Using Heartbeat Campaigns to safeguard your Domain Health During COVID-19

 In Email Deliverability, Email Infrastructure

COVID-19 crisis has changed the dynamics of the marketing world. Some brands are slashing their marketing budgets as the demand is low with the shut-down of non-essential services. Hence, the promotional activity is not prioritized at present.

Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 , most of the industries have taken a hit on their daily transactions or they have either totally suspended their operations.

Due to the lock-down, some industries like travel , hospitality , e-commerce  have suffered. Either they are not operational any more due to government directives or they have been restricted in their operations.

As a result the brands in this category who were active in email marketing, have reduced their marketing cost to zero. They have either stopped or are sending very little email communication with their customers.

It is estimated that the travel sector would face losses up to $820 bn in revenue due to the corona crisis.

According to Bloomberg, the health crisis will cost the global economy $2.7 trillion.

Naturally, the brands mean to start doing their promotional activities once the pandemic is over and things clear up.

While there are multiple factors to be looked at, one important thought for a brand marketer will be “What should I do when things become normal ? “

When this crisis is over and restrictions on social distancing and lock-downs are lifted off, then the brands will resume their promotional emailing. If there has been inactivity on your sending domain for the interim period of 2 months, then resuming your regular volumes will not be possible immediately. Also, there is a chance that during the post-corona times, the demand for promotions will be higher than expected.

Why you ask?

Because email works in a different way. And if you think it is as easy as pausing volumes for a period of months and then restarting them on one fine day, then you could be in a for a wake up call! Though corona crisis has brought the world down to their knees, email spam filters will continue to function normally.

Here is a deliverability perspective on the way email works.

What does pausing your mailing do to the domain health?

  • Since the email traffic goes down gradually or overnight , mailbox providers tend to see a trend and adjust your infrastructure reputation accordingly.

  • Just like you warmup your domain/IP by increasing the volumes steadily in phases.

Similarly, the reputation gets reset in phases.

  • Over a period of 2-3 weeks of inactivity, mailbox providers will reset your reputation totally and domain/IP will be neutral.

  • When the time comes to restart your mailing it should be same as warmup process for the domain, that you have followed in the past.

Now once the corona crisis is over , and your regular mailing starts, will you have the time for warmup after you restart your marketing functionalities after a month or so?

Definitely No!

So considering this, the deliverability consultants at Netcore have a solution for this called ‘heartbeat’ campaigns.

What is a heartbeat campaign?

Heartbeat campaign is an email campaign sent to low volume of users from your mailing list during periods of inactivity or absence of major promotions.

If you are an e-commerce store and your major sale season is over, then during the interval time till the next promotional season comes around, you can run heartbeat campaigns to keep your domain health intact.

This is common for brands who have seasonal sale periods punctuated by periods of inactivity.

Example: If you sell Halloween apparel , you might see period of high demand between August to October. But after that your promotions and the demand will reduce.

You can send low email volume rather than stopping it altogether. You can send the campaigns at the same frequency during the off-peak period, as you used to during your period of high activity.

What will be the benefit of sending heartbeat campaigns?

As we know now that heartbeat campaigns will be sent to a lower percentage of your mailing list with the main intention of keeping your domain health intact.

Sending these campaigns in the interim period of COVID-19 crisis will ensure that when the dust settles down and all the brands can resume their regular mailing, your brand will be the one able to scale up on volumes the fastest!

That’s a good advantage to have!

Sending volumes in the interim period will ensure that your domain is viewed by mailbox providers as a regular mailer. If the domain goes inactive for a period of time and then suddenly starts sending large volumes, then it sends out a pattern warning to most mailbox providers.

Especially Gmail has their AI/ML based anti-spam filters tuned in to catch such patterns and identify them as spammy. On the other hand, sending small volumes with heartbeat campaigns will ensure that your sending domain is perceived as a good sender throughout your email program.

Here is a short time-line we have for the period of time required to warmup a domain from scratch and time required for you to scale up on your volumes if you have maintained small volumes throughout the corona crisis time:

                  Fig: Timeline showing scaleup with Zero Volumes Vs 30% Volumes

What content can you send for these campaigns?

You can cover some topics as given below in your campaigns:

-  Talk about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives your brand will be taking to adapt to COVID-19 measures.

-  Spread general awareness about the situation with regular tips to avoid infections and fight this virus.

-  Any update on latest developments or any uplifting of restrictions on industries etc.

-  Talk about how your company is coping with the spread of COVID-19 and provide some insights into the precautionary measures raised as a result.

-  Share best customer testimonials and success stories to boost customer confidence.

Some more ideas for campaigns:

  • The essential services are growing in demand as people are scared to step out of the house.

Thus, services like e-grocery stores , food-delivery services can e-mail on the safety practices they are using to deliver your goods to your doorstep.

Example: Bigbazaar [1] has recently come up with a campaign where you can call the local store with your requirements and they will provide doorstep delivery. This is a physical store that is now offering home delivery so that people do not have to step out of their homes for grocery needs.

