It seems like every company under the sun is creating email content about measures they’ve taken to protect the safety and well-being of their customers, employees, and communities.
As we all sift through dozens of COVID-19 emails flooding our inboxes, it’s easy to ask, “Why are so many doing this?”
With so many people, businesses, and communities affected, businesses have all kinds of reasons: to announce disruptions to expected service and provide helpful workarounds, to reassure customers about health and safety precautions, to communicate business continuity plans, and to express solidarity with their audience and community. Ideally, they do it to be useful to their audiences.
But could painstaking descriptions of the steps your brand is taking to protect the community come off as pointless or opportunistic? Sure. Are there also risks for saying nothing? Absolutely.
If you’re going to say something, make it matter. That’s at the heart of all content marketing – create content that your audience would find relevant and that is relevant to your brand. Deliver it when your audience members want or need it, where they want it, at the right frequency.
Let’s take a look at seven examples of brands that are rising to the occasion to deliver value, offer assistance, and promote togetherness – even though we all need to stand six feet apart.
Everlane: Stay true to your brand values
As always, you need a compelling reason to pull your audience’s focus from their other priorities. Attention is a finite resource. In a crisis, you need to be especially quick and to the point.
Clothing retailer Everlane’s COVID-19 email gets right to the point, putting the news in the subject line – We’re Temporarily Closing Our Stores – to answer the question, “Why are we sending this email today?”
But it follows immediately with preview text that reinforces the company’s larger why – its purpose and mission: “Right now, it’s the right thing to do.”
That message is in line with the description of the Everlane philosophy on the company’s About Us page: “We believe we can all make a difference.”
The body of the email explains why the company is closing its stores and what the company is doing for its employees. (The email was sent March 14 before U.S. states had issued stay-at-home mandates.) It reads:
Note: Just two weeks after sending this email, Everlane laid off or furloughed many employees citing the lack of in-person retail business for the foreseeable future. The company didn’t share the news with its email list but should have since it opted to mention the employees in the earlier email.
TIP: Think about possible outcomes before you send the email. If you raise a topic in the email, be prepared to see it through – even when the news isn’t great. That’s the transparency your audience demands.
Two-Bit Circus: Maintain your brand voice
LA-based interactive amusement park Two-Bit Circus continued to entertain even as it informed its audience – it delivered serious messages in a voice consistent with the brand.
At first, when it seemed like the show might go on, Two-Bit Circus put its own playful spin on its safety-measures messaging by including some lighthearted images from the thermal camera set up at its front entrance and a lead-in note that it’s written “(a) little tongue-in-cheek, because nothing else can touch your cheek nowadays.”
Later, as the situation became more serious and California clamped down on all public gathering spots, it issued an update with gamer-friendly ideas – like creating a cardboard arcade from all your empty toilet paper rolls – to help their fans amuse themselves while stuck at home. And it maintained the lighthearted tone despite the change of plans:
Undo! Yesterday we told you we were open. Today – based on the rapidly evolving situation – we’re closing, at least until March 31. We’ve learned that even people without symptoms may be contagious, so we’ve decided that thermal cameras, hand sanitizer showers, and hoop skirts aren’t enough to keep our guests healthy.
There’s still good, clean fun to be had (with freshly washed hands). Here are some things you can do at home to recreate the Two-Bit Circus experience:
You can read the full text of the email (with the good clean fun recommendations).
Whole Foods: Keep focused on what you mean to your audience
Recognizing its necessary role in its audience’s lives, Whole Foods used its March 21 email to allay potential concerns by explaining the measures it’s taking to keep customers and employees safe. It uses third-party experts to validate its process, emphasizing that Whole Foods’ practices are “guided by the counsel of outside health and food-safety experts, including the CDC and local health authorities.”
The email also details how it is shifting its standard business – adjusting hours, allowing people 60 and older into the store before the general public, and closing its self-serve food bars. That’s information its community members need to know so they can plan properly.
The email also shares a link for more information in which Whole Foods promises to post updates as circumstances change – an essential resource for its audience.
Redfora: Connect your brand to the news in an organic way
One thing that living in earthquake-prone Los Angeles has taught me is the importance of preparing for all types of unpredictable situations. And a company I’ve relied on for helpful guidance on what to do in a crisis is Redfora, which sells emergency preparedness kits. A coronavirus pandemic initially represented a good opportunity to promote its new N95 mask protection kits, as it did in this first email:
But as the news evolved, Redfora rethought that decision and announced that it was donating its entire mask inventory to health care workers.
Redfora also delivered a follow-up email that included something I wasn’t expecting: a heartfelt, personal and product-free message of solidarity and encouragement. Though it will take more than positivity to make it through the viral crisis, statements like this one from the company’s founders made me feel a lot better about Redfora as a business:
If you’ve had to make a difficult decision or embrace a more inconvenient schedule this week, you can be proud to know you are a part of making things better and safer. Keep being the calm, reasonable friend that encourages your friends that feel anxious. Keep kindly sharing best practices on hand-washing and healthy habits with friends that haven’t yet caught up. Be a good neighbor and support those that could use a helping hand right now. Share your resources, your knowledge, and your helpful attitude.
