Author: Jason Sisley
Founder / EVP of Strategy, Inte Q

Unemployment rates are coming back to earth, retail is showing signs of life and people everywhere are ready to enjoy what’s left of their summer. We’re seeing all of these encouraging signs of getting back to how things used to be, but are we truly nearing the return of “business as usual”? Only time will tell, and as smart marketers it’s in our best interest to not just pay attention to the signs but to also start putting in some groundwork now to be ahead of the curve. So, what exactly does that mean for email? Here are some tips we recommend:

  • If you haven’t started thinking about how to communicate your brand equity as things get back to normal, start now.
  • Be thoughtful with your communications and pay attention to what your competitors are doing
  • Don’t make big, broad changes to creative, content, volume, frequency. Make small changes over time and continue to increment as testing dictates.
  • Keep an eye on your signals:
    • Keep a close eye on deliverability and how ISPs are responding
    • How is your messaging resonating with your best customers and your less active customers?
    • Who should you ultimately be emailing?
    • It’s hard to argue if your email marketing goals and success metrics are focused on retention but ignore acquisition at your own peril!
    • As always, measure your results & learn for future communications.

When we all first started to understand what we were truly dealing with due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, it was an easy call to start laying low and not sending out messages that could be misconstrued as tone deaf. At the beginning of March, we saw that 11.7% of retailers analyzed used coronavirus or COVID-19 in their email subject lines*. The point we made to our clients is that it wasn’t about whether or not they used coronavirus-related language in their messages, it was about whether or not their customers expected them to talk about the pandemic in a way that was relevant. And that point is still true today as things are starting to shift – your brand more than likely should have a point-of-view on how to responsibly return back to normal. As you’re layering that point-of-view into your email messaging, keep a watchful eye on how users are engaging (or not) and build out your testing accordingly. Remember that a disciplined, data-driven approach is what got you here, and it’ll help get you through these troubled times as well.

Email Deliverability During Times of Crisis

Email deliverability becomes increasingly important as you ramp your email volume back up. As a refresher, your deliverability is the measurement of overall program reputation – your ability to maintain high inbox rates and take preventive action based on signals from the ISPs. It’s always been a major issue for brands, due to a high rate of fraudulent emails, and the ISPs simply are taking precautions to protect their customers. The onus is squarely on the brands to make certain that their messages deserve to be delivered to the inbox; meaning that if users are engaged, messages will be delivered at higher rates. We’ve already started to see higher levels of engagement for our clients, particularly in segments that were always high engagers to begin with. Ramping your volume back up to normal should be done in increments, and always with an eye on engagement, lest you fall into a bad situation with one or more of the ISPs.

Messaging Tone

What about the way we speak to our customers? The tone you’re using is absolutely a factor.

  • What is relevant this week can change the next, and back again. A willingness to adapt, move quickly and grow will help as we get back to normal.
  • Sensitivity is paramount. Be thoughtful about your customers’ needs and be comfortable with addressing them in situations where it makes sense to.
  • Consider a “service over sales” approach to avoid sounding insincere or self-centered.
  • Provide service with ideas, discounts, suspended fees, free shipping or great content. Focus on the things your customers will care about.
  • Examine every message, including promotional, automated and recurring campaigns, for
    • Relevancy
    • Tone
    • Usefulness and
    • Service

In terms of your audience, it’s good to be mindful of how the pandemic has changed the makeup of your best customers. Just about everyone was forced into a different way of engaging content, researching, shopping for goods and actually even existing. Have you seen this with your user base? Do you know what to expect as things open back up?

  • Retail companies rely on customer data to send the right message to the right people at the right time.
  • You may find that active customers with your brand aren’t who they used to be; your users habits have changed!
  • Don’t mark the “used-to-be actives” as inactive. Because they are not interacting with your content today does not mean they are truly inactive.
  • The changing social and economic environment requires us to view active and inactive recipients through a different lens. Becoming inactive may have nothing to do with your brand.

What’s Next?

So here we are! We’re getting closer to having real-time experience of what life will look like for everyone: will schools be open? Will certain states shut back down? How will sporting events impact our collective morale? Regardless of which signals you’re looking to for guidance on when to evolve your email marketing programs, here’s a summary of what I’m recommending for you once the time is right:

  1. Be thoughtful about ramping up your send frequency / weekly volume as thing get back to “normal”.
  2. Know your success measures: Email engagement (open/click), sender reputation, inbox rates, unsubscribe rates, and spam complaints.
  3. Make small changes at a time, whether weekly volume, frequency, or content format.
  4. Listen to your customers and react based on their engagement. Always be relevant.
  5. Consider the tone, relevancy and frequency of your emails (and don’t forget to evaluate your automated and triggered emails)
  6. Be conscious of your most active customers and those that have become less active during this time.

Happy messaging!


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