Dos and Don’ts of COVID-Related Communications With Your Customers
Karen Lee and Jane Haffer
Mar 20, 2020
The global outbreak of COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis for both brands and consumers. As people practice social distancing, they will be more reliant on digital modes of communication, including email, a still much-preferred mode for almost two-thirds of marketers. In this time of panic and anxiety, consumers will also have greater expectations from brands to offer security and guidance.
In using email as a channel to let customers know what your brand is doing about COVID-19, make sure your brand asks these four questions:
Am I telling customers something different from other brands versus saying the same thing as everyone else?
Am I telling customers something they don’t already expect of my company or brand?
Is the takeaway for customers conspicuous in the subject line and opening paragraph?
And, most importantly, is the takeaway attuned to customer needs right now?
Here’s how to proceed after:
Subject Line: Address the situation directly.
Encouraging users to open emails is the first step in making sure a brand’s email communications are effective. Explicitly addressing COVID-19 or Coronavirus in the subject line may help capture a consumer’s attention when brands are communicating how they are changing business practices in response to the crisis. But that’s not enough–your subject line also needs to promise something of value and interest to the recipient.
The restaurant industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 already, and brands in other industries can learn from the example of digital natives in the space. In two of Grubhub’s COVID-19-related email communications, the email which explicitly mentioned COVID-19 in the subject line (“COVID-19 impact, delivery safety and supporting local restaurants”) received a 12% open rate lift compared to its average brand marketing open rate, while the other more generic email (“A Message from our CEO, Matt Maloney”) had no open rate lift.
Other brands also saw results by addressing the pandemic in their subject lines. OpenTable, for example, saw a higher open rate: its email entitled, “Supporting our restaurants during the Coronavirus” saw a 14% open rate lift. Instead of tackling this top-of-mind issue with vague language, address the situation upfront.
Body: Be Clear About What Actions Your Brand is Taking
These brands also clearly outlined their brand actions in the body of their emails. For instance, Grubhub highlighted its plan to defer commission fees for restaurants and its Contact-Free Delivery options. OpenTable chose to use its platform to boost awareness of how the restaurant industry is suffering and provided suggestions on how to support local brands.
Brands should be upfront and truthful about negative impacts customers will feel immediately. Target sent emails with COVID-19-related subject lines and was upfront in changes to policies, such as limiting purchases on critical items to allow more customers to purchase what they need. Sephora let its customers know it has stopped in-store makeup tutorials and cautions customers in how they sample beauty products.
Though each of these brands has different product assortments and falls in different categories, they took immediate action and were explicit about next steps. While some of these new policy changes might be inconvenient for consumers, brands can build trust by being transparent in how they are doing their part to slow the spread.
While the future of this crisis is unknown, brands can use email to cautiously share successes they’ve had and lessons they’ve learned. In one of its emails, Starbucks cited how 90% of its stores have reopened in China, demonstrating how the brand has begun to emerge from the crisis.
Body: Elevate Important Information For Users and Drive to Next Steps
All brands will ultimately be affected by the crisis and leaders should boost relevant information for health and well-being related to their services.
Lyft, for instance, addressed consumer worries about using its services. In its email, the ridesharing company laid out not only what it is doing for the safety of both drivers and riders, but also important information for how riders themselves can stay safe in this uncertain climate. Furthermore, the email includes a link to an extensive online resource center on its brand site with CDC materials to further inform its users.
Though the scale of this crisis is enormous and still unknown, your brand might have existing tools or resources that could be helpful to consumers in this period. Be sure to highlight them in your emails. For instance, when addressing annual flu season concerns, Clorox sent an email elevating SMS flu alerts for different regions while Lysol highlighted its flu tracker on its brand site. Instead of promoting its own product assortment, these brands use their platform to elevate useful tools for their users. By focusing on providing important information, brands build trust and serve their customers in ways they now need.