The Best Email Marketing Practices During a Crisis


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Raise your hand if your inbox was recently flooded with emails from brands you hadn’t heard from in years. You’re not alone. We’ve been inundated with a bunch of emails from everyone we’ve ever dealt with over the years, which is annoying. We’ve complained about it on social media, yet brands continue to send out emails.

Brand promotion during a public health crisis might not seem like a great idea right now, but email marketing is still the best way to get your brand and message in front of your audience. You’ve got to walk a fine line between being helpful and crossing the line into tone-deaf messaging.

How can you do email marketing the right way during a crisis, so you don’t damage your brand, maintain a relationship with your audience, and avoid getting blackballed by your email marketing provider? 

Let’s take a look at some of the best email marketing practices you can follow during a crisis (though, to be honest, you can use them any time too.)

What Not to Do

While we understand the need for marketers to communicate with their audience right now, it’s essential to be aware of the impact your emails can have. You can damage your sender and brand reputation, and annoy your audience to the point they complain on Twitter. 

Here’s what not to do with your email marketing during a crisis.

Send Emails Just to Express Solidarity

Just like the dreaded “thanks for unsubscribing” confirmation email, sending a message to tell your customers that you’re “in this together” comes off as insincere. You’re hoping you’ll be remembered fondly for it, but instead, people will think you’re wasting their time with a message that’s not useful in any way.

If your email is important to you, it’s not automatically relevant or vital to your audience. They may have bigger concerns than your “best wishes.”

Send Bulk Emails to Inactive Customers

You might think this is an excellent time to reactivate dormant accounts or clean up your email list, but you’d be wrong. It’s not that cleaning your list is wrong. It’s the timing of it. Your customers have more pressing concerns right now than being reminded they were once on your mailing list. 

Hard-Sell People Through Email

Nobody likes a hard sell. Period. But during a public health crisis? Forget about it. Again, because people’s minds are elsewhere right now, they’re not going to appreciate seeing all those sales-specific words, like “free,” “guaranteed,” or “highest quality.” Nor will they appreciate the over-the-top persuasive marketing techniques you might use in a marketing funnel or tripwire campaign. You’ll end up pushing people away instead of pulling them in, so don’t bother. 

Be Over-The-Top Positive In Your Emails

You’ll also want to avoid being overly positive in your emails. Life is pretty hard during a crisis, and you don’t know what each person is facing in their daily lives. So writing platitudes about it while people face serious adversity can seem ghoulish and tone-deaf.

Send Email to Your Entire List

You might be tempted to send more email than usual because you know people’s regular routines are disrupted. You may need to find a better time for them to read your emails. Or you might think that they’ve got more time on their hands, so why not send more emails? 

Wrong again, my fellow marketer. Increasing your email volume can trigger a spam warning with both your email marketing provider and your recipient’s spam filters. Email servers and filters are sensitive to sudden changes in sending volumes and cadences, especially during a crisis when email volumes have risen across the board. 

The Right Way to Do Email Marketing During a Crisis

Now that we’ve covered what not to do with your email marketing during a crisis let’s take a look at how you can do it the “right way.” With a little thought beforehand, you’ll ensure your emails respect your audience’s time and attention, while still maintaining the relationship you have with them. 

Provide Value in Each Email

Your emails should be full of valuable and helpful information at all times, but especially during a crisis. That helps promote a positive impression of your brand to your audience, which they’ll remember in the future. Keep your messages empathetic, concise, and helpful. 

Ask If the Message Is Necessary

Since people are dealing with a lot more during a public health crisis, it’s worth asking yourself if the email message is really necessary right now. Is it critical to your subscribers or an emergency for your brand? It might be if you’re announcing a closure or disruption to crucial services or your business hours. In all other cases, you can probably hold off sending it right now.

Watch Your Tone

To avoid sending out a tone-deaf email message, be sure to check your automated emails. Most brands have ones that go out automatically when people subscribe to certain lists. For example, people who subscribe from your main contact form get one email, while others that enter their info on a landing page get a different one. 

Those emails may mention things that won’t work in the current environment. Go back and scrub or stop those messages to make sure they’re appropriate for right now. Avoid any forced humor, be positive without going over-the-top, and be kind. 

Check Your Email Sending Time

You may have optimized your email schedule for the pre-crisis landscape, but now, things have changed dramatically. You can’t use the same timing that you were using earlier. Email stats are starting to emerge, showing how sending schedules are being completely upended. Statista found that daytime email bandwidth usage in the U.S. has increased over 40% and has remained nearly the same during the evening. Previously, open rates would spike first thing in the day and right before lunchtime, then tail off throughout the afternoon. Now, CampaignMonitor found that it spikes earlier in the day (9 am instead of 10 am) and increases over the afternoon. 

Look for patterns in your most recently sent email campaigns and tweak your future ones for maximum effect.

Segment Ruthlessly

People who interacted with you more than a year or so ago are unlikely to remember who you are and how you collected their email address. Segment your list accordingly and target your list more tightly during a crisis. This way, you’ll send helpful email to those who want to hear from you, sales emails to those who can buy, and not annoy anyone in the process.

Email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with your list, and you may be tempted to reach out even more during a public health crisis. You’ve got to resist that urge. People on your list will appreciate it if you reach out the least amount of times you need to and if you include useful information when you do.

You’ll stay in touch, keep them updated, and not aggravate or annoy them. Something easy to do during a crisis, since people have more on their minds. Done the right way, your emails can still be a viable marketing channel for your brand, increase brand loyalty, and deepen the relationship you have with your list. 

Syed Balkhi
Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site. With over 10 years of experience, he’s the leading WordPress expert in the industry. You can learn more about Syed and his portfolio of companies by following him on his social media networks.


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