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From Matthew Smith March 27th, 2020

Feedback Friday: Best Practices for Email Marketing During a Crisis

Unsure how to adapt your email marketing during a crisis? You’re not alone.

Jason Rodriguez: Thanks everyone for joining us. This is our webinar we put together pretty quickly because I think we're in a spot where everyone is reacting to a quickly evolving situation throughout the world with the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic. So we know a lot of email marketers have different questions about how we as email marketers should be reacting to this situation. How we should be talking to our subscribers and our customers, in a very appropriate manner. And that's what we're looking to address today and definitely get through as many questions as we can for all of you because there are so many questions about this difficult topic. Nobody's really faced a situation like this in our lifetimes, or in recent memory. So there're tons of questions out there, and we're going to try to help work everybody through these questions as best that we can. 

So I'm Jason Rodriguez. I'm the community and product evangelist at Litmus. You've probably seen me on other webinars or writing over on the Litmus blog, but I'm joined today by both Matthew Smith and Kristin Bond

Hi guys, welcome to the webinar. 

Matthew Smith: Great to be here. Thanks. 

Kristin Bond: Yeah. 

Jason Rodriguez: So Matthew, you're the founder of Really Good Emails.

Obviously you've been on a couple of webinars with us before, but if anybody doesn't know, Really Good Emails is an amazing resource, amazing tool for seeing what other people are doing in the email world. You guys have put together an emergency emails category, which we have linked to here in a second.

Kristin, you're the senior director of email operations over at Girl Scouts. Litmus Live speaker extraordinaire and run the blog emailsnarketing.com. You've been super helpful with sharing information about how people should react in a pretty uncertain times. 

So again, some great resources that are already out there. I also have some resources later on the webinar that we'll share as well, but Kristin you wrote this great post called, "What we owe each other: Marketing during the unthinkable". A great roundup of advice and opinions on how email marketers should be responding in this situation, and we're definitely gonna go through some of those ideas throughout this webinar. And then again, Really Good Emails, you put together a fantastic category in your database of emails around emergency emails. So check that out. There's a ton of great examples for how other companies, how other senders are handling situations like this.

So definitely worth looking through if your in that situation where you're trying to figure out how to handle this massive global emergency. We're here to answer your questions. We're going to try to get through as many as we can. 

But first we had a quick question for everyone here. We wanted to see how you're feeling as an email team. So we put together a quick little poll here, which I'm going to start.

We've gotten so many mixed responses from people, from marketing teams around the world, that are in kind of in one of three buckets here. They either have a plan in place and they're feeling pretty good, as good as one can feel, about this pandemic and messaging to their customers. Some people have a plan, but they're not really sure if it's the right plan, the right approach for tackling such a, kind of wild, chaotic time. And then a lot of people, I feel like the majority of email marketers out there don't really have a plan in place. They're kind of scrambling like all of us to address the pandemic and figure out the right tone, the right cadence, the right types of messages to send to their audience.

We're really curious how everybody's feeling out there in the audience today. It looks like about half of you have a plan, which is great to hear, but you're not sure it's the right one. Then it's kind of split between the other two options there.

So definitely a really trying situation, not only in work, but in life, in our personal relationships as we all try to work through, these really uncertain times. I'm sure everybody's seen their inboxes just flooded with emails from all types of different senders, related to the coronavirus related to COVID-19.

How they're responding. How they're working with their employees to allow them to work at home and practice safe, social distancing. There's all kinds of messages out there. So the first question we kind of had was whether or not email is the right platform for those types of messages. All of our inboxes are flooded with these messages.

It can get really, really overwhelming. Why are people turning into email as the channel for getting these messages out there? I think, to me at least, I'd love to hear your opinion, Matthew and Kristin, but to me at least, I feel like it's because email is this ubiquitous service. Everybody really has an email address.

Some people might not have access to social apps. Their companies might not be on social media. The people they follow aren't in social media. There's all these different channels, but email is one that everybody uses, everybody has access to, and it's this really kind of democratized platform, which allows us to talk to our subscribers when we need to.

I think that's really driving this use of email. It's also, as far as marketing channels go, it's relatively cheap to get that message out there and do it really, really quickly. Kristin and Matthew, what do you think? Why are people sending so many emails right now? 

Kristin Bond: Because it's easy. I mean we all know email's the best channel out of all of them, but it is something that can be done quickly. And even as we've seen, many brands are just doing a very quick text-based one that maybe it wasn't so quick to put together. Cause I know the ones that we've sent have had to go through lots of rounds of editing and approvals, but it is a channel that is easy to execute on quickly. Like you said, the cost is relatively low compared to other channels, and it is something that everyone can use. So yeah, I think that's why people are going to email. 

Matthew Smith: The other reason I think, or an other reason is email has the appropriate formality. Where social channels are going to generally be a little bit more relaxed, generally fun, the speed is a lot faster , and this is a, wow, this is serious. This is a moment to pause and reflect. 

Usually longer pieces of information. Also the integrity of the information is more important and so you don't want to miss something. With an email, you actually have that text, you can copy it, you can paste it, you can look at it. You can spend time with it.

With social, it's a lot more difficult to do that, right? So email as a channel, that's always been true across all kinds of different interactions, whereas social is appropriate for certain contexts. This is the correct context for this type of communication. 

