With the current COVID-19 pandemic John Walsh and I put together an overview of the most helpful articles on email marketing, automation and messaging in crisis communication.

We hope this helps marketers and business owners:
* Firstly to adapt and get the right communication out
* Make sure you have taken the right steps and didn’t leave out anything important.
* Lastly to get ready for other (communication) emergency situations.

Please ask us everything. All your questions, and we’ll be here to answer them best we can. It will also help others who might have similar questions. For now, the comment section is perfect.

Customers will react differently when faced with a crisis. As a business, how do you let people know you are aware of the challenges and show you care? And those deeply affected can face great trauma. Feelings of anxiety and panic can easily overwhelm. How can communication aid during personal physical and emotional devastation?

7 Things Marketers Need to Be Thinking of During Coronavirus

During a crisis that has an impact on your business, marketers need to rethink their budgets and take an active role in the company response. Komal Helyer, from Pure360 shares her insights for marketers to survive during a crisis.

Internal communication: Make sure your team knows the crisis business plan. Keep employees updated on the changing situation and the impact on customers. Full transparency with your employees is crucial.

Know your audience: Your audience may not be interested in buying products or services right now. Provide relevant, useful information with a sensitive tone and keep your customer segments in mind in ways to keep them engaged.
Back in stock: Customer buying behavior changes. Communicate honestly, let customers know when products are out of stock and come back in stock. Provide an back in stock alert option. Open communication builds trust.
Rely more on your database: Continue to build your list, certainly now. An easy sign-up process and multiple sign up options are in place to turn web visitors into subscribers. Your database is an asset, emphasize list growth to compensate reduced ad spend / conversions.
Be Creative: Business = change. But when crises occur changes need to roll out quicker. This means it’s time to be extra creative in our communication, and our business-model. Creativity and flexibility during a crisis, may lead to a new way of doing business altogether,
Change the subject: Customer fatigue is real. During an emergency is a time to use new subject lines. Stop selling the same products with the same subject line, change it up in a way that is thoughtful and helpful.
Re-think: Pause, take a step back and think like your audience. Rethink your strategy, your segments and short-term activities. Consider older individuals and those who work from home. How can you help them? Adapt as people’s behavior continues to change.

What is crisis communication? And the five phases of crisis communication

Crisis communication is a specific way to communicate and respond to the situation when faced with a disruptive event. When a crisis takes place, quick, proactive, and detailed communication is critical. Without crisis communication best practices, people may react inappropriately or incorrectly, safety could be at stake and rumors can spread.

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication CERC Cycle

Be aware of the five phases of a crisis: pre-crisis, initial, maintenance, resolution and evaluation. Techtarget explains that an organization must communicate during each of those phases and evolve its communication along the way.

Pre-crisis phase includes planning and education.
Initial phasecrisis started and organization reacts.
Maintenance phase updates on crisis and details ongoing risks
Resolution phase crisis has ended communicate recovery and rebuilding
Evaluation phase assess how response went and find improvements

A business should have a crisis communication plan. A crisis communication plan is a framework to handle sending information to those affected by the situation. Because a business’ reputation is at stake when it faces a crisis, it’s important to ease concerns and counter false information.

Examples of COVID-19 emails companies use to Respond to the Coronavirus

examples covid emails
We are sure you can do with some examples of crisis emails. On the fence of what type of email you should send, what the email should say or how it should look?

Email design blog has an article with 8 examples in each type of communication and tips, plus a free template to use: See them here.
Granicus has outreach example for Awareness & Prevention Notifications, New Development Notifications,Dedicated Webpages, Public Meeting & Mass Event Notifications from government institutions: See them here
Really Good Emails, has over 20 COVID-19 email examples that show how companies are responding during this time. With brands, such as Avis, United and REI: See them here.

A 7-step guide to Customer communication in the COVID era

step by step guide covid email

Your company’s tone during a crisis is crucial. Prevent harming your brand reputation while keeping customers informed and up to date. Have a process to check and respond to all forms of communication including, email replies, social media comments, direct messages, article comments. Loren McDonald, Program Director at Acoustic gives 7 steps for helpful communication and recommends creating a FAQ sheet to save time.

