. Besides the airline and travel industry, many local businesses are sending out their own COVID-19 email updates as residents second-guess whether or not they should go to the gym, continue with their facials they booked a month ago, or even stop by their local coffee shop or brewery.
Some companies have dedicated teams and vendors who prepare year-round for crisis communications in situations just like this. But many smaller businesses and brands do not. Our recent Email Benchmark and Engagement Study revealed that, on average, people subscribe to and receive email from around 50 brands and businesses. This week, I would wager that many of those businesses have sent emails, or are planning on sending emails, on what steps they are taking to reduce the risk of COVID-19.
This post provides some best practice tips if you want to send your own COVID-19 email update and are looking for some guidance.
First, do you need to send a COVID-19 email?
Just because you are seeing all of these COVID-19 emails pop up in your inbox doesn’t mean that you must send your own. In no way should you be sending emails about COVID-19 just to “capitalize” on the frenzy. Only send these emails if you have a legitimate business need to do so.
Some use cases that would necessitate extra crisis communication include:
- Company event updates or cancellations
- Information on how to access the services of a company remotely
- Updates from businesses with high foot-traffic where individuals may come into close contact with each other
Please note: This is not an exhaustive list of when you need to send a COVID-19 email, but hopefully, this helps you decide what the next steps should be for your business. If you’d like to talk to an email expert, contact us.
Sender and subject line: be clear about what’s inside
Now is not the time to play around with changing your sender name. We recommend that senders avoid using personal names because it may confuse the recipient. They might not recognize the sender and glaze over the email. In situations like this, clarity is the number one priority and being consistent will help you achieve a clear message.
We recommend providing clear, succinct subject lines. In promotional emails, putting an intriguing spin can be an effective way to entice recipients to open your emails. But, for the COVID-19 email, keep to simple subject lines such as “Our Response to COVID-19.” If your recipient uses or visits your business, they will likely want to know more and open this email.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Adjust your brand voice and tone
Maybe your brand voice is typically super cheeky and free-spirited. Now would be a good time to adjust the tone and focus on the facts and developments within your control. But don’t over-correct so much and write in such a solemn or dire tone that you increase the recipient’s stress.
When writing the body copy of your COVID-19 email, connect with your recipient by acknowledging their anxiety, but keep a calm, objective tone throughout the email.
Your reader will understand the shift given the situation, and your brand will actually seem much more human.
Focus on action
Your recipients are going to be most interested in the actions you are taking to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19. Consider providing those actions in a bulleted list so the reader can efficiently skim through your measures. Have you hired additional cleaners to deep clean your gym every week? This is what your recipient wants to know.
Consider sectioning out your email into what you as a business are doing and what your customers can do to help. A Precious Child is a non-profit organization in the Denver Metro that provides gently used clothing and supplies for qualifying families.
During any sort of crisis, there is typically a sea of opinions and voices out there on news outlets, Twitter accounts, and more. Don’t use your COVID-19 email as an opportunity to add to that noise.
Avoid taking an editorial stance on a crisis unless you work for an agency that is dedicated to doing so.
Your recipients will sniff that out, and there is a good chance they may disagree with your views. As a result, you only risk your brand reputation once the crisis is over.
Focus on the facts you have, and what actions you are taking because of those facts.
Be ready to adapt
As with any rapidly-changing situation, today’s developments can quickly become outdated. Be ready to respond to any other COVID-19 developments or updates so you can keep your employees and customers safe and healthy.
Hopefully, these tips will help you as you navigate the COVID-19 developments and provide effective email communications during this time. For the most accurate and up to date information on the spread of COVID-19, refer to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Dashboard.