Jason Rodriguez: Yeah, I totally agree. I feel like social far too often feels fleeting.

You think of like Instagram stories that are there for what, 60 seconds, then go away and you'll never really see them again. This is such an important situation. This is a global situation. We're all in this together, so we need that information to be more persistent. So I totally agree with that.

We're in a situation where everybody's using email, everybody's using this channel, and it seems like everybody's sending more emails than ever to try to get that message out, to try to reassure their subscribers and their customers. That brings us to our second poll. We're curious on whether or not your email sending habits have changed.

Just tell us if your email marketing has decreased. If you're shutting off some of those campaigns that you're sending, if you're rethinking some of your transactional emails, again, we'll talk about why that might be a good idea, why that might not be a good idea, during this webinar.

Whether or not there is no change whatsoever. There's a slight increase because you're sending out a couple of those messages around, how you're handling the situation, how you're helping out your employees and your customers, or if it's increased significantly because you're really leaning into that mastering and reassuring your customers.

It looks like a lot of people, although the majority of people around 60% right now, it looks like their emails have decreased, which was interesting. We'll get to, again, why that might be the case and why that might be the right approach for a lot of people, throughout this webinar.

Let's kick this off with Matthew and talking about this section we're going to go into. How to hopefully do crisis communication while how to handle, what types of messages you should send, who you should send them to, the right tone of voice for sending these kinds of emails.

Because I feel like that's where a lot of email marketers are struggling. They have never faced a situation like this, so they don't know exactly how to approach email marketing right now. So kick us off, Matthew, with what's the first thing we should all understand together. 

Matthew Smith: Thank you, Jason.

So one of the things that I travel around speaking about, just spoke at UNSPAM about recently, and will do more of that when traveling is a thing again and do online until then, is championing the idea that email is relationship designed. 

Oftentimes we think, okay, what kind of copy should I write?

And you think, how do I do that for email marketing? That's the wrong question. Instead think what frame of mind is a user, my audience, my customer. Kristin and brought up a wonderful comment, earlier today when we were talking, is that we're all experiencing this exact same thing together worldwide, which is a really rare experience, right?

That's unique and you have an opportunity to be extremely empathetic with your customers in a way that maybe you've never had before, certainly in this lifetime. I think that engaging in that type of a relationship is a really easy way for you to just think about how you're going to communicate differently to your colleagues, to your family, to your friends, to the person that you're picking up your to go food at the restaurant.

How has that communication with them different, compared to how it was six weeks ago? Think about that adjustment. 

One of the things that we're getting to is that, if you look into the neuroscience of these experiences. Right now, all of us, unless you've been doing meditation at about six hours a day for the last 15 years, we're all hijacked, right?

Our amygdala is really in charge right now. I don't know about you, but I find myself yelling at my kids a little bit more frequently. I'm a little wound up. I'm having to apologize. I'm realizing that I'm reacting to things. Well, that's because my amygdala is cycling and it's doing its job.

We've been through evolution. We are made to do this. It's inappropriate response. But in email marketing, we have to slow down. We have to pause. We have to reflect and ask ourselves how we're reacting. So because everybody's in that way of thinking, your customers are there. There is something that is really priority for them, and that's safety.

We've really got to move into that way of thinking. So this is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you haven't seen this before, it's a well established, psychological protocol that has been around, I think for 50 or 60 years. The idea is that during anybody's life, first, we need to have our physiological needs met, right?

So obviously we need food and shelter and water and sleep and clothing and reproduction. All those kinds of base human needs need to be met. Right now we're in these two bottom levels. First, we're in a safety zone, right? We need these personal security, employment, resources, health and property. We need to make sure that those are okay.

The economy. We're like, where's this going? That creates a lot of insecurity, not just in the mind, but in the body. The body experiences that, and that's how the brain works, is it sends all these signals and that's why you might have tightness in your chest or in your belly. Those kinds of experiences.

Your customers are experiencing this, so how can you communicate to them in a way that is creating safety, security. Generally, I like to think you can mirror back to them what you think they might be experiencing or what you're hearing from them. We have heard from you, these are the things you're telling us you're feeling. Here's our response. 

You're mirroring back to them so that they feel heard. You're doing something consistently. Consistency creates safety. Lack of consistency creates confusion. So geared toward consistency. We're going to send you an email once a week to let you know what's happening with our company on this time.

Here's what you can expect, right? You create that underlying sort of blanket of security. Anything that you can think to do to create that type of security and that safety or really help them. I'm getting a little note from the IRS. We're not going to get your tax returns until July now. SWEET, you know, like giving me real security and safety, right? 

That feels good. So those kinds of messages, anything that you can do to reassure your customers and then to move into that love and belonging expression, empathy, we get it. We were working on our email this morning and kids are running around. This gets kinda crazy. We're in this together. We're there for you. We're with you. That creates, again, comfort and security. 

This is what I'm working on. I'm working on both Really Good Emails, you can see a lot of our examples that we put up in the emergency category, and then on my design studio as well. Clients are hitting us up looking for recommendations and experiences, email design changes that accomplish these goals.

So this is where we're starting.