Check scheduled and automated messages: Assess all approved messages that are planned to send. Check the content isn’t tone-deaf. Keep on the side of caution and pause triggered emails that are inappropriate. In other cases, makes minor edits before sending.
What and when to send: As policies change over time, provide updates, such as closed locations, changes in operation hours, online delivery options and refund policies. Ask yourself how communication will address the concerns of customers.
Who to communicate to:: Decide who should receive the message. The answer is likely not everyone in your database. Imagine if your subscribers expect to hear from your company. If not, a better choice is to include information on your website or social channels.No matter where announcements are made, make sure your customers have accurate information based on where they live or work.
Right channels: Don’t rely on the most convenient channels to communicate, but pick from all available channels. Some channels to consider: website, blog, mobile, account managers, webinars, social media, sign in-store, in-app/in-software, and call centers.
Who the message comes from: Most critical messages come from the president or CEO, but that is not always best. If you are a B2B company the message may need to come from an account manager or regional manager. As a B2C company, a message may be more appropriate from customer service or a regional executive.
Correct tone: Avoid messages that show anger or frustration. Do not write in a way that will confuse your customers, instead show empathy. Find a balance between sensitivity and sales; take an approach of “We’re here to help you, not sell to you.”
Listen: It may be common to have “Dontreply@” as the “from” name and your response team is very busy, but make listening a priority. Assign a person and start a process to reply to all questions from all channels, including, emails, social media, website, calls, and direct messages.

Loren McDonald and Norman Guadagno from the Acoustic team gave a great webinar on the subject that you can access here directly.

Beware of Virtue Signaling or Greed in Brand Communications About COVID-19

As the Corona virus spreads, the communication department needs to keep pace. Unfortunately, many messages race to reach people. Like going from Corona denial to COVID-19 FOMO in 5 seconds.
Augie Ray warns brands at the Gartner blog, for virtue signaling and gives examples of how to and how not to use email at this time.

Virtue signaling means your brand speaks about values without actually taking actions on those values.

Watch out for these types of messages. They might be well intentioned, but not as well received:

You are aware of and reacting to the pandemic — everyone is.
Your brand is keeping employees safe — that should be business as usual.
Your brand strives to continue operations uninterrupted — it would be real news if you weren’t!

Make sure to avoid seeming to take advantage of the situation for more business, or even a desperate tone to save business. 4 ways to keep your message Clear, Contributing, and Customer-centric.

Be different and make your message unique, not the same as everyone else.
Let them know something unexpected
Start the subject line and first paragraph with What’s In It For Them
Ask yourself – is this message what your customers need right now?

Should you send that COVID Email?

email crisis communication
Megan Reed, shared this quick mock-up for “Should you send that COVID Comm” in the Women of Email community. A lot of these questions came up and the group stepped up and answered with general best practice.

Before you add to your email stack, consider the implications your email could have on your audience:

Do I have an ongoing relationship with this userbase?
Can I segment this audience?
Do I need to say this now? Is it time sensitive?
Does this impact how customers are using your product?
Are people looking to you as a leader in this space?
Is there a risk in sending this?

See the full version with more detail and say thanks to Megan here on Linkedin.

Benchmark Assessment: COVID-19 Email Activity and Engagement (18 march)

Sparkpost published a benchmark based on subject line keywords, and tracked related message volume growing enormously. Weekly volume went up more than 10-fold in three weeks. The emails tracked through their platform from about 3,600 campaigns mid-Feb to more than 40,000.

How well are Corona email read?

The average read rate (their tracking method for email opens) in emails with Covid-19 theme was almost 24%; This is strong email engagement compared to other times and themes.

benchmark volume crisis email

Highest read rates in sectors: Transportation-Airlines (35.1%), Transportation-Cruises (34.8%) and Food Delivery and Meal Kits (31.6%).
Strong read rates in campaigns from Museums and Galleries (28.6%), Insurance (27.9%), Personal Care and Hygiene (25.9%), Financial Institutions (25.8%), and Performing Arts (25.6%).
Lowest read rates in the Credit Cards sector (11.4%), and to the Social Networking sector (15.3%). Surprisingly low read rates in with Drugs and Vaccines (17.4%) and Health and Wellness (17.7%).

open rates covid emails benchmark

Why No One is Reading Your Coronavirus Emails

Emails should be easy to read and understand. Anxiety about the pandemic doesn’t help. Todd Rogers notes at the CNN blog. The behavioral scientist at EveryDay Labs, provides 5 tips to make your emails easier to read and understand.