  • Your content in this instance can be about how it is safe to order during these tough times and how they are ensuring behind the scenes that your essentials are delivered on time.

Example:

This campaign by carrot fertility [2] from SF, California on hosting a webinar with fertility experts to talk about treatments during COVID-19. These will educate your customers and provide them with more information to combat the stress caused by coronavirus situation.

  • In the case of BFSI industry like payment wallets and banks, they can send content on going digital as people are currently anxious to exchange cash due to transmission fear.

Kotaklife [3] is sending day wise mailers with new tips everyday to their customers to combat the stress and anxiety of Covid-19 . These mailers contain tips and sometimes videos of stress relaxation techniques and precautionary measures to take to maintain good health during the social distancing period.

E-commerce giant Flipkart [4] is doing a similar 21 day safe-living campaign during the lock-down period. They have developed an entire series on content on healthy indoor living. The campaign is contextual with today’s scenario and provides a positive spin on the lock-down period by improving your health.

An excellent campaign series to show that even if you can’t do any promotional content you can still engage with your customers on an emotional level during the crisis.

  • Travel industry brands like airlines and booking portals can send content based on any future dream destinations people will like to visit and how to plan their future trips now. This could provide a good feeling of positivity in customers who are regular travellers and they can look forward to a near future trips they can take.

They can plan their trips in the meanwhile and book later when the picture is clearer and restrictions are lifted.

  • Hospitality industry can send their subscribers easy to make chef recipes via a video channel so that their subscribers who are foodies can create these dishes in their kitchens.

  • It would be a great branding exercise as well as a good community service initiative  if you are affiliated with some NGO who are contributing to community service during this time.

Example could be this campaign run by Zomato – a food delivery and restaurant reservation app [4] to feed the daily wager labourers in India during the harsh economic times of corona crisis. Campaigns of CSR initiatives like these bring out the true character of a brand and showcase it to your users as valuable , responsible and socially aware.

- The thing to remember during this critical time, is that we are all in this together. Hence if you are an e-commerce store and are facing logistical problems then you can always collaborate with another brand and seek solutions.

Example: Bigbasket is a e-grocery brand in India which is having this collaboration with other brands to satisfy their heavy backlog of customer orders.

They could be able to allocate some resources for logistics in your brand’s area of delivery and you could fulfil their requirement in exchange.

Some e-grocery and essential services are having this pop-up message when you open their mobile app. This is a good email update to offer as well in case your current orders are overwhelming and you need to inform your customers of delays.

How do you plan for these campaigns?

Your email calendar needs to be carefully designed if you wish to have a successful run at sending these campaigns in the interim period.

In our recommendation if you were mailing twice a week during your regular promotion period then continue following the same frequency for the interim period.

Your communication should be meaningful and adding some value for your subscribers on the lines of the above campaign ideas.

Also check on your automated journey campaigns if they are still relevant to the global scenario today.

Target audience and mailing frequency:

If for example you are going to keep up with your frequency of sending a mail every alternate day in the week to your users then you can divide your mailing list in 5 parts and send one campaign in 10 days time. Thus you can pick the users to be mailed in batches and segment your user list accordingly.

Here the users who are moderately engaged with your brand can be send some awareness campaigns from your brand during this time. The engaged users on the other hand who are also your regular transactors can be sent some informational content. The goal is to keep the users engaged during this time to prevent a social disconnect.

Mailbox providers have algorithms which will place your emails in inbox of the user,  if they are relevant and the user has responded to your brand in the past by opening and clicking your mails. Thus, you have a chance here in re-activating your entire mailing list in batches by sending them value-adding messaging and keeping in touch.

The frequency and messaging needs to be maintained at your regular rate and not more in absence of other promotions so as to avoid overwhelming your users.

Your website and campaign analytics can provide useful data points on which users are more engaged with the brand and which users are transacting more until last month or so. Also along with those, the users who are more active on your platform or app are the users which need to be reached out first with your emails, followed by the moderately active users.

Wrapping up

COVID-19 has clearly sent large curveballs for brands to navigate and still keep in touch with their customers.

Especially if you are a brand marketer and wish to continue email marketing, then your domain health needs to be intact during the corona crisis period. Keep sending low volume heartbeat campaigns to your mailing list and keep providing value to your subscribers with innovative content.

Once the doom and gloom lifts off and we all resume our regular lives, then you will not have to take much effort in resuming your regular email volumes.

Your content should make a difference to your audience in these troubled times. This will ultimately build trust and bond with your brand and they will remember it when you will resume your regular promotions.

References:

[1] https://www.bigbazaar.com/

[2] https://reallygoodemails.com/emails/join-our-webinar-tomorrow-what-you-need-to-know-about-covid-19-and-fertility/

[3] https://insurance.kotak.com/

[4] https://www.flipkart.com/

[5] https://www.zomato.com/mumbai/shikha-fast-food-chinese-treat-wagle-estate-thane-west-thane/order

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