Unlocking email in the new normal : Tips and strategies for the savvy marketer to navigate the post lock down period
Till we procure a vaccine against the ravaging coronavirus, people around the world are trying to co-exist with it. The global pandemic has done a total shake-up of businesses and the way they operate on day to day basis.
The economy has suffered and so have the digital brands during the lock-downs, that were brought about to enforce social distancing and home quarantine by national governments.
We had talked about the principles to be followed to send your emails during a crisis situation.
As marketing and brand management guru, Mark Ritson advises that
The best marketer will be upping and not cutting their budgets during a crisis
The crisis period is actually a fertile period for the growth of brand equity if properly utilized.
Now that in some parts of the world the lock-down restrictions are easing up, marketers need to adapt their strategy to re-engage with their email subscribers. As the economy slowly reopens, they are again faced with a challenge of how to tune in to the needs of their old customers and engage with the new ones.
A flurry of brands operating from their brick and mortar stores have been forced to go online as the demand for e-commerce brands surges high post the pandemic. Online shopping as a part of retail reached 30.7% in April, 8% increase from that in March. First time online shoppers have grown globally by 119% compared to same time last year.
For an email marketer, a majority of your audience could be displaying changed email and purchasing habits. The demands and purchasing power of the consumers have also gone through a transformational change. In such times of uncertainty that brands are going through, there is a need to tweak your messaging tone and content to reach out to your customers and prospects.
In this post we have provided tips to follow within a framework to regain that traction with your customers. In addition to that we have presented some great campaign recommendations that have been done globally for inspiring your email campaigns in the post lock-down era.
The post lock-down framework for your email strategy
In order to communicate effectively with your customers in the post lock-down period, we have come up with a REF(Recover-Engage-Flourish) framework. We have provided the principles of communication that fit in the below framework. A marketer can choose which principles to implement out of these for their best benefit.
During the heavy lock-downs followed globally, your brand either slashed your marketing budget leaving you with suspending your email program till the next update. Or you followed our mentioned strategy for sending heart-beat campaigns to increase the brand equity with your subscribers.
Either way, now that the lock-down is lifted you will have to follow some tips for recovering from the period of dormancy and getting back to the path of connecting again with your audience. Touching base with your customers and their plight will form a major part of the recovery phase.
- Adopt emotionally intelligent messaging
The coronavirus crisis has caused a lot of devastation not just to public health but also to the economy. Millions have been laid off from their jobs and nations are coping with recessional periods. These users who are currently searching for a job may have lower purchasing power than before, especially for non-essential products.
Ask them if they wish to snooze your campaigns for a while till they recover from the crisis? Enquiring about the plight of your customers is the first step to recovery messaging. They will remember your brand for doing it and thank you for the same.
In such situations emotionally intelligent powered messaging will prove the best bet in reaching out to your users. Be mindful of how your content and message comes across in your recovery campaigns. Be sympathetic with their plight and thank them for staying with you during the lock-down. Don’t stretch that exuberance in being happy to deliver to customers again, as this is not a victory yet to celebrate and we have a long way to go in getting rid of the virus completely.
So show your appreciation for their support and keep a positive yet formal message tone in your campaigns.
An example is this game-changer campaign done by Code Academy offering 100,000 premium memberships to people who have lost their jobs during COVID-19.
Coding still remains an important skill set in today’s job market to possess. Hence, this is a great gesture by the brand to help people with their emotional messaging.
Image source: Inbox
- Re-opening message and safety protocols
If you have brick-and-mortar stores or bank branches, you will have to send a store re-opening message
Be as detailed as possible to show your honesty to your users and help them take the necessary precautions and stay safe. Some of the questions you need to clarify :
- What are the new open and close hours of the stores?
- What precautionary protocols customers have to follow inside your store?
- How to maintain social distancing inside the store or with contact-less delivery?
- What stores have opened and in what regions?
- Will there be delays in delivery time?
Besides answering the above, if you have an online portal, urge your customers to use it till they feel safe to enter your stores again. This will be providing a good option to your customers as we recently witnessed fashion brand Zara increase their online sales YOY to 95% during the lock-down crisis.
