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Email Marketing in the Wake of COVID-19: Keeping your program healthy

Please resist the urge to "Send to all" when sending any coronavirus communications (or ever). The ISPs are still on high alert

The COVID-19 pandemic currently impacting our world is something I once only believed was possible in Hollywood movies – schools being closed for more than a month in some areas, entire companies forcing employees to work from home, restaurants and bars closing and the scary thoughts of how this is impacting our economies all while we worry about keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and comforted during the ever-changing turning of events while they unfold. It’s a lot to take in.

In the wake of this, in the last few days, our inboxes have become flooded with coronavirus-related messages. These emails aim to reduce our fears and maintain brand loyalty during this unpredictable time. However, these messages varied between compassionate to self-fulfilling, and many more came from brands I don’t even remember engaging with for years.

This is bad practice.

And so, I wanted to provide important reminders and tips to help you keep your email program healthy, too.

Keep best practices in mind!

Just like we see in many grocery and bulk stores in the United States – with customers over-buying and hoarding essential items like toilet paper, rice, pasta, and more due to fear and the unknown, the same is happening with email sending practices globally as well.

Please resist the urge to “Send to all” when selecting your target groups, lists, and audiences for sending any COVID-19 communications in the next several weeks – or ever. Just because the world is seemingly paralyzed by fear don’t expect the ISPs to be reacting in the same way as well.

Microsoft, Gmail and the Verizon Group (i.e. Yahoo and AOL) are still monitoring IPs and domains, and dramatic spikes in sending volume with significant increases in negative deliverability factors (think hard and soft bounces, spam complaints and invalid addresses) are going to hurt your sender reputation scores and ability to land important revenue-generating promotional messages into your customer’s inboxes.

Microsoft has started to send messages sent to Outlook, Office 365, and Hotmail subscribers to their “Quarantine” status – not appearing in either spam, junk, or inbox folders due to throttling issues related to the spike in volumes. Moreover, the BBC has recently reported that the increase in phishing and scam emails specific to coronavirus is the worst they’ve seen in years – so all of the ISPs are on alert.

Remember, if your customer hasn’t opened or clicked through on your email in the last year, they probably won’t open the one you’re sending tomorrow regarding the measures you’re taking to protect them and your employees from COVID-19 either.

Continue to send smart communications and follow best practices. If you want to reach a larger audience, consider adding a banner on your site’s homepage for the next several weeks that speaks specifically to the current state of the world and link to a unique landing page instead.

Remember the impact email can have

Email continues to be my favorite marketing channel for so many reasons – but first and foremost, it’s because its ability to be personalized to create a 1:1 relationship with your recipient. What an impact that can have – especially during a time like this.

While I’ve certainly received a few coronavirus “Don’ts” in the last few days – I’ve received a handful of astonishing emails from marketers and brands who nailed it.

While they focus on steps taken to keep customers safe, they also address other concerns: How employees would be taken care of and kept employed, additional options and solutions, and more importantly – putting their core values front and center.

For example, Sephora, in an effort to minimize the strain the virus is having on business, is offering free shipping on all orders to drive less traffic in-store, which helps to speak to social distancing and more traffic to their online shopping.

Starbucks, and other fast-food chains, spoke of their cleanliness and steps they’re taking to keep restaurants clean – but also how they’re working to keep dining rooms closed, but focused on delivery and drive-through options. Again, customers want to know what you are doing – but also how their lives won’t be impacted as much. Providing information that helps to create normalcy at a very abnormal time is so impactful.

Focus on optimization

With more people working from home, logging in for homeschooling, gaming online, and shopping from home while social distancing and avoiding group settings is the norm – optimization should be your focus.

Typically, we optimize as needed or when testing supports it. Still, I expect to see more site traffic as footfall dwindles and acquisition efforts, and email sign up optimization should be a key priority now.

Consider how to drive email sign-ups and test offers, content, and more to keep subscribers engaged. Test conversion optimization with variants on landing pages, welcome series, and more as email will be a more powerful tool for communicating, sharing, and a driver for purchasing too. Look for ways to optimize transactional messages as well.

Find ways to deliver your value proposition to your customer

Don’t lose sight of your brand’s value proposition during the pandemic. Often when the environment, life, or events around us become uncontrollable, it’s easy to forget who we are and become someone we don’t recognize. Regroup and stay true to what has always set you apart from competition – and what makes you who you are. Look for ways to take your value proposition and make it benefit the customer now.

If you’re in gaming – why should customers visit your site over another brand/site? How can you take them to a place or give them a feeling of joy or pleasure where they don’t feel alone or scared – where they forget the world around them for a few hours?

If you’re in retail – why should customers purchase from you online vs. your competitors? How can you recreate the feeling of shopping at a brick and mortar store?

Maybe you can offer phone or chat services that provide a sales associate-like experience of in-store shopping?

Now’s the time for all of us to get out of our box, get creative, and be customer-centric more than ever.


If you’d like to learn more tips for email marketing during these times join our Director of Email Marketing, Dana Shirlen on Wednesday, April 29th at 1PM BST or 1PM EDT for a 40 minute webinar on the subject.

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Dana Shirlen

Dana Shirlen leads Optimove’s internal email marketing agency as Director of Email Marketing. Dana has over 15 years managing the email marketing strategies of many recognizable global B2C and B2B brands. As the Director of Email Marketing, Dana is bridging the gap for Optimove’s customers in providing a data-driven marketing plan and timely implementation grounded in best practices, targeted content and visually engaging design. Prior to her role at Optimove, Dana managed the CRM and email marketing strategies for enterprise clients at Tinuiti. Dana holds a BS from Ohio University, with a major in Advertising Management and concentrations in both marketing and creative writing.