Write clearly and test the reading level. Use this free tool to test the level of your writing.

Use few words. Short messages have a better chance of being read.

Write in a large enough font. This helps individuals who cannot read small text.

Remove borders and unnecessary images. They are a distraction from the message.

Provide clear structure to help people skim the email. Use headlines, subheadings and bullet points.

Remember, people have limited attention and time as people race from one task to another.

The COVID-19 Playbook: What Not To Put In Emails

Don’t rely on the obvious. Life changes by the minute in times of crisis and what you normally do or how you usually create emails will need to adapt.

One of the most common mistakes is using either “coronavirus” or COVID-19 in email subject lines. Jay Schwedelson of Worldata tells marketers to refrain from using the words “coronavirus,” COVID-19,” “pandemic,” or “virus” in promotional emails. According to him, if you do, the email may well be marked as spam .

Subject lines that included words such as, urgent, rush or hurry, now have a negative association, instead words like, free, home and delivery are receiving more opens.

People are checking their inboxes and open rates are increasing, but what worked two weeks ago no longer works. This goes for B2C and B2B emails. Part of the people are looking for a distraction and are turning to their inboxes.

Email crisis communications: How to adjust your marketing amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

example email template crisis email
At times an email marketer will need to do an abrupt about-face, switching from light hearted spring sale emails to full on email crisis communications. Hailey Hudson from Email Design Blog gives 8 examples and email types for those struggling to get started with email marketing in a crisis to help connect with your customers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic or during any future state of emergency.

1. Express empathy and address concerns
A little empathy can go a long way during a stressful time. Acknowledge their feelings and possibly fears and concerns. Aim for a tone of solidarity. One method is to share your personal, own story.

2. Be calmly optimistic
Keep a calm tone of voice and provide hope. Worst thing to do is turn empathy with fears into an increase of panic. Some brands will acknowledge the crisis and explain how they react within their own brand context. For instance to truly connect with customers (that is, from a safe distance).

3. Provide practical updates
Give your customers useful info. A quick update on the crisis and the impact on your relationship. Is it business as usual, or are there changes? For example adjusted hours or other level of service? Practical updates provide a sense of stability. When situations change, a further update throughout the crisis keeps your customers in the know. This can even be in the form of a video update.

4. Share safety precautions
5. Educate and inform
6. Don’t capitalize on tragedy
7. Use simple subject lines
8. Take people’s’ minds off the stress
Look here for the full article

How to Communicate With Customers During Times of Crisis

Businesses need to have a crisis communication plan in place. A local emergency, or a global issue like COVID-19. It will go beyond small changes in marketing emails. The plan should include customer service teams, your site, social and more customer-facing channels. Heidi Robbins from SalesForce gives five tips for your cross-functional “Go Team” of inhouse experts to provide next-steps to your customers.

1. Be proactive in your communications.
Don’t leave customers to search for the information they need – instead, deliver it before they ask. You can prevent your staff losing their time, answering the same questions over and over again.

2. Offer a shoulder to lean on.
Show your humanity with a real and sensitive response. Add associated “deeds not just words”. For example giving people access to resources or offer services that can be particularly helpful.

3. Audit your content queue.
Review all the messages in your stream. Including promotional, event driven, transactional email, push notifications, and SMS. The goal is to find those communications to pause or need to be changed as a result of the situation. There is a risk of brand damage with each message that comes off as incorrect, insensitive, or seeking to capitalize on a tragedy.

The article goes on, and tells the “Go Team” to show they care in their communication and inspire the audience.

FAQ on email marketing during the Corona virus

Please ask us anything in the comments here on email marketing during the Corona virus, or any type of Crisis communication and we will do our best to answer any of them & list the questions here, later on.


This overview was compiled and written by:
John Walsh is Email Marketing Manager at Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Jordie van Rijn is an Independent email marketing and eCRM consultant.

The Complete Overview to Crisis Email Marketing and the Coronavirus

Read more: emailmonday.com