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?

Experts Talk: Email Marketing in a Time of Corona

email experts in the comfort of their home

Ongage asked email marketing experts what they would do to help you navigate these difficult days. And a picture from them, from home. 😀 Get advice on how to talk to your audience and stay relevant. With questions about content, deliverability, empathy, building relationships via email. Here are just a few of the takeaways, from this amazingly helpful article:

What to Do in Times of Crisis?
Don’t panic. Panic leads to poor decisions says Matthew Verhout from Validity. Use sensitive language and avoid discount codes or promotional sales related to the crisis (for example dont use COVID19 for 19% off). Since you aren’t the expert on natural disasters or pandemics share links to trusted sources. Helpful and accurate information provides people with a reliable source and builds trust with your organization.

Deliverability: A Major Concern
Simon Bressier, Deliverability and Compliance Manager at Mailjet point out the increase of COVID-19 emails and decrease in engagement, that is a deliverability problem. People are more selective in the emails they open related to the coronavirus. Decreased engagement leads to more unsubscribes and spam reports. Email providers will begin to filter these emails into the junk folder.
Some email providers can’t handle the increased traffic of emails, causing delays in delivery. Only send emails if they are valuable to your audience.

No Longer Business as Usual
What is relevant this week can change the next. Karen Talavera, founder of Synchronicity Marketing. A willingness to adapt, move quickly and grow will help during a crisis. Consider a “service over sales” approach. Provide service with ideas, discounts, suspended fees, free shipping or great content. Service should outshine sales for a while.
Examine every message, including promotional, automated and recurring campaigns, for
1) relevancy
2) tone
3) usefulness and
4) service.

Cut or reduce messages while expanding others. Add “recognition language,” acknowledging the crisis and adjusting the tone.

Your friendly neighborhood email marketer
Tim Watson, founder of Zettashpere, reminds marketers to give before you get. Life is difficult for people and buying priorities have changed. Don’t focus on the bottom line but build your brand. Create helpful campaigns that support your community and the healthcare professionals. Continue to run promotions and sell, but stay relevant and add messages that promote kindness.

Empathy in a time of crisis
To show empathy, Jenna Tiffany, founder of Let’s Talk Strategy, recommends you ask yourself a few questions before writing or sending an email. Does your message share real emotions? Does the email sound like you if you were speaking in-person to someone? How would you receive this email if you were in their position? Put yourself in the other person’s situation. Empathy builds relations, loyalty and impacts performance.

Welcome to a new reality and new channels
A surge in internet traffic means more website visitors and increased email engagement. According to Melissa and Haim Pekel from Ongage, you can now provide a different and better customer experience. People can’t visit your store but that doesn’t mean you should stop communicating. They are at home waiting for you to serve them. The possibilities are endless, businesses need to adapt and look to other channels to reach customers.

In a changing world simplify your emails
Now more than ever emails need a human touch. Shmuel Herschberg, Founder of Shyn Media, advises to write simple plain-text based emails to demonstrate that intention. If you brand has a strong spokesperson a simple email adds value and in many cases have seen an increase in engagement. Itl contributes authenticity and directness to the content. Lastly, the plain-text template helps you become a great story-teller; exactly what you and your customers need.

Don’t stand still
Chris Marriott, President of Email Connect says that now is the best time to experiment. If you are a business instead of selling an item in every email try having a conversation. Publish content that promotes a discussion and develops a relationship between sales emails.
If you have extra time because of fewer emails, consider putting together a testing plan or look into technology that will enhance your programs.

Inactives don’t exist (at the moment)
Retail companies rely on customer data to send the right message to the right people at the right time. You may find that active customers with your brand aren’t very active right now, says Matt Wolosz from Xverify. Don’t mark them as inactive. Because they are not interacting with your content does not mean they are truly inactive. The changing social and economic environment requires us to view active and inactive people through a different lens.

Focus on existing customers and word of mouth
People spend more time consuming and forwarding useful online content. Dibya Sahoo, Co-founder of Pepipost, highlights the words “forwarding” and “useful.” Forwarding ignites word of mouth and every brand thrives on word of mouth marketing. Send communications that add value to your customer like tips to remain safe or using your product safely. Stay positive and focus on how you can help customers and build trust.

You can read the full article here.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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,
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

International examples:

  • Dutch: ESP Spotler has 20 email examples of their clients in multiple categories. See them here
  • Dutch: E-village shows inspirational emails from their clients including the challenges and solution for each. See them here

Email Marketing During a Crisis: Lessons and Advice (video)

What is appropriate for an email program at this time? Simms Jenkins and Jessica Ginburg of Brightwave cover the dos and don’ts of communicating during a crisis, and ways to keep your business up and running with email marketing in a smart and savvy way in their on-demand webinar.

Here are some of the highlights:
4:04 – Three ways to use email: 1) as communication, 2) to keep business going and 3) through automation.
5:09 – Human Sounding Emails: Send emails that read like they come from a person. Use clear calls-to-action and simple language.
5:46 – Follow Recommendations: Review the entire email, design, copy and images to make sure they are accurate. No images with people standing next to each other.