Here's an example. This is Resy. I don't know if you follow as they've got a bunch of emails on Really Good Emails, but, this was, to me, a great example of being able to take your business strategy, something that you already do. So they provide reservations to restaurants. That industry could tank in a heartbeat, right?

With normal ways of working because people aren't going into restaurants right now. So how do you respond? Okay. Resy is going to figure out how to send a on-point message to help people get food, take out and delivery. Wow. Great pivot. It's still their normal branding. But you can see in their language, they're being serious, clear, they're giving clear information.

Bring your favorite restaurants home.

From
Resy

They're not making fun of anything. Now, this is a really fun brand and it could feel a little bit off, but they're not putting anything out there that feels goofy or overly happy. It's just, okay, here's how you get this done. They're still being themselves, but they're showing an opportunity here and I think that's great. 

Another one. This is from CNN. They're all about sharing information, but one of the things that they're doing here is they're serving their customers, right?

I am scared. I don't know what is fact or fiction. I can't tell how to sort these things out. Oh wow, this is really serving me. This is giving me answers about what is what. So tell me fact or fiction, giving me data and perspectives on how things look out there. Super helpful. And then being able to know, okay, what's on their radar and what are some tips?

Latest news for March 18, 2020

From
CNN

Oh, look at these Q&A. All that kind of information. So you might be thinking for your customers. What are the questions that we have unique answers to for our customers that would again, drive safety, security, or positivity? I'm like very interested in positivity right now. How can we get this sense of like.

Hey, this is a really challenging situation, but here are some things that come out of it. For instance, I've been seeing people come together who aren't naturally connected. I've been seeing families who have some, challenges come together in like connection and intimacy and like a bonding.

That's powerful. So how can we talk about positivity there? So what are the questions that you have unique answers to that create that bonding with your customers? I think that's what I'm seeing out there, but go and hit up Really Good Emails to see some of these examples. We've relaxed some of our design standards for this category, but still fantastic copy.

So anytime that we see good copy and good communication, that's what we're putting in there. 

Jason Rodriguez: Awesome. I love this email specifically because it tackles that safety section of Maslow's hierarchy so effectively. We need this really concrete, straight forward information, but it also represents that idea that we're all in this together.

I like that quote in the, "What's most important today" section. The coronavirus doesn't care if you're Democrat or Republican. I feel like it's reinforcing that sense that we're all in this together. We're all trying to get that same understanding, which is super, super helpful. So Kristin can talk to us again about what are some of those emails that are helpful for subscribers beyond just what we've seen so far.

Kristin Bond: Sure. You really want to think about where your subscribers are at right now and what they're experiencing and well, we can't know everyone's personal situation exactly, we have a general idea that everyone is on an elevated emotions for various reasons. There's an email that I got this week that I thought was really great, from an app called Calm, which is a mindfulness and relaxation app. I use it to fall asleep. They can read you bedtime stories. They've got a great one where they just read GDPR to you to help you fall asleep. They did that to also learn about GDPR, but they sent this great email with...

Matthew Smith: That's incredible.

Kristin Bond: Isn't it awesome? Yeah. That's what made me pay for the app actually. They sent this great email that offered similar content, what they normally offer only for free, and encouraging their customers to share it with other people who may or may not already have it. So I think this is brilliant from just an empathy perspective of here's something helpful to help you relax.

The nice thing about it too, from a marketing perspective, it's introducing your product and resources to other potential new customers who might find it helpful. Just really checking all the boxes there with being useful but also still helping to serve your business needs. Cause I know that is something that everyone is trying to figure out the balance of right now. And granted, not every company has the fortunate opportunity of having a product that is super relevant right now, but if there is a way to figure out how your product could be relevant to people right now and you are able to do this, this is a great way to do so.

As you're figuring out what you should send, or if you should even send anything, it's important to think about where your customers are and what they're doing. We're kind of in a weird spot right now cause it's a very rare moment where a lot of them are probably doing the same thing, which is not likely the case most of the time.

So most of your customers are likely hold up at home and might not have their normal comforts and resources that they would normally have just in their day to day life. They don't have their kids at school. They might not be going into an office everyday if they're used to it, or they might have the instability of not being able to work at all because they're in a service industry.

Think about how you would feel if you got an email from someone asking you to buy something expensive if you just found out that you're not going to be able to work for six weeks and won't be paid during that. That's really tough and that can really put a sour taste in your mouth from a brand.

Another thing that I've seen companies doing is sending emails saying, here's some fun distractions! For some brands I know it seems like a good thing to do because yes, everyone is very stressed and might welcome fun distractions. If anyone is in a place to send emails with pictures of puppies, I would like to receive those emails, but also keep in mind, not everyone is just having a fun staycation at home where they're trying to kill time and they're just trying to figure out how to keep themselves entertained. A lot of people are really struggling right now. Some people really don't like working from home or don't know how to work from home effectively, and they're struggling to figure out how to do their job.

There could be people who are dealing with that and also dealing with taking care of their kids because their schools or daycares are closed, or maybe their kids stay with the grandparent normally and aren't able to right now. So there are a lot of people right now who are trying to figure out how to continue to do their jobs and also take care of their kids, myself included.