Example: This campaign by retailer pharmacy store Walgreens, to their customers on store hours and precautions for the users to take.
Image source: https://www.walgreens.com/
Another campaign by fashion brand Nykka, which sent a re-opening message to their users with a positive message that they are delivering again and users will be able to shop after a lengthy spell of time.
Image source: Inbox
- Warmup your domain again
If your industry was heavily affected by the coronavirus crisis then chances are your email program was left dormant during the lock-down. We know that period of inactivity for upto a month resets your domain reputation with mailbox providers. Hence you have to follow a slow and steady warm-up process again and try to increment volumes every day to get it back to regular volume. Now depending on your volumes, this exercise could take anywhere between 1 week to a month.
Soldier through it as once you are ready to send your regular volumes, you can start with your promotional campaigns in the engage section of this framework.
- Drive your brand values
During the pandemic, various sections of the society have all gone through a lot of hardship, grief, and pain. A marketer’s prime focus now should be to deliver on the values of your brand by being positive, empathetic, and show sympathy towards your users. The vaccine is still a long way from being produced but till then, we can all atleast do away with the doom and gloom.
Some questions a marketer can ask themselves:
-What are the values of our brand?
-Is our campaign content conveying the same to our customers?
-How can I rebrand our communication to stand out within our user’s inbox?
Your audience should feel thrilled to receive your positive messages. Make sure the underlying theme of your messaging is hoping for a brighter future and that we are all in this together.
This campaign by Nike shows us the gold standard of value-driven messaging
The lock-downs across the world happened within a matter of days. But the re-opening is going to be slower across the regions. It depends on how the countries have coped with stopping the spread of the virus. Hence, the engagement with your customers will not be immediate but will be an organic process.
Hence the physical stores might take some time to open up for retailers and their best strategy will be to take things online, till the situation stabilizes and they are allowed to open up their brick-and-mortar stores according to government directives.
In case of e-commerce brands we see a disciplined way of communication using multi channels like twitter and facebook coming into play. Some are informing their store timings on such social media platforms frequently visited by users.
Marketers will have to go back to the drawing board in order to create a new playbook based on retention of customers and innovative strategies.Engagement post lock-down will depend on your consumer centric strategies and overcoming supply chain challenges for delivering goods.
Here are some steps to consider while engaging your audience:
- Reward loyal customers
The active audience which opens and clicks on your campaigns are your brand fans. They need to be nurtured in order to get return transactions. According to the Pareto principle, these 20% of your returning customers will form 80% of your ROI. Hence, spread out the red carpet for them and get busy with some velvet rope marketing.
Appreciate them for staying with you through the crisis, and urge them with exclusive offers now that you have returned back to business. If you were a physical store and have recently gone online then email to your store customers of your online offers as well.
- Ask for customer feedback
In the uncertain situations where brands find themselves in the post lock-down normal, it is imperative for a marketer to seek the feedback of your customers. This should allow you to send them relevant content that they would like to receive and sort out your segmentation approach.
Some questions you can ask them:
- Will they like to receive promotional offers?
- How often will they like to be sent a campaign in a month?
- What kind of content are they expecting from your brand?
- Do they need more information on your business re-opens?
- Do they wish to visit your offline store?
Collect the feedback and take action on it with changes to the way you interact with your customers.
Example the campaign done by a Stay Golden Coffee roastery asking the users to fill up a 4 min survey for helping them plan better future campaigns:
Image source: https://stay-golden.com/
- Be honest about your supply chain delays
Even if your industry was not heavily affected by the pandemic situation, there are always problems with the supply chain during such a crisis situation. As the transport options were completely shuttered in most parts of the world during the lock-down, your inventory and other stock refills are bound to be affected.
Be upfront about the shipping delays with your customers in advance so that they can wait for your orders to arrive. Be detailed about the time it will take to ship them and when they can be expecting the arrival.
Also with social distancing measures still the norm, mention about your contact-less delivery options to reassure them.
- Re-engage your inactive users
There needs to be a plan to re-engage with your inactive users who were not shopping from your online website that frequently.
You can take the help of data analytics to reach out to them better.
Example: Segment your audience based on:
- website visit activity
- last purchased activity
- campaign response till now
- region , age , gender etc.