6:38 – Stay on brand
8:34 – Send emails that look and feel like humans designed and wrote them, with real people in mind.
9:28 – Don’t push items that you need to sell.
10:09 – Send helpful emails: People are anxious and overwhelmed, more than we may expect. Give thoughtful messages that support them.
11:23 – Changed customer product needs: People are at home and practicing social distancing, so provide products and services that meet that need.
12:31 – Mindful messages: Choose words and images with care. Staycation is not the best term for people who cannot leave their home.
13:36 – Get creative: Find other ways to help. Offer gift certificates to restaurants and online stores, buy tickets for future community events, offer grocery store runs, contribute to food banks, and provide online options for classes.
15:57 – Automated emails: Check all automated programs, including transaction messages, password reminders, order confirmations and triggered emails.
* Welcome series: Add links to welcome emails that point people to your response or FAQ.
* Post purchase: Turn off some or all after purchase emails, depending on your industry.
* Plan to turn campaigns back on: Start your automated emails again once the pandemic is finished. Plan the transition to non-crisis related emails, now.
19:27 – Show empathy: Ask, “What automations are running” and pause them if needed. Rely on team members to help make decisions. Create relevant segments for your emails and promote anything special you are doing. Don’t let the bottom line influence what you do. Continue to send messages with appropriate images.
22:55 – Keep it short and valuable: Keep messages concise and think through all the ways people will interpret it. Finally, provide clear value.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.

Hey, Email Marketers. How’s it going?

In the past few weeks, many companies sent email related to COVID-19. The increase of these emails provides us some data. How are open rates affected? How are companies responding?

A MailCharts survey on 145 email marketers from both B2B and B2C brands asked “How’s it going?” and especially how communication strategy and publishing is shifting during a crisis we are in.

email campaign types

The findings include:

  • 53,9% sent an email specifically about coronavirus
  • 45% are sending less emails and another 45% say frequency has not changed.
  • 37% of marketers have a bigger focus on segmentation during the crisis
  • 85% of email marketers say their open rate has either stay the same or decreased

Research: What We See With Email Rates During COVID-19

MessageGears compares the emails the week before the announced travel ban and after the ban. The research answers the question “Do people interact more with emails more during self-quarantine?” and “Are consumers more likely to unsubscribe?” Nick Ziech-Lopez brings forth surprising results.

email click rate research travel ban corona

What We See With Email Rates During COVID-19:

  • Open rates increased for all industries, meaning people are still engaged and even looking for a distraction.
  • Click rates decreased overall. Brands are focusing their emails on content instead of calls to action.
  • The unsubscribe rate for travel emails increased, but for all other businesses they decreased. In retail and for other companies, subscribers may welcome messages and updates.

email open rate research travel ban corona
Is it still a good time to send emails? Based on these studies the answer is, yes.

Back in Stock Automaton: How Marketers Can Manage Supply and Demand Issues Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak

back in stock automation covid
Businesses face challenges of delivery, uncertain production timelines and new restrictions. And many are likely to have limitations on fulfilling orders or might just run out of products. In this crisis, demand is increasingbeyond disinfectants and cleaning products to include food, baby products, and pet supplies. Alex McPeak, content Strategist at Klaviyo gives tips and teache what you can do now, to create a back in stock email strategy.

  • Minimum inventory rules:Have a set number of items restocked before notifying customers that they are back in stock.
  • Customers notification rules: Determine how many customers get notified when the item is restocked. Contact only a certain number of people at a time.
  • Wait Time: The time between emails. You can send notifications in groups so your inventory does not drop too low.
  • Dynamic Variables: So product pricing is accurate using dynamic event variables in your messages.
  • Alerts on a per-product basis: Based on how many products you have offer customers the option to sign-up for certain item alerts.

Coronavirus Email Comms: Do’s and Don’ts

crisis communication advise
The increase in the number of emails is unbelievable.Companies feel the need to communicate, but if you are going to add your voice to the growing inboxes use good judgement to not harm your brand. Follow these do’s and don’ts from Rebecca Sentance at Econsultancy.

  • Do: Provide specific updates on how normal service is impacted. Reassure customers about precautions to keep people safe. Give specifics.
  • Do: Provide information about online options or alternatives. Most people cannot or do not want to leave their house so help them with a different solution. Now is the time to offer online services if you haven’t started.
  • Do: Adjust your language to the situation. Avoid edgy humor, technical and legal speak. Instead, use a positive and reassuring tone.
  • Do: Direct people to your website. To keep emails simple and easy to understand, place more information on your website. Consider creating a page specifically for updates and FAQs.
  • Don’t: Try to re-engage. Don’t send to people in your database who you have not contacted in years or who are not engaged. Send to individuals who are active with your emails or company.
  • Don’t: Send emails without purpose. If you don’t have an update or information to communicate, stay out of their inbox. Review any new campaigns and decide if they are appropriate in regards to the situation.
  • Don’t: Take the challenges lightly or encourage people to ignore health advice. View customers’ concerns seriously and don’t try to profit from the hardships everyone is facing.

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.

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

A quick Marketer’s Checklist for Navigating COVID-19

navigating covid email marketing exponea
With brands facing the reality of ill-timed or even insensitive messaging, the team at Exponea prepared a quick list of considerations for adjusted marketing strategy and tactics in these weeks.

  • Send an email reassuring your customers
  • Review your shipping related emails
  • Check and double check all automated templates
  • Pause automations that are not adding value in current circumstance
  • Use frequency capping to limit emails to one per day
  • Send a “check in” message to customers who increased their online purchases
  • Start preparing “back-in-stock” campaigns
  • Create geo segments for store visitors
  • Extend return windows
  • Add no-touch delivery to your delivery options

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.

  1. Write clearly and test the reading level. Use this free tool to test the level of your writing.
  2. Use few words. Short messages have a better chance of being read.
  3. Write in a large enough font. This helps individuals who cannot read small text.
  4. Remove borders and unnecessary images. They are a distraction from the message.
  5. 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 the Email Marketing Manager at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a nonprofit organization. He is responsible for creating strategy, segmenting, sending, testing and reporting on all email campaigns. In his time at BGEA, John has increased the ROI during end of year giving. John loves putting things together, so when he is not assembling emails he can be found building Legos with his kids.

Jordie van Rijn is an independent email marketing consultant. Next to helping companies improve their email marketing results he gives email marketing training and is a writer and speaker in the field of online marketing.