I agreed to do this webinar because it was during my son's normal nap time and I knew I would be able to. I think being mindful of that if you are sending an email with here's some fun distractions or here's some things to entertain yourself, some people might be really struggling right now and trying to entertain themselves as the last thing on their mind. 

Of course there's all the people who are actually sick right now or are taking care of a loved one, or worried about a loved one who is sick. Fun distractions might seem insensitive for them right now. So I'm not saying don't send an email with fun distractions, but I am saying just be very thoughtful about not everyone on your subscriber list is necessarily looking for a fun distraction.

One thing to keep in mind right now and just in general with your emails, all of these suggestions that we're giving about being mindful about where your subscribers are at, those are always true. I mean, right now they're elevated, certainly because of a pandemic that everyone is experiencing, but empathy is always a good idea.

It's always important to keep in mind that, yeah, my subscribers might not have my product at the top of their mind right now and that's okay sometimes. Useful and relevant content is always a good idea and people have other things going on in their lives besides reading your emails, always. But especially now and ironically, like right now, it might actually be a little bit easier to figure out what's going on with people's lives just because everyone is in such a similar situation where they are holed up at home and unable to leave their house.

In general, empathy is always a good idea whether we are going through a global pandemic or not. 

Jason Rodriguez: I like that idea of people have other things going on, other priorities, in a situation like this. Which I think is the perfect segue into this idea that we should only be sending something if it truly makes sense.

We saw earlier that inbox view, of just all these different emails, all with similar subject lines and a lot of them kind of saying the exact same thing over and over. So something like this on the left where a company sends something to their customers that just says, we care about the health and safety of our employees and customers. As a result, we are now cleaning our stores everyday and letting our employees work from home and we just want you to stay safe. It's nice to kind of hear that, like it helps with that part of the pyramid around, belonging and love because it's that company expressing their concern for their customers. 

But it's not really doing anything helpful like Kristin was talking about. It's not really providing any real value. Beyond that, and I feel like a good example of an email that should be sent and was done really well is from Carrot fertility, which provides services and information for people that want to become parents are in the process of trying to become parents, and one of the things they recognize is that there's a lot of confusion.

There's a lot of stress and anxiety and fear around how coronavirus and COVID-19 affects fertilization and how it affects people that are pregnant and expecting children. I feel like it's a great use of their email program to set up a webinar, set up all that information so they can get it out to their customers. Address the situation that everybody's facing, but which their customers specifically have increased anxiety over. I think that's one case where that's a really good use of email, whereas a lot of these other kind of generic types of messages, from random people at a company that you've never really heard about or you don't know who they are, aren't necessarily as effective and perhaps shouldn't have been sent in the first place.

McDonald's does this really well too. They sent out an email talking about how they're addressing this pandemic across all of their different locations. Which is important because McDonald's and a lot of communities provides a really important core service, and they know that it's a community meeting spot for so many different people.

It's not just a place where people go and get quick food after soccer practice or something like that. It's a meeting place for a lot of people and they're addressing that by ensuring that they're still saying open. They're going to be providing those meals, but they're encouraging people to move to the drive thru or delivery or take out by walking in and they're closing down the seating or they're sanitizing their play place.

We're here to serve you

It's all that kind of stuff and I think they do a really good job of conveying all of that, the steps, the concrete steps that they're taking to ensure that their employees are safe, that their community is safe, that all of their customers are as safe as possible. it's not just offering condolences or well wishes during a troubling time. It's giving you really helpful information about how an important place in your community is tackling this type of situation. 

I think this idea kind of threads through all of this is that. The world right now is very chaotic. It feels very uncertain. It's increasing people's levels of anxiety and our goal as email markers is not to add to that chaos, is to not overwhelm people. To really think about what we're sending people when we're sending it, what kind of messaging we're using, what kind of value we're providing so that we do it right and that we try to reassure people, we try to calm them and we try to give them the tools they need to handle such a difficult time and that we're not adding to that chaos. 

There's this great tweet out there from Tom Tate. A great email marketer. He spoke at Litmus Live before, and I think he sums it up really well: 

Should all of your email marketing be COVID-19th centric for the next four weeks? No, absolutely not. But should your marketing be sensitive to the fact that the world is a thousand times different this week than it was last week? 

I think that's where we should all be focusing on. We need to understand that so much has changed so quickly and really take that into account and look at all of our email marketing, all of our marketing and what we do through that lens and try to understand it, through our subscribers eyes, through our customer's eyes, so that we can be as helpful as we can without adding to that chaos.

I did see a question in there, and which was perfect cause we have this poll set up, around, how people that have sent these types of emails, anything coronavirus related to their subscribers. How is it actually performing? I'd love to hear from everybody in attendance here, whether they're COVID-19 emails, performed better? Did they receive higher opens, higher click through rates on resources that you may have provided? You've seen like buzz on Twitter or social media or seen replies, from your subscribers , thanking you or engaging you in a conversation outside of that email. Are you seeing that kind of stuff? Is that better than normal sends about the same or is it worse than usual sends?

I'm very curious to see how people that have been sending these emails, are actually seeing that performance be effected. I think it's something a lot of people are weighing right now as they try to figure out what kind of communication or whether or not they should actually send the communication to their customers around COVID-19. 

