We’ve arrived at Fourth of July Weekend 2020. Normally at this time of year, our inboxes are flush with sales! and deals! for everything from new mattresses and cars to clothing blowouts and early back-to-school shopping.
If you were to walk into one of Kendra Scott’s retail stores early this year, you wouldn’t see jewelry hidden under a glass case. Everything would be out in the open for you to touch and feel, and you’d be greeted by retail associates ready to help you fasten that necklace you were eyeing. Fast forward a few months that felt like years, and over 100 stores are still open only for curbside pickup, with mask mandates and social distancing still in effect, Kendra and her team have had to get creative. In a recent webinar with Inc., she shared a few tips on how COVID-19 has changed her overall business model — and how other retailers can thrive while navigating these unprecedented times.
Especially in light of our current situation, the year 2022 seems light-years away. But 2022 is rapidly approaching and it’s when Google said it will eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome.
Now that we’ve distanced ourselves from the rapid succession of “In these uncertain times,” “COVID-19 Update,” and “We’re Here For You” subject lines in our inboxes, let’s take this time to look back at how companies tackled email marketing (in) a crisis.
After your 50th email on the topic, it probably felt like all of the emails were unwelcome and bad, but there is actually a lot of good to be found. This will encompass a lot, but truly any email that made you feel anything ranging from neutral to good (whether through reassuring facts or distractions) gets a passing grade.
A study done by Morning Consult, a data intelligence company, found that what people really wanted from advertising during this time was: info on companies’ service adjustments/updates (44%), and info detailing how a company is helping during the pandemic (24%).
In our experience, we saw this delivered in multiple cases. A car mechanic reached out to its customers — not to let them know about the great discounts and deals they could take advantage of — but to offer their excess toilet paper (free of charge) and free grocery delivery service, along with contactless options for having a vehicle serviced.
We saw an airline send weekly updates on the state of air travel and how that company will be changing its operations to make traveling safer for everyone.
The same Morning Consult study, Weathering the Storm: Brand Management in COVD-19 Era, revealed that only 13% of Americans surveyed thought all advertising should stop. However, they do have a clear preference for how companies do that: It’s not about advertising to, it’s about communicating with.
In that realm, we saw the most good. We saw brands reaching out with tips, ideas, messages about how the brand intends to uphold its values. There have been messages from grocery stores reassuring that spring has not actually been canceled, and ways to embrace the season. Tips across the board for children and parents alike have encompassed how to move forward with a schedule no one expected to have. A brand entirely focused on home — renovating, restoring, and decorating — sent a message not focusing on consumers buying their products, but about creating a space for their community to share their experiences.
Approaching this as both consumers and marketers, it’s a little tricky to point out some of faux pas. It’s important to consider that maybe some companies didn’t have the budget to dedicate to emergency communications. Maybe there were too many legal hoops to jump through to send a message expediently. There are plenty of reasons something could have gone wrong. Ultimately, these emails all came from people, and we believe in being human. No one and no brand is perfect.
But for the sake of trying to improve for the future, we submit a no-name-calling list of not-so-great emails:
To this list of bad messaging, we also include any email that played into what seemed like a universal script for businesses during tragedy: In these trying times, we’re here for you. As shown in the compilation below, when delivered en masse, the message loses its effect, and hints that businesses are only trying to tell us what they think we want to hear in order to keep our business.
And that brings us to…
The instinct for businesses to stick to their original business models and marketing strategies is strong. It’s got them where they are now after all.
But, consumers can detect a disingenuous rat, even if it has good intentions. From a 2015 article addressing the topic of insincerity in cause marketing, School CEO Max Lenderman said, “Brands have to be like verbs: There has to be visible action. But consumers today are sophisticated enough to see when love is being bought. You’re not making anyone ‘happy’ with soda water and diabetes — and consumers can see through that.”
Similarly, consumers can see that brands being “here for them” means nothing when they are not also offering actionable tips and content or meaningful savings on vital products and services during a crisis.
In the Wall Street Journal‘s examination of coronavirus marketing, Samantha Geloso, a copywriter in New York, said that marketers and agencies would do best if they focused on solving problems and left most of the messaging for another day, Ms. Geloso said.
“Now more than ever, to quote every commercial ever, you can actually stop emotionally manipulative montages and use your resources for good,” she said. “It can be even a small problem.”
To succeed as a company is to succeed with your consumers. And during disasters, pandemics, and tragedies companies have to be willing to make their messaging — and their values — focus on people behind the dollars.
At best, insincere messaging can be ignored. But at its worst, putting profits before people is how brands lose audiences forever.
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.”Dieter F. Uchtdorf
As any consultant will confirm, agencies come with a certain future-looking expectation. We’re the experts, and we should be able to predict what’s next. When yet another decade comes to an end, we’re all called upon to look at the last 10 years to predict the next 10.
Up until the late 2010s, it was a nearly country-wide shared experience to seek information on a government website (federal or state) and suddenly find yourself back in 1997. On the web, the colors were loud, the information was crowded, the navigation was almost nonexistent and actual answers were elusive.
“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”F. Scott Fitzgerald
Damn, F. Scott; that’s cold. We were just trying to express our excitement. The most enthusiastic of the punctuation options, the exclamation point has gotten a bad rap among, well, seemingly everyone. But was it always this way? Or did the internet kill the exclamation point and Fitzgerald’s disgust was simply ahead of its time?