Connecting during a crisis: Email marketing and COVID-19

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In all but a few states, landscaping contractors have eagerly and cautiously ramped up their business efforts as the weather warms. From tree care to hardscaping, lawn maintenance to pest control, green industry companies are adapting to a new way of doing business.

Handshakes are no longer considered appropriate, standing six feet apart is a new normal and facemask requirements hamper valuable facial expressions often used when conversing with a current or prospective customer. Some businesses have stopped leaving door hangers or paper invoices and have adopted electronic invoices and payments, further removing the face-to-face connection. Editor's Note: This Article Was Written By A Guest Contributor

Yes, the COVID-19 crisis has changed everything about everything – including marketing. Many brands are using email as a nimble, personal tool to reach out to, reassure and remind audiences they are here for them. However, while audiences have more time to open and read emails, they also have different needs.

Here’s how email marketing looks – and what’s working – in this new era.

Why people are opening emails more but clicking less

Results data from various email service providers, as well as recent results from our own clients, show open rates are up. More people are at home and online, plus budget cuts for many marketers mean less crowded inboxes and less clutter.

But click-to-open rates are down, as “buy now” messages get ignored by nervous consumers, and boilerplate emails from brands about the situation don’t give audiences much reason to click.

All that to say: You don’t have to send a COVID-19 email just because seemingly everyone else is. Spam complaints are high for these emails, and negative reactions may lead to unsubscribes.

If you feel you must send a COVID-19 focused email, be careful what terms you use in the subject line. According to Jay Schwedelson of Worldata, terms like COVID-19, coronavirus or pandemic are increasingly being blocked by spam filters, as are terms like:

  • Urgent
  • Hurry
  • Critical
  • Serious
  • Alert
  • Rush

Additionally, people have crisis fatigue and are in a different buying mentality. So, make sure you have something relevant, unique and helpful to say. This is an opportunity to demonstrate empathy, build relationships with audiences, increase preference and boost brand positions for the long term – even though there may not be short-term sales results. In other words, it’s an excellent time to strengthen connections with your customers.

Three ways to connect during a crisis

The situation is very fluid, so guidance will likely evolve over the coming weeks. So far, here’s where we’re currently seeing success – and it’s likely that many of the changes green industry businesses are experiencing now will become standard procedures as we move forward.

  1. Acknowledge the situation and offer practical help or stress reduction. In particular, consumers want critical updates from companies such as when (and if) they are closing and how to remain in contact. A recent study showed a 41 percent increase in open rates in B2B and 34 percent in B2C for emails like this, especially with the right subject lines. Another study reported email is the preferred channel by 67 percent of consumers for receiving these kinds of communications, compared to 45 percent for social media.
  2. “Free” is bigger than ever. When used in subject lines, the word “free” is producing open rate increases of 39 percent in B2C and 31 percent in B2B emails. If you’ve recently been laid off, are concerned about being laid off or are under orders at your business to reduce expenses, an offer of something free can be very appealing.
  3. This is a great time for a sweepstakes or prize giveaway. Recipients who are out of work and/or have time on their hands are more likely to be interested in the chance to win something of value and more willing to take the time to complete the entry requirements. For example, if current customers have canceled their regular lawn service or if new customer inquiries are down, offering a few giveaways or discounts can get your company’s message out and capture a list of interested prospects – to whom you can market when their financial situation improves.

While the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the green industry remain to be seen, it’s clear that we’re all trying to live and do business in a world that’s very different than what it was just a few short months ago.

This new reality means there are new rules to follow when connecting with your customers. And, that’s especially true in a medium like email. Focus on the benefits your customers will experience if they choose to work with you. Think about what difficulties they’re experiencing right now and let them know how you can help.

In other words, if you’re going to drop into someone’s inbox, make sure you have something of value to say.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parker Stoner is senior vice president/director of database marketing at Swanson Russell, a marketing communications agency in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, specializing in the construction, agriculture, outdoor recreation and professional green industries.

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