It looks like about 50%. We're seeing better than normal engagement in those emails and then 38% about the same and then 11% worse than usual sends. So I'm curious, I wish I had like a inbox set up with all of those to see what kind of emails are actually sending.

My suspicion is that that subject line and the content of the emails were really going to affect that. Especially as we see that inbox view with all these different emails out there. 

Let's get into some of the mistakes that we've seen out there that we think email marketers should hopefully be avoiding. The first one I wanted to talk about is just this idea of capitalizing on fear and anxiety.

As we've seen, everybody's experiencing this fear, experiencing this anxiety because so much is uncertain and so much is changing so quickly. The last thing we think that people should be seeing from you is trying to capitalize on that. There's this great article on Gartner from Augie Ray talking about this global pandemic.

They address this idea that the global pandemic may be a business opportunity for you. I'm seeing that in the chat on GoToWebinar as well there's a lot of people asking about their companies, like it could be beneficial for their company because they provide a service or a product that works really well for people that are sequestered at home that need certain services, but it might not be the best marketing opportunity for your brand depending on how you approach it. Because if it's coming across as you just trying to capitalize on this pandemic, then that's not really a good look for you and your company, and that's something you're really trying to avoid.

A great example of this is an unnamed yoga studio from Matt Byrd. Another email geek. The subject line here is coronavirus sale and it's all about selling you, packages to get yoga classes during the coronavirus. It comes across as very insensitive and not a great way to approach messaging your customers or your potential customers because it' this kinda like profiteering type mentality and that usually doesn't go across really well.

Again, we look at this example that Kristin received from Calm that says, this just feels so much better. Not only is Calm providing resources, but they're making sure that those resources are free for anybody that needs them. They're not just doing a money grab because they know they can get that money out of potential customers.

It's addressing those different pyramids on Maslow's hierarchy around safety and wellbeing on top of love and support and community. So I think that kind of approach is much, much better. When you can do things that provide value, that help decrease people's sense of anxiety, and just that sense of chaos that everybody's contending with.

That's when you're going to see your email program be more successful and you're going to see people trust your brand more. And that's really what we're kind of in the business of, is creating trust filled relationships with our subscribers. This one I think was great too, is reviewing your automated emails, and I think Kristin your going to talk about this a little bit, right? 

Kristin Bond: Thanks everyone. You probably know to tweak or edit the planned emails that are not automated, just your regular ones that are going out. But don't forget to look at your automated ones. 

I did this in the last few days, and there are a couple of emails that under normal circumstances would have been perfectly fine to send out and super on point and ready for our brand and just what we needed to send, but right now they could be interpreted a little bit differently. So for instance, I work at Girl Scouts and it is Girl Scout cookie season. We have an automated series that goes out to regular people who are not Girl Scouts just telling them when Girl Scout cookie season is happening in their area and how to find a booth sale.

But we just suspended booth sales because it's not safe for girls to be out there touching money and being around people. So we shouldn't be sending out emails right now telling people to go find a booth sale. So I had to stop those emails. And then likewise, we have a welcome email that we send to new members . It's a whole series of five emails. 

The first email talks about a Girl Scout tradition doing a friendship circle, which is holding hands in a circle and squeezing them. Just passing a squeeze around in a circle. It's really sweet. And then there's like a song they sing with it. That's not something we want to tell people to do right now.

Holding hands in a circle is the exact opposite of social distancing. So we had to adjust that series because even though in this particular context, it makes it a sound really out of touch and like we aren't paying attention to what's happening in the world. Even though under any other circumstances, it's a perfectly normal email for us to send.

So ours at least are hopefully understandable, but we made the adjustments that we needed to, but other brands haven't been so lucky. This wasn't a likely automated email sent by an airline saying never a better time to fly. I hope it was automated and that they just missed it and that they weren't intentionally sending this right now because I think everyone knows there could not be a worse time to fly right now.

So this email definitely looked out of touch and inappropriate, and anyone who received it probably was confused and wondered if there's airline knew what was happening or if they were continuing with their normal business as usual, which for many businesses that's not okay right now, and especially airlines.

If you have automated emails, take a look at them. Even things like welcome series or reminder emails for instance, like anything that might have a time is running out or this is your last chance to do something, which I know many of us send. That could be interpreted a little bit differently, like time is running out or your last chance or anything that normally might be standard marketing with just a little sense of urgency right now as people are dying, like telling people it's their last chance for something just really isn't appropriate right now.

You shouldn't be sending emails like this to your entire list right now. I know I've gotten quite a few emails from brands that I maybe unsubscribed from awhile ago that maybe shouldn't have been sending an email anyway, but especially to people who haven't engaged with their brand in a long time. It just doesn't make sense and it's probably not transactional.

I likened it to GDPR when everyone was sending emails to everyone that they had an email address for and in that case, that made sense. But right now, if your brand doesn't have any reason to respond or send a COVID-19 email at all when you shouldn't, but if it's not directly related to people who are currently doing business with you in some form, it just doesn't make sense to send.

It can be really confusing. It also puts you at risk for spam complaints and deliverability issues. People might see it as insensitive. At best, they'll unsubscribe if they can. At worst, they're going to report you as spam and hate your brand, and that's probably not something you want. Now, just like always, segmentation is really important.

