During these trying times, anxieties are high and nobody is quite sure what “the normal is” yet. Brands’ coronavirus emails should reflect that reality. If consumers perceive your message as benignly tone-deaf, your reputation may suffer. In the best-case scenario, they’ll make fun of you on social media. If people perceived you as opportunistic or trying to capitalize on a crisis, you risk much worse fallback down the line.

At this point, you’ve already sent at least one “important update around COVID-19.” Here are five things to consider when sending future coronavirus emails:

Communicate What’s Changed

Every day, more governors and mayors are issuing stay at home orders, making about 90% of Americans housebound. With less foot traffic, many retailers are doubling down on eCommerce and email marketing. According to analytics firm MediaRadar, ad spend from eCommerce sites has doubled between February 17 and March 9.

However, that’s not universal. Other retailers — including Patagonia, Victoria’s Secret and T.J. Maxx — have temporarily suspended eCommerce operations in response to the pandemic. No brand is operating “business as usual” during these uncertain times; be sure to communicate what your customers can expect.

For Thrive Market customers, that means slower than usual shipping times given the company’s surging order volume. Letting members know there won’t be surge pricing, Thrive Market was also careful to communicate what hasn’t changed.

Consider the Approach

Over the last few weeks, seemingly every retailer sent coronavirus emails. Many of them were similar dense blocks of text from the CEO or “the team.” As you continue to communicate with customers, remember they’re being inundated with these messages. Keep it concise, skimmable and real. Regarding the actual content, Gartner suggests asking yourself these four questions:

  • Am I telling customers something different from other brands versus saying the same thing as everyone else?
  • Am I telling customers something they don’t already expect of my company or brand?
  • Is the takeaway for customers conspicuous in the subject line and opening paragraph?
  • And, most importantly, is the takeaway attuned to customer needs right now?

This email from Redbubble is a great example of the latter. Understanding that many people aren’t looking to shop at the moment, Redbubble gave customers the ability to temporarily opt-out of receiving its promotional emails. 

Assess What’s Automated

Think about your scheduled campaigns. Do all of them still make sense, given the current state of the world?

Consider this St. Patrick’s Day email from Groupon, which went out five days after the World Health Organization upgraded the coronavirus to pandemic status. By this point, local events and festivals had already been canceled.

Similarly, if you had promotions planned, do they reflect consumers’ current buying patterns? With nowhere to go, most Nordstrom shoppers probably aren’t buying party dresses or heels. Instead, the retailer is sending #OOTD emails focused on WFH wear.

Share How You’re Helping

Don’t just send coronavirus emails for the sake of it. However, if you are doing something to help, people want to hear about it. Surveying 1,000 consumers last week, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) found that 56% are happy to hear how brands are helping out communities in response to the coronavirus pandemic, whether it’s donating money or products, or how they’re taking care of employees.

For example, Kenneth Cole is donating 20% of the net sales on its website to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. The retailer lets its subscribers know with subject lines like “Make a purchase, make an impact.”

For Reformation’s part, the sustainable fashion brand has partnered with the city of Los Angeles to make masks in its factory.

Prioritize Personalization

We already knew personalization is a must for email marketers. Including a customer’s first name in an email subject line is the lowest-hanging fruit of personalization, as simple as pasting {{first_name}}. And yet, that field insertion can increase open rates upwards of 18%.

We were already sending and receiving more emails than ever and personalization helps messages stand out. Email was the most effective marketing channel even before the days of social distancing. As retailers increasingly rely on digital channels amid COVID-19, inboxes will invariably be even more full than usual, making personalization more crucial.

Looking for more? Download our guide, Business Not As Usual: 14 Email Marketing Tactics to Test Now.