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The best and the worst of email marketing during a crisis

It’s perfectly possible to continue email marketing, but what (if anything) do subscribers want? The way different organisations have responded has been striking, ranging from excellent to truly appalling. This seems to have been your experience too, with several of you unable to resist forwarding emails that had struck you, for good or bad. (Thank you!)

Here are seven approaches currently hitting my inbox.  

  1. The carry on regardless email. Absolutely no change to frequency or content. Sorry, I’m deleting these on sight, I’m really not in the mood to pretend everything’s fine.
  2. The tokenism email. Starts with a reference to extraordinary times. Ends with ‘stay safe’. Carry on regardless in between. Actively irritating, also deleting on sight.
  3. The let’s all cheer up email. Here’s a real first line from a publisher that really should know better (far too dreadful to name and shame, sent to teachers on 30 March): ‘Another week down! Y’all are killing it!’ (OK, this is possibly in a group all on its own, the worst email of 2020 in my inbox to date.)
  4. The we’re here for you email. Potentially excellent if done well, but backfires badly if an empathetic opening is then followed by frivolous special offers for things you don’t care about just now. (Hair straighteners anyone?)
  5. The come to a webinar email. Really? I’m spending my life online at the moment, this is about the least appealing offer I could imagine.
  6. The tips for WFH email. We could probably all write our own list of working from home tips by now, but that doesn’t mean it makes good email content when it accounts for half the emails in the inbox. But make it specific to your sector/expertise, and make this clear in the subject line, and this could be a winner.
  7. The let’s be honest email. This approach is the only one working for me right now. It acknowledges both the crisis and the fact that normal is definitely suspended. It explains how the company is responding, and how it’s impacted, but without being preachy or self-obsessed. And it offers something of value to readers that it’s able to give. One of the best examples came from Bradt Travel Guides, subject line ‘Bradt readers – we need you now!’ With everybody’s travel currently suspended this personal email encourages readers to ‘Keep dreaming. Keep reading’, with the help of 50% off its guidebooks to help them plan for happier times ahead.
Maybe I’m unusually irritable when I review my inbox just now. Or do you recognise my assessment and reactions from your own experience?

We’ve decided to switch to monthly eBulletins and largely lay off the selling messages. It’s enough for us for now to just stay in touch. You know where we are if you need us, and we’d love to hear from you even if you just want to share your own examples from your inbox.

View the Bradt email for yourself.

And of course, our Email Marketing Workshop is the reason why we collect good and bad examples of email practice.


14 April 2020

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