Think about who actually has a reason to hear a message from you. So if you are an event organizer and there are changes being made to the event, which there probably are, whether that is canceling it completely or postponing it or making it online. Send it to the people who have signed up for your event.

They need to know that. They need to make whatever adjustments they need to make for that. If you have people who are actively participating with your brand in some other way, maybe if they have a shipping item that they need updates on. If they're going to be shipping delays because your distribution centers closed, for instance, segment those emails and send what is relevant to people.

If you're just sending a standard promotional email, now might not be the time. If you are sending it, you really want to make sure it is relevant. And again, these aren't tips just for during a global pandemic. These are tips for always. You should always be segmenting your emails and sending something when it's relevant and who it's relevant to. 

Jason Rodriguez: The last thing we just want to touch on briefly before we get to everybody's questions is, and maybe Matthew can speak to this because I know you're so into copywriting and just what people are sending out there, but is just that tone of all of your emails and what you're actually sending.

So Matthew, I guess how do you think about communicating effectively, but in the right tone of voice for situations like this? 

Matthew Smith: Yeah. Great question, Jason. Thank you. It goes back to this relational idea, right? We were talking about this a little bit before, and I think the anecdote that I came up with is, if my girlfriend were going through a difficult time, like maybe with a family member, maybe her dad was not feeling well or medically ill, just for some, random circumstance. I wouldn't be relating to her like everything was normal. And if I were, that would be really narcissistic. Right? So a lot of times when we relate to our customers totally out of context of what's going on in their lives, or everyone's life in this scenario. You can look up the qualities of somebody who suffers from narcissism. That's how they relate. They are totally unaware of what is happening in somebody else's life.

Like their empathy index is zero, right? So don't be like that, but instead, take that into context. If I were going to ask my girlfriend out on a date, I would say. Hey, I'd like to take you out if that's something that would serve you . It'd be a way to get away from what you're experiencing, but if not, I'm here to do what you would like to do.

These kinds of ways of relating. Take the context that is happening right now and filter it through and think about like a good sort of quick test would be would I feel comfortable sending if my mom or dad or sister or good friend were experiencing fear, anxiety, huge amounts of change.

Would I be willing to send them this kind of email if they were part of this audience and didn't know me? I think that's a a good way for you to think about it. Just ask yourself, is this serving the customer or is this about, protecting me and protecting our business? Now, ultimately, I believe and have seen over and over when we serve our customers with great fidelity, real care, addressing their actual needs, actual problems, actual pain points, our businesses thrive and do incredibly well. 

Now with voice and tone, it's difficult, like Really Good Emails is known for being super cheeky and a little bit edgy, and sometimes we even get in trouble with that. That's totally inappropriate right now for us to push the limits on that. I saw somebody talking in the emailgeeks channel this last week, and I think they were right on the edge.

It's an interesting question. Their particular audience is kind of a four wheeler, not quite monster truck, but like heading in that direction. And what they did is they photoshopped something that was fairly funny. It was like toilet paper rolls as wheels. And I thought, Oh, that was, that's really clever and silly, but wow.

Like what if one of those customers or several of those customers have either lost a loved one to COVID-19 or maybe are out of toilet paper and are feeling a lot of fear about that. Like toilet paper issues aside. That's a strange phenomenon happening right now. But what if that doesn't connect?

You're taking a big risk, right? So err on the side of caution. Get to know your audience like a bank, it needs to be way more serious than a food ordering app. So get that context into place and the treat it relationally. That's how I think about it. 

Jason Rodriguez: Awesome. I think that's all stellar advice and address a lot of the questions that we've seen so far, but we do have a ton of questions. The first one is, should we pause all promotional emails immediately? Kristin, what's your advice on that?

 

Kristin Bond: Maybe, I mean, again, it's going to depend on your brand, but I think it's definitely worth revisiting the content of them. Like St Patrick's Day was this week, and I know a lot of brands might typically send out a St Patrick's Day promotion, but people aren't going out drinking right now or celebrating in the way that they normally would.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't necessarily pause everything, but I think you should take pause and take a moment and review the content and make sure it sounds right and make sure it doesn't sound callous or insensitive right now, so don't necessarily pause it or stop all marketing, but just be a lot more thoughtful about it than you might otherwise.

Jason Rodriguez: Matthew, anything to add on there?

Matthew Smith: I think we've really covered it. I just think being thoughtful and treating all of these things from a relational perspective is always going to be my M.O. I think we're all really smart people. Oftentimes we do something where we put on a marketing hat and then we forget our relationship. We know this stuff. We wouldn't treat our family or friends or colleagues this way. Why are we sending this stuff in email? We move into this sort of weird transactional, way of relating. Take those transactional clothes off and underneath, I think you'll remember that you've got human skin and really with that, and actually these are the kinds of things we should always be doing.

Jason Rodriguez: It's kind of unfortunate it takes a crisis like this to have that sense of humanity instilled in us but hopefully it's a good reminder and kind of wake up call for everybody to start doing that throughout and during this crisis and far after it as well. I think that goes for, I've seen a lot of questions around, should we pause our promotional emails, should we pause our transactional emails, our onboarding emails? Should we send our monthly newsletter? 

I think that lens is how you should be all of those. Review what you have scheduled.Review what is sent automatically. Review what you have, kind of down the road in the pipeline and take that into account and the context of where people are, what they're doing, how the situation is evolving so rapidly.

Just ask yourself whether or not you would want to receive something like that. Whether or not that's helpful for you or your customers, your family members, and use that as the lens with which you look at everything and try to figure out that question. 

There was a really great question around, if we are pausing all these email campaigns, will halting those emails sends effect our email deliverability rate? And while I don't think any of us three would consider ourselves email deliverability experts, We were talking about this a little bit before the actual webinar. I think we are in pretty good agreement that it's unlikely that somebody is going to be pausing everything that they're sending. 

They might still be sending that kind of a notification type email about what they're doing, how they're handling the situation. Chances are good that your transactional, like your account-based emails are still going to be scheduled. They're still going to be automated and going out, so if you're still having some of those emails go out, then it's unlikely that you'll see any big hits in deliverability issues. 

But like Kristin and mentioned earlier, like the real danger there is if you're sending insensitive emails, untimely emails and people are becoming offended or annoyed by them, then you could see some more significant issues when you see people unsubscribing or God forbid, marking you as spam.

Matthew Smith: Jason, to that effect, one of the things I was just thinking about is this idea of if you've got a company that is sending out emails, if you're concerned about that at all, the opportunity would be for you to potentially. I think this is called breaking the fourth wall, or breaking one of the third, fourth wall.

 There's this, actor and audience relationship, right? So breaking the fourth wall is about getting out of the play or the movie or whatever, and talking directly to that audience. The Big Short is an example of this. 

What happens if your business, for instance, is all around running an airline? 

You're suddenly grounded. So do you stop sending any emails at all? What if you pause and you said, Hey, we're sitting here. We've really curtailed a lot of our flights , so in between now and when we start back up, we wanted to start doing every Wednesday story time. So we're going to tell you a story about some of the most amazing travel experiences we've heard about over the last 15 years of our practices that really inspired us to keep doing what we're doing. While we're all cooped up inside, it's fun to imagine and dream. Come along with this journey with us. That'd be amazing. I subscribe to that, like I would become a customer just to read those. So these are the kinds of opportunities where we can completely diverge from the direction we were going or the ways we were marketing and know that if I can create a connection with my customer. 

Back to neuroscience. When you actually create a bonding moment through safety and security and connection mirroring, when somebody feels listened to and heard. It releases oxytocin in the brain, which creates bonding. That same kind of thing can happen in a relationship, in email. So every time you do that, that bonding gets stronger and stronger, especially if you move from just a transactional relationship into something more organic and meaningful. 

Without capitalizing on this. This is a really cool opportunity to break that fourth wall, get engaged and do something unique and different and possibly get mentioned for it or noticed for it. So get together with your team or if it's yourself and strategize what you could do that would be really relational and really connecting, but do it for your audience.

There's no sort of best practice for all things, right? Just get in there and figure out who your audience are. 

Jason Rodriguez: So Kristin I want to direct this question to you and we've gotten a couple of variations of this, just cause I know you manage, I pretty large distributed team, lot of different people, a lot of different stakeholders.

I've seen a few people ask , how do you get your stakeholders on board for taking our advice for doing things and what we think is the right way to approach email in times of crisis, especially when you might have stakeholders or bosses that are trying to profit off of something like this or trying to take advantage of people's sense of anxiety or fear.

How do you get those stakeholders on board and how do you make that case for doing this in a more compassionate way? 

Kristin Bond: I mean, as always, look at the numbers. If you've sent out an email about this and it's not performing well, that's a sign, of course, cause any insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over with expecting different results.

So don't do that. One thing that happened in a meeting yesterday. Our just general creative team meeting, we were talking about like, Hey, how do we need to change things? What do we need to change? How do we convince other teams that we need to all be on the same page here? And our person who is the head of customer care on social media and just our general call center brought up, use me as a resource. I hear every single complaint from every single customer, every comment. Every piece of feedback that people give. Chances are anything that we have ever posted on social media about or done publicly, someone has given feedback on it that would support why we should or shouldn't do it. So she suggested using her as a resource.

And I'm not to say that everyone hates Girl Scouts and has complaints, but we have a lot of stakeholders and we have a lot of opinions about things. And so if you're needing evidence of this is how customers feel about this, if you can gather tweets that people have done or comments or cases or calls to your customer service team that can be valuable.

If your pairing those with the actual numbers of, Hey, sending three reminder emails is not effective right now because people don't want to purchase things from my brand right now. That can be effective. So use your data that you have. Another team to loop in is your public relations or communications team because they are trained in this.

They do this every day. Just general crisis communications. They understand like, okay, if we say this, here are the possible outcomes and possible ways that people could react and then they can really help you craft a correct response, but also help you tweak your message in a way where you are still communicating what you need to communicate, not in a way that will upset people and offend people. You can't look at this in the short term of we need to make money this week or this month, because the reality is most brands probably might not like, there's so many factors financially right now, but you need to think longterm.

If you upset people right now and then they unsubscribe, you won't be able to market to them later when they might be more interested in making a purchase. 

Matthew Smith: You said something, Kristin, and that made me think another recommendation would be looking up articles on crisis resolution, looking up articles on, psychology of handling emergencies in your workplace, things that are unrelated to email marketing specifically, but are around that topic and category.

