COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus virus 2019, was recently characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. With more than 150,000 cases now reported worldwide, people are taking precautions across the globe. Travel plans are being canceled, schools and offices are moving to online classes and work, and the sports world is largely shutting down. The NBA suspended its season, and other sports soon followed suit, with the NCAA canceling its annual basketball tournament for the first time since it started in 1939.
Businesses are experiencing change, too. While concerns around the coronavirus are understandably top of mind, organizations still have to communicate with their customers. As people practice social distancing and more frequently work from home, email becomes an even more useful tool.
However, in such a trying time, marketers need to take special considerations with their messaging. Here are five things to remember as you navigate email marketing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Consider Your Word Choices
We all like to think of ourselves as expert wordsmiths, and using that craft is more important now than ever before. Words and phrases that seemed innocuous just a month ago may suddenly seem offensive or cause panic.
People will view things differently during this time. That incredibly moving story you drafted last month that you were planning to publish this week? Double check that it doesn’t contain anything that could be construed as tone-deaf or insensitive.
That goes for automatic email campaigns, too. Check that there aren’t any messages that could have a double meaning or be viewed differently in the midst of a crisis. If you have even the slightest doubt, consider pausing the campaign, particularly if it’s on a more evergreen topic. It can be cumbersome to go through your mailing list, but saving a customer from potential heartbreak and outrage is well worth it.
“Words matter—so choose yours carefully,” writes Kari Hernandez of INK. She encourages companies to review all planned content, whether email, blogs, webinars, social media, or paid campaigns, to ensure messaging is on point.
This can even happen outside of marketing efforts. I recently watched the movie The Farewell, a very good film about a family saying goodbye to a loved one who had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. In one scene, that loved one experiences a coughing fit. It’s a dramatic scene, but I couldn’t help thinking she really should be coughing into the crook of her elbow instead of out into the open.
Limit the All Caps
There’s an argument to be made for never using all caps in email subject lines, as your message can come across as spammy and quickly lose its impact. But when used sparingly and in the right situations, it can be effective.
However, when people are in the midst of a global pandemic is not one of those situations. In the span of a week, I received three emails from a restaurant, all saying the same thing. The subject line began with an alert: “ACTION REQUIRED.”
Normally, seeing an email line like that raises some level of alarm. A bank or credit card may send you that if someone has tried to access your account. Or a medical organization may use that subject line if it’s sharing helpful tips to keep you healthy.
In this case? The rest of the subject line was “DOWNLOAD OUR NEW APP”—you’ll notice it’s also in all caps.
Beyond the potential for app fatigue in the first place, this kind of aggressive messaging just doesn’t have its place when a global pandemic is on everyone’s mind.
Complicating things even further, this company had sent out an email with a statement around the coronavirus. That makes it seem like they’re unaware of their other messaging, which is never a good look.
Consider Pausing the Evergreen Stuff
The above example from the restaurant is almost certainly an evergreen campaign they run whenever customers place an online order. And while local businesses are being hit hard by fears around the coronavirus pandemic, things like downloading an app can wait.
Think about the content you have planned for the next few weeks. If it’s timely, it can still go out, but you may need to readjust your messaging. If it’s more evergreen and would still be relevant during, say, the summer, it might be worth waiting until then to send it.
With people’s attention on their health and safety, your message may just seem like extra noise and get ignored. It’s best to contribute in helpful ways, so put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If your email isn’t providing proper value, pausing it isn’t a bad move.
Be Educational, Not Promotional
One of the worst things a business can do is try to benefit from a global tragedy. COVID-19 is weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, but forcing your products or services into a conversation around it will only come across as disingenuous and slimy.
That doesn’t mean you need to stop all forms of email communication. In fact, if your email marketing focuses on providing value for your customers, you’re already on the right track. Rather than pushing a product to make money for your business, share advice or resources that can help your customers—and by extension, their friends and family.
By shifting your mindset, you can provide comfort for your email subscribers. In a time like this, that’s far more rewarding than trying to force a conversation for the sake of a sale.
Remember, We’re All in This Together
Everybody is experiencing this in real-time. Sure, medical officials and scientists may have access to more information than a high school student, but it’s an unprecedented period for everyone. We’re seeing precautions taken in the form of social distancing, improved hygiene habits, school and office closures, and event cancellations and postponements.
However, everything is still so fluid. Though preparing for extended quarantines is top of mind for a lot of people, we’re constantly learning new things and adjusting on the fly. Just as things have changed quite a bit over the past month, we could see a lot of new developments by the time April comes around.
So here’s a simple reminder to keep the well-being of other people in mind. Whoever you’re communicating with is likely having the same thoughts and feelings you are. Unease, nervousness, uncertainty about what lies ahead—no matter where in the world, there are people feeling this way.
As Stacey Higginbotham, founder of Stacey on IoT, put it: “With the COVID-19 epidemic, it feels like a good time to try to connect as people and acknowledge that for many of us, this an unprecedented time to be alive and working. So, as one human talking to other humans, please try to be the best version of yourself that you can.”
That’s a great message anytime, but especially poignant during a global pandemic. Let’s all keep being our best selves.
Image by Gerd Altmann