How COVID-19 has changed email marketing

Email marketing has always been a cornerstone of digital marketing, but COVID-19 has made it even more valuable to your business. Here’s how you can make the most of it.

Since the spread of COVID-19 in early 2020, email marketing has seen something of a revival of recognition as a key communication channel. ‘Recognition’ is the operative word here – after all, email has always been an essential element of the digital marketing mix.

However, somewhere between the rise of social media and the advent of GDPR, it’s fair to say email took a bit of a hit in accessibility and standing, causing both new and experienced marketeers to lean more towards video, social and influencer marketing.

But come late March and early April, as the COVID-19 pandemic gained pace, no doubt your inbox was bursting with emails from companies suddenly looking to reach out. Phrases such as “in these unprecedented times” and “putting safety first”, info dumps about closures, reduced services and bolstered safety procedures, and ‘special updates’ from big-brand CEOs became regular fixtures.

Although it may have felt tiresome after the first few weeks, the fact is these emails weren’t overlooked. Instead, email open rates have increased a whopping 20% since March, and at the same time, some reports conclude that social media engagement has actually decreased.

The numbers may speak for themselves, but even with that knowledge the question remains about how businesses should be adapting their email marketing strategy to reflect the current climate. It’s an important question too, given that the pandemic is set to hold a grip on all areas of life for the foreseeable future.

Why email marketing is your most dependable channel during a crisis

Nearly a year after the pandemic began, restrictions on ‘normal’ everyday life are still shifting regularly. Sure, the rules of new, local and regional lockdowns aren’t as limiting as they were back in March. But if anything, this makes it more important for businesses to have a solid line of communication to their customers.

This is most obviously the case for B2C businesses based in bricks-and-mortar or that rely on in-person meetings. If a local lockdown or a change of restrictions is announced, you need a dependable, timely way to contact your customers to let them know if your business or service is affected. This should also be the case if your business or service isn’t affected. After all, the potential confusion is real: apparently only half of people in England understand the current local lockdown rules. Don’t let that get in the way of your business’s opportunities.

With changes happening thick and fast, relying on social media or a blog post to announce important updates isn’t going to cut it. Your audiences’ social timelines are busy, fast-moving places and the algorithms behind them aren’t dependable for getting your message seen. Putting an update on your website is a better idea, but even then, it depends on your customer going to look for it.

On the other hand, when sent through an dedicated email marketing platform, email offers a direct, personalised method of staying in touch with your customers. It’s the most reliable way of getting your message out there quickly and making sure it reaches the right people. A well-crafted, timely email will also enable you to get in front of any obstacles that may block your customers turning to you during this time.

Even a simple email campaign offers these benefits. However, making the most of advanced features – such as personalisation, automation and dynamic content – can give your emails an extra edge: not only being timely, but totally relevant too.

Indeed, relevance matters more than ever in marketing, even for B2B audiences. It’s easy to see why email open rates have increased since COVID-19. Many office-based workers are holed up working from home and tied to their inboxes more than ever. In some ways, taking time out to read a relevant, engaging email can fill the breaks (or distractions) afforded by office banter or the traditional office tea break.

Checking emails while working from home due to COVID-19
Need a break while working from home? Check your emails…

Shifting your communication strategy

Email may be one of a business’s strongest channels to connect with customers during the COVID-19 era, but what should businesses actually be marketing at this time?

Unsurprisingly after a 7 months of the same theme, the general appetite for reminders about safety measures, restrictions and “don’t forget your face mask!” has dissipated. On the other hand, concerns about recessions, job losses and the general lay of the land going forward are mounting. All this, colliding just as pre-Christmas marketing campaigns normally launch. Does traditional email marketing even fit in right now?

Simply put, yes. Without falling into the trap of pushing out an endless stream of “we’re still here for you” updates, or equally, going the opposite route and putting your marketing strategy in a COVID-free vacuum, traditional email marketing has its place in our ‘new normal’. However, we’d argue that rather than your marketing being product- or service-lead right now, your business’s values should be placed front and centre.

What do we mean by that? It all comes back to relevance. In between normal product and service based marketing emails, providing your customers with timely, specific updates about how new COVID-19 restrictions, concerns or announcements will – or will not – affect them demonstrates a level of customer care that can help your business rise above the current climate. Accountants should be advising clients how they can access new government financial support schemes, restaurants should be clearly communicating how diners can make advanced bookings, and traditional high-street retailers should be considering extending their online promotions in advance of the all-important Christmas build up.

Even pre-pandemic, email offered one of the most reliable and cost-effective digital marketing platforms in your marketing mix. The COVID-19 era it has proved it to be even more valuable. Regardless of what industry your business operates in, there’s a way to sensitively and carefully use email to engage your audience and customers even during a crisis. At mmunic, we’ve been helping our customers achieve exactly that since the beginning of the pandemic – and we’re ready to help out if you’re not sure where to start.

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