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Coronavirus Made Every Brand Dust Off Their Email List

Here we take a look at how Coronavirus ushered in a new era of email marketing, and what you can do right now to dust off that list and reach your audience.

10 mins read time
Wendi Williams
Wendi Williams

Jul 28, 2020

For a while now (what feels like eons), email campaigns have been viewed as the dinosaur of the marketing world. Email lists, relics of this bygone era, frequently get buried in favor of developing digital technology. But with the onset of COVID-19, brands began digging up these fossils, reaching for familiar, trusted ways to reach their audience during meteoric levels of uncertainty and instability. 

We don't need to tell you that email marketing is still a valid tool (or maybe we do). But what you do need to hear is this important truth: you don’t need to wait for a pandemic to unearth your email lists and put them into regular rotation in your media mix. Here, we take a look at how Coronavirus ushered in a new era of email marketing, and what you can do right now to dust off that list and bring it into the light.

How COVID-19 Brought Email Marketing Back From the Brink of Extinction

It started with disaster response and crisis management... Service updates were followed by offers of free curbside pickup, messages of hope and encouragement, and eventually, plans for reopening. Brands big and small turned to email marketing to maintain contact with their customer bases at a time of interpersonal and in-person disconnect. Hubspot reports that during Q2 of 2020, email send rates peaked at a 36% increase over the beginning of the year. Open rates increased as well, reaching 22% above benchmark in mid-March and then stabilizing around 15%. The uptick in both volume and read rates make Q2 a perfect case study in effective (and not-so-effective) email marketing strategy. Here are some of the wins and misses businesses made during the pandemic:

WIN: Immediacy. Rather than maintaining radio silence until a better picture of the impact of the pandemic could emerge, many brands found success in making an early connection with their email list, establishing empathy and unity in the face of an uncertain time.

MISS: Oversaturation. When it became clear that more and more marketing emails were being opened, brands were quick to jump on the bandwagon. But, no matter how carefully crafted, personal and meaningful their messaging, they came on too strong, filling inboxes with constant updates, leading to buyer burnout.

WIN: Empathy and Compassion. “We’re all in this together,” became a mantra for many brands and organizations throughout the pandemic, and while the words felt trite at times, the sentiment was genuine. COVID-19 has exposed many inequalities in our society, but it has also leveled the playing field in a number of ways. With the entire nation facing economic, educational, physical and mental uncertainty, the disease became a unifying force. Brands who were in tune with their customers’ needs, wants and fears were able to tailor messaging that showed compassion and sensitivity. And it’s a strategy brands can continue to learn from, according to our First Page Email Expert, Andrew Page:

“Consider reviewing your existing campaigns/automations to ensure the content and tone is still appropriate given current circumstances. For example, if you're a company that develops Point of Sale software for restaurants is now the appropriate time to be upselling those customers? Maybe not, at least not aggressively.”

MISS: Automated Messaging. Automation is a key tool in any marketer’s stockpile, but in times of great flux, it can also be easily misused. In Q2 of 2020, a common theme among consumers was reports of being bombarded with emails from every brand they’ve ever patronized. Auto-generated emails feel impersonal at the best of times, and when there are far larger issues in the world, receiving an email from the company you bought party supplies from that one time seems tone-deaf and can lead to consumer alienation.

WIN: Actionable Content. Brands who utilized email marketing successfully through the pandemic have a common thread: they provided something of value to recipients. From Page:

“Consider creating emails/content around how your company is uniquely positioned to help customers get through these tough times. For example, Microsoft offered their Teams product free in response to COVID, Intuit Quickbooks created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for their small business customers who were adversely impacted, and Amazon partnered with an online education company to offer free engineering classes to young students.”

How To Continue Email Marketing in a Post-COVID Landscape

We haven’t seen the other side of this pandemic yet, but the time to start planning a sustainable email marketing strategy is now. Globally, email users are predicted to top 4.48 billion users by 2024, so if you think you’ve already seen the glory days of email marketing, think again. In the last few months, brands have been scrambling to create and implement their pandemic response messaging. If that’s your primary focus, you’re not alone. But there are steps you can take right now to begin preparing a long-term plan as we head toward recovery. 

Optimize for Mobile. Nearly half of opened emails are read on a mobile device, so if you haven’t yet created a smartphone-friendly email template, that’s your first order of business. A few tips:

  • Keep subject lines short.

  • Place links in the middle of text so you don’t interfere with scrolling capability.

  • Increase your font size for easy reading on the small screen.

  • Keep CTA buttons easy to tap and above the fold.

Ramp up Personalization. Plugging in a recipient’s name is no longer the most effective way to grab attention and persuade them to open your email. Instead, dig deeper and customize your emails according to recent purchases, demographic information, location and more.

Automate the Smart Way. Nurture email marketing campaigns are a great way to create customer loyalty and keep your brand top of mind. Nurture campaigns (sometimes called drip email campaigns) are comprised of numerous emails sent on a specific schedule that prompt a particular action. With nurture campaigns, the possibilities are endless:

  • Decrease cart abandonment with scheduled reminders (these usually work best in groups of three).

  • Prompt recipients to engage with your customer loyalty program by signing up, tracking and managing their rewards.

  • Upsell or cross-sell your customers on products or upgrades they are more likely to purchase.

  • Manage transactional emails like welcome messages, order confirmation and more.

Create a Lead Magnet. Free stuff is a great motivator, and if what you’re giving away has value to your audience, you’re likely to increase their engagement and click-thru rate. Options for lead magnet freebies are endless, including:

  • E-books

  • White papers

  • B2B tools and templates

  • Coupons and exclusive deals

  • Free trials

Reengage with Wayward Customers. No matter the size of your email list, it’s likely that as many as two-thirds of your recipients are deleting your messages without reading them. Reengagement campaigns seek out these inactive subscribers and give them content and incentives to woo them back into the fold. Reengagement campaigns can include:

  • Audience segmentation to discover why subscribers have tuned out your brand, and what they’re expecting in order to return.

  • Asking inactive subscribers why they’re no longer interested in the content you’re offering through polls, surveys and quizzes.

  • Testing to find out which offers prompt action, and which don’t.

  • Creating a win-back incentive like an exclusive deal or sale to incentivize returning subscribers.

  • Showing them the content they’ve missed while they’ve been gone.

The dinosaurs aren’t coming back, but email marketing is, bigger and better than ever. And while there won’t always be a pandemic to motivate you to dig up your mailing list (thank goodness!), it’s a good reminder that sometimes the tried and true methods of the not-so-ancient past can be just as effective as the hottest new tech. If you’re wondering how to amplify your email marketing strategy right now — and once the days of COVID are behind us — our experts are standing by to provide the email marketing services you need.

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Wendi Williams

After beginning her career in broadcast media, Wendi spent the next decade writing for clients in a variety of industries, including healthcare, business and tech. She’s been writing since she was 8 years old, and more than 30 years later, doesn’t foresee slowing down anytime soon. Her passion is using words to bring brands to life, and telling their stories in unique and engaging ways. She shares a life of wonder, curiosity and exploration with her husband, two children and pet lizard.

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