See what you can learn and gain, and then interpret toward the work that we do. I've done a lot of that just in understanding emotional intelligence and trying to figure out how emotional intelligence as a concept can be retooled toward email marketing. So this is a great example of that.

Jason Rodriguez: Yeah, totally. From a very concrete perspective too. Use Really Good Emails. Use your own inbox and look at while the other people are doing. Cherry pick those emails that you think were really effective or you really appreciate as a subscriber yourself and present those to stakeholders as these ideal examples of what other companies are doing and how they're handling the situation.

A lot of times people will make decisions without understanding what else is out there or like how other people are approaching those challenges, but if you put those different ideas in front of them, it'll start their brain turning. They'll see that there are better ways to approach things. So use those examples heavily. 

Kristin Bond: Yeah. None of us are sending emails in vacuum. I mean, you saw those screenshots of the inbox earlier. We're all getting lots of emails from other brands right now. So if you do send something that's really out of touch, it's going to stick out and people will notice, and you may have a high open rate, but not for the reasons you want.

Jason Rodriguez: There's two more questions I'd love to get to. Kristen, since you work for the Girl Scouts, you're a nonprofit. I've seen a bunch of different questions around how nonprofits should handle this situation in particular.

If you're in a nonprofit, you're constantly fundraising. That's what the large bulk of your email marketing kind of works towards. So how should nonprofits think about this? Or how should they reposition their email marketing strategy, especially when fundraising is still so important to their livelihood?

Kristin Bond: Yeah, it's definitely going to depend on what your nonprofit does. Back to the Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. If you're an arts nonprofit, your messaging is going to be very different from if you provide vital human services. But if you are lucky enough to work for one that provides vitals services, now is your time to shine.

You can send emails talking about here's what we do, here's how we are helping the community right now. And that can either take the form of, if you need these resources, here's how to access them. Or if you don't need these resources and you are able to help us, provide them to others, here's one way to do it.

Cause I know a lot of people who are in a better financial situation right now might be feeling anxious and might feel better by helping other people. If you give them an opportunity to do that, that's a great way to look at it. There are lots of other goals nonprofits might have. Like for mine, we're membership-based and spring is a very important time for us to get members to renew for next year.

So we're having to rethink our strategy on that a little bit about the timing . If we were to send all these emails right now, telling people to sign up for Girl Scouts for the fall, people might not be as receptive to that right now, but they will be soon, and I hope they do renew. You really just need to think about, like we've been saying, where your customers are and how can what my organization does help our subscribers and give them a sense of purpose if possible.

Matthew Smith: I think that's right. It's exciting. I was thinking about your idea about like an art organization or something. People are stuck at home being able to be creative, draw color, paint, take photos, even if things around their home. These are great ways that an organization could remind people that being creative can help them relax in a troubling time.

We talked about it earlier, just breaking out of that kind of marketing model and thinking about how to serve your customer as a guide or as almost like a in a therapy mode or connecting mode rather than your normal role. 

Kristin Bond: Yeah, I've seen the Met Opera is live streaming operas right now, so people can watch them like that's super cool, and it might get new people. That's rare. I mean not everyone has the opportunity to go to an opera and then that potentially gets them new customers down the road when they're able to, but it also provides a useful service to people. 

Jason Rodriguez: Totally. Yeah. So we're pretty much out of time here. Before we wrap up, I wanted to just let everybody know that we put together this guide, that kinda coincides with this webinar. Quick little PDF guide that we put together about how you should handle marketing during a crisis.

It has a couple of checklists, a couple of ideas for some of the first steps you should take. The questions you should ask yourself before you actually send an email related to that crisis. And then links to a bunch of resources that we've put together that we've also found from other people, that we find really helpful when thinking through some of these really thorny issues.

So definitely check that out and again, just look at your own inboxes. Look at resources like Twitter. Look at the emailgeeks Slack channel, which if you're not already a part of, you can sign up at email.geeks.chat.

Everybody's kind of in this together. We're all trying to figure this stuff out at the same time, and we're all facing the same challenges. So hopefully we can do that together as a community, as a world, as a global community, and try to make the best of this really troubling trying situation and help each other out as much as we possibly can.

So with that, thank you so much to Matthew and Kristin for taking time out of what I can only imagine is a horribly busy time like everybody else to join us today and to prep on such short notice. I really, really appreciate it and we look forward to having you come back.

Kristin Bond: Yea. Thanks for having me. 

Jason Rodriguez: We'll kind of keep an eye on the situation like everybody else and hopefully we'll have you both back again soon, on a future live this webinar. 

Matthew Smith: That sounds great. And, Jason, for me at least, I can say, my Twitter DMs are open if people have questions. 

Jason Rodriguez: Awesome.

Matthew Smith: So happy to just, try and be helpful. So thanks for having me. 

Kristin Bond: Yep. Mine are too. Yea. Thanks everyone.

Jason Rodriguez: Same here. Hit us all up on Twitter. We'll try to be timely in our responses. If we didn't get to your question or something, we're all available. Thank you everybody for taking time out of your day as well, and we'll see you in the next webinar. Cheers. Bye everybody. 

Matthew Smith: Thank you. Good luck.

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Matthew Smith

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