Figure out the inactive audience and email them your attractive offers with a range of options. Also, inactive users here need to be asked if they also belong to the vulnerable section right now who have lost their purchasing power due to the pandemic. If so, then they need to be provided additional discounts to show empathy and kindness.
- Talk about worthy CSR initiatives
If your brand had contributed to some COVID-19 relief fund or had your customers contributed through your brand, please show them the benefits for doing so. Talk about your CSR initiatives and what did they help to achieve. Thank your customers for supporting your initiative during the lock-down.
This campaign by Zomato shows consistency in their charity initiatives, with the plight of migrant workers highlighted. They appreciate their users for donating over 6million meals to the workers during the lock-down situation. Such campaigns are memorable for the users as they show that a brand means business when they take up their community initiatives.
Image source: Inbox
- Refresh send time and content
The pandemic crisis confined a large number of the world’s population to their homes, bringing on changes in their email behaviour.
According to a recent survey Netcore conducted with global email users, we asked if the time when the users check their emails had changed during the lock-down period. 76% of the users responded in the affirmative. Thus there is a need for a marketer to reset their previous STO metrics and collect the data for the new send times.
The type of content and subject lines which worked for you before may not work anymore, hence adopt AI-driven technologies like SLO to be more creative with your subject lines.
Once you have engaged with your customers, it is time to innovate and focus on future growth. You can’t expect things to just get back to the way they were after a lengthy lay off like a lock-down.
Your brand might have to focus on more accessible prices for products as the economy could take some time to recover. You should have a more humanized approach to the gradually opening market as the customers will prefer authentic and empathetic messaging. This means, embracing advanced technologies and collaborating on new services. It also means a giant push towards going online and combat supply chain challenges.
In order to thrive, a brand marketer will have to plan for the future and draw the roadmap for growth.
- Develop AI-driven contextual campaigns
AI is quickly becoming a factor in the martech space with technologies like SLO, STO, use of digital assistants in helping a marketer to create highly contextual content and innovative campaigns. Context is king in the current times. Thus, a personalized campaign with an attractive subject line sent at the right time to a segmented mailing list will be the future of email marketing.
- Unveil plans for the future
Some brands had to lay off staff during the lock-down closures due to low demand. You can convey the same to your audience and what you are planning to do going ahead with the staff you have.
Also, a majority of brands had to re-think their offline and online business plan. Many like ‘Zara’ have resorted to shifting their business to online shopping and slowly reducing their offline dependency on physical stores. If you have such plans then state them to your audience to give them an idea of the future of your brand.
You can provide a roadmap to your customers in terms of new acquisitions, brands you are collaborating with and the direction your brand will be taking post the pandemic.
In case of major decisions like the one by Zara, where they saw a surge of online sales by 95% during the lock-down period. The closure of physical stores and a shift towards online platform is a huge one and needs to be communicated to your subscribers. You should inform your audience on what they can expect from your brand going ahead.
- Re-design automation journeys carefully
The automation journeys and other trigger emails which were paused during the lock-downs due to their unsuitability with the global context, will need to be restarted.
But doing so, they need to be altered to fit a post-lockdown narrative. Some parts of the content will need to be tweaked in order to sound sympathetic towards the plight of the virus anxious users. They also need to be personalized for each user to provide that one to one communication experience that gets you high engagement and revenue.
If you wish to thrive in the post lock-down world then a multi-channel messaging strategy needs to be implemented for providing a singular experience to a customer across devices. It should also provide a single view to the customer of your portal across channels. Design detailed customer journeys with their shifting behaviours and then join the dots based on the responses you receive.
Post lock-down world demands brands to script their future strategies based on innovative thinking, at the same time having product and brand promise intact and alive. Those brands who have shown empathy in their messaging and tone during the lock-down will soar in their brand equity. They should thrive in the post lock-down period.
Brands will have to fulfill customer needs and maintain high safety standards amid the uncertainty and make it a tent pole in their future strategies. There will be a bigger push towards going digital for brands due to the social distancing rules.
Real-time conversations with highly contextual content should be the way ahead for marketers to navigate their way out of uncertain times.