Grubhub: Deliver to your internal and external audiences
Companies commonly use their content efforts to talk about how they care about their employees and their customers. But it’s always more impressive when they demonstrate that they’re practicing what they preach.
For example, food delivery service Grubhub broke away from the average COVID-19 response boilerplate with an email announcement that the company is deferring commission fees paid by restaurants for a limited time and establishing a community relief fund to support the immediate financial needs of its delivery drivers and restaurant partners – two communities whose livelihoods are directly impacted by the crisis.
Grubhub’s message also reinforced its commitment to customers by reminding them to take advantage of the contact-free delivery option.
Using contact-free delivery at checkout, you can safely continue to support your favorite local restaurants. For the safety of you and our drivers, drivers will call/text when they arrive and drop off your order on the doorstep, in the lobby or other area designated by you. This option is now available on the website and latest version of the app.
Travelzoo: Stay consistent
With both business and personal travel plans being canceled left and right, the outlook for travel industry marketers is looking grim right now. But, as the saying goes, this too shall pass, and once all those house-bound travel hounds are let off their six-foot leashes of social distance, Travelzoo anticipates they’ll be looking for affordable ways to get as far away from their safe seclusion spaces as possible.
On March 18, the company replaced its regular Top 20 Travel Deals email with one that opened with a subject line reflecting what many people felt (and probably hoped) – A Week Like No Other.
In the body of the email, the weekly message from Travelzoo’s general manager is drastically different from the usual. She explains why Travelzoo is continuing to publish but not in the usual way:
I have asked my team not to publish our Top 20 this week, and put our passion for travel aside to support our government in its efforts to contain the virus by staying at home.
She then explains why travel content still matters even while we’re all stuck sheltering in place. The note also points out a few new policies that will help consumers confidently pursue their passion for travel once they are able to venture out and about again:
Going forward, almost all offers we tell you about will be either fully refundable or can be changed without penalties. We will state this clearly for every offer to put your mind at ease. We’ve even created a new set of offers: You don’t have to pick travel dates when you buy them, and they are 100% refundable, no questions asked.
The next week, the company used the email to stoke readers’ love for travel while travel isn’t possible (or advisable) with an article called 20 Amazing Places You Can Visit Without Leaving Home. (Note how they kept the “20” theme for the weekly email.)
Farmgirl Flowers: Keep communicating
With so many things changing due to COVID-19’s impact, one-and-done may not be enough. When you have something important to say, say it. That’s been the philosophy of Farmgirl Flowers, a flower-delivery company that had to close its San Francisco distribution facility because of the city’s shelter-in-place mandate.
In a heartfelt email just after the closure was announced, Farmgirl president, Christina Stembel, first commiserated with everyone affected, then explained the impact on the company as a whole:
She also explains a shift in service – the company’s Ecuador facility would ship flower orders (while taking extra precautions for staff and recipients). In conclusion, she asks for support for the business, which in turn supports its employees and its farm partners.
“And, finally, we know there is a lot of information out there on what to buy, and we also know that flowers are nowhere near the top of any preparedness or safety list. But if there was an occasion you were planning to purchase Farmgirl for, or if a Farmgirl arrangement can help you be “there” when you can’t actually be there, I’d humbly ask for you to support our team, our company, and our farms with an order.
“Because, while there’s not a lot of certainty we can offer to our team of over 200 individuals and our many farm partners right now, I’m hoping that at least we can offer them the certainty of a good job and a healthy company to return to. But we can’t do it without all of you.”
But the emails from Farmgirl didn’t end there. Just two days later, she sent a thank-you note based on the response to her original email:
Farmgirl’s emails are written by the CEO, giving that personal touch. They are warm with an authentic human-to-human voice that keeps them from feeling salesy. The next week, Farmgirl returned to a more typical sales message in its email but carried over the warmth and personal tone from the previous emails:
If you don’t have anything useful to say, back away
At a time when the stakes for every business are high and our personal stress levels are even higher, there’s also something to be said for companies that are showing sensitivity and restraint by dialing back on unnecessary or excessively promotional emails.
I may be alone in this, but right now, any email I receive that isn’t need-to-know or immediately relevant is going straight into the trash bin. Who needs a 15% off coupon on brow treatments when you can’t go out in public to show ’em off (Sephora, I’m looking in your direction, boo)?
And if your email content is at all insensitive, oblivious, or self-serving in a time of crisis, the optics alone might be enough for consumers like me to continue to distance ourselves from your offerings even after the quarantine orders are lifted.
If your email #content is insensitive or self-serving, the optics alone might be enough for consumers to continue to distance themselves from your offerings after the quarantine, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
So, after you’ve enacted your CYA (cover-your-ass) protocols, if you don’t have anything further of value to contribute to the predominant conversation, it might be a good time to step away for a minute and rethink your email messaging strategy.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute