Don’t panic and send toilet paper emails

To be bluntly honest: I really struggled with this blog post. So many others in the industry are already talking about when to send (or more importantly when NOT to send) Covid-19 emails that I’ve found it hard to put my own unique perspective on this topic. This might sound familiar if you’re thinking of sending, or feeling the pressure to send, an email relating to Covid-19.

I knew I would have to say something though when I received an email about postponing a 5k race from a running company that I haven’t interacted with since 2011. When I thought about it, I realized I actually lost my running shoes sometime during a move. In 2012. And haven’t replaced them since!

Note to self: do something about that while socially-distancing?

Now, this running brand wasn’t trying to take advantage of the situation or do anything malicious. It was probably just a send-to-all that was not fully thought through. Maybe it was even mandated by management.

Despite the good intentions, I wonder what damage has been done to their sending reputation from it – because yes, it undoubtedly will have. They would have received spam-trap hits, and complaints due to emailing people who haven’t interacted with them for nearly a decade. When they reschedule the race in the future, will that notification now hit the spam folder for many of their actual active recipients?

Some brands are missing the mark by a wide margin.

At dotdigital, this is not what we want for our customers! Don’t be a toilet paper panic buyer. Keep your head. We want you to really think ahead to the coming weeks and months as we all adjust to this unsettling situation, and for you to come out the other side sender reputation intact, and end-customer relationships stronger than ever.

As a recap, here’s the general industry consensus for sending out Covid-19 related emails:

Unless you’re communicating a decision that changes the ability of a recipient to interact with you in their usual way, don’t send it.

If you’re not canceling an event, closing premises, or restricting opening hours, you don’t need to send an email.

Always think about the recipient

Look at your own mailboxes. You want to know about event cancellations and how your food delivery service will cope with this crisis.

Don’t clutter this information with the 20th mail about how successful a business contingency plan has kicked in or how much you wish your customers all the best. There are better places for these kind of messages, such as your website, social media, or when customers contact you on an individual basis.

If you’re communicating something important, target your messages carefully so that they’re relevant to the recipients

If you’re canceling an event, non-attendees of that event don’t need to know. Recipients who haven’t interacted with your brand recently don’t need to know – and “recent” will depend on your usual sales cycle. If you’re closing or restricting hours for specific locations, only target those nearby those locations. If you have a service outage, only target those who have recently used your service. 

If you just want to send out a message of “we’re all in this together” then use other channels, such as social media, your blog or your website

Be careful with your messaging so that it doesn’t appear to your customer community that you’re simply virtue-signaling – or worse, trying to take advantage of the current situation. There are real people out there who are hurting and you need to keep this top of mind.

If in doubt, just don’t send it

If you’re on the fence about whether or not it’s a necessary email, or whether you’re striking the right tone, or if you’re unable to segment and target appropriately, then not sending the email is the best idea. As with political emails, mailbox providers such as Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and others, aren’t making special allowances for Covid-19 emails.

Sending the wrong message to the wrong recipients will negatively affect your ability to reach the inbox in the future.

It’s not worth risking your brand reputation or your delivery reputation on something you’re uncertain about.

Looking to the future

Having a well-defined strategy around who should be sent a message about Covid-19 is important, and step one. With that out of the way, what should you be focusing on in the mid- to long-term when it comes to your emails?  
Here are some things to keep in mind as you are building a plan for the future.  

From a delivery and deliverability perspective, mailbox providers like to see consistency

We’ve touched on the 6 Cs of deliverability before, and consistency is a big one. If you’re choosing to scale back your email campaigns, remember that you’ll need to ramp back up again in the future when you return to normal volume. This is especially important for customers on dedicated IPs where ramping back up to larger daily sends can be challenging.

Additionally, your customers like consistency so keeping to it will not only maintain your sending reputation with mailbox providers – it’ll also be of benefit to your recipients.

Engagement is always key for inbox placement 

When recipients interact with your emails, they’re indicating their like or dislike of the message that’s been sent. The challenge is going to be making sure your content is still relevant to your recipients and that they are engaging positively.

The usual behavior of your contacts may change now that they’re more than likely at home while possibly simultaneously trying to take care of kids and vulnerable family and friends. Paying attention to your analytics and keeping track of how your subscriber base is interacting with you will be key to understanding this new way of life. You’ll be able to adapt your sending frequency and content to continue being a sender that your subscribers want to hear from.

Segmentation and targeting is now more important than ever

It’s a great time to expand your preference center if you haven’t already so that you can put the power back into the hands of your contacts. Let them tell you what their situation is like and how your brand can be useful to them by allowing them to adjust the frequency and content of the emails you’re sending them.

The more timely and relevant your emails are, the more likely recipients are to engage, and the better inbox placement you’ll see.

List hygiene is really vital for sending reputation

We’re all super aware of our hand hygiene right now (BRB, off to sing happy birthday to myself for the 14th time today) but have you considered list hygiene? Now is as good a time as ever to weed out people from your lists who never engage with your brand.

Unread emails are a clear sign to mailbox providers that their users aren’t interested in your emails. Sending too many unopened messages will make it more likely for future mailings to end up in the junk folder for other recipients. Having a proper process in place to make sure your lists are quality will be vital to a success ongoing strategy. 

Finally, pay attention to replies

Remember that email is a two-way communication channel. Your reply-to address should be an active mailbox that you monitor. You can use direct feedback to adjust your sending practices. Mailbox providers LOVE seeing replies to emails and take it as a really strong signal that your emails are wanted, so this has the added bonus of further improving your sending reputation.

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