How COVID-19 has impacted email marketing. (Part 1)

A study by Profusion and Pure360

There’s little doubt that the way consumers have interacted with marketing has changed since the start of the pandemic. Marketers have had to adapt their strategies, many ditching their BAU advertising spends and increasing their email communications (whilst adapting the content), to some just pressing the pause button on all communications.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the crisis, marketers had to base their reaction on gut or leadership direction over data. However, in these rapidly changing times, marketers should follow a fact-based approach to decision making in order to manage the crisis more smoothly and to ensure long term successful resilience.

With this in mind, we studied the email marketing interactions of over 1 million Retail Consumers pre and during Covid-19. These insights will enable marketers to make more data driven decisions and plan their strategy with a greater level of confidence.

250% increase in online subscriptions (Account Set-ups)

Many retailers are finding themselves with a huge growth in email subscriptions, yet welcome or on-boarding nurture programmes remain the same, with old world content and no reference to how the business has changed or adapted. This is an opportunity missed.

The welcome or on-boarding programme will be one of your most engaged campaigns, with many brands reporting over 60% open rates, 30% click rates and some of the highest sales conversion rates. How you treat the consumer during this stage in their lifecycle with you will affect how loyal they are in the long term and ultimately their lifetime value.

Here are some ways you can adapt your welcome or on-boarding programme:-

  • Include how you have adapted your business for the safety of your staff and customer
  • Are there new rules to shopping in-store? Make sure you articulate these
  • Add in any changes to your returns policy if there are any
  • Are the images you are using supporting social distancing?
  • Are the products you promote in these emails relevant to these times?
  • Does the tone need adapting to suit any changes you have made recently?

40% reduction in sending volume

At the very start of the pandemic in the UK we saw a surge in the number of emails sent, with brands sending updates on how they are responding to the crisis. However, as the weeks went by and many businesses were forced to shut shop, the messages started to dwindle.

With brands unsure of what to say to their customers, a fear of not wanting to come across too ‘salesy’ in a crisis or not having the products to promote, we have seen a sharp decline in the communications to consumers.

Those that have not been agile in their messaging have either turned the tap to an occasional drip, or off entirely. This can have a detrimental effect not just on just on competitive edge, but also on email deliverability.

How brands have behaved and communicated over the pandemic will stay with consumers for a long time. Imagine now, as we start waking from our lockdown slumber, every retailer opening over the next few weeks will be scrambling to pick up the dialogue with their consumers again. It is paramount to your businesses success that you maintain that connection now, before you get lost in the noise.

If you know anything about email deliverability, then you know that you need a good sender reputation with the mailbox providers in order to reach your customer or subscriber inbox. A good sender reputation is built and maintained by consistent and engaging emails. In just a 2 to 3 week period of inactivity, mailbox providers will reset your reputation totally and your domain/AP will become neutral. So, when the time comes to start ramping up your volumes again you will find yourself having to do a warmup process to rebuild your good sender reputation. Ideally, if you really need to dial down the dialogue you will be keeping your marketing IP’s warm with a heartbeat campaign strategy and spread a single message over many days and weeks.

28% increase in desktop readership and a 7% increase in mobile readership

A surprise maybe for many? Has COVID-19 changed the way we internet? With PC sales making a comeback due to consumers needing to stay productive, connect and learn during lockdown, we have seen a huge uplift back to desktop readership. Bigger screens mean we need to ensure our emails render well on all devices. Ensure you consider your design and layout. However, this new resurgence may not last long as we come out of lockdown to go back into the classrooms and offices.

24% increase in open rates but a decrease in click rate by 10%

With less volume and an influx of COVID-19 messages to the inbox our study has also seen open rates increasing. Subject lines with coronavirus related mentions may have peaked the consumers interest, however as time throughout the lockdown has progressed these have been less relevant. As we move out of lockdown and brands begin to notify consumers that they are open or communicate a new way to shop in their stores we may see these increasing again.

Mass volume COVID-19 messages from CEO’s, with no real call to action has also meant that we have seen a reduction in click rates. To keep email engagement high, brands should always attempt to add hyperlinks back to websites with more information.

6% re-engagement of previously lapsed customers

Customers who hadn’t previously purchased within a 12-month period are suddenly back!  What’s more, stats are showing that 40% of these lapsed customers have made a repeat purchase. Now’s the time to test content and incentives that work best to maintain engagement with these previously lost customers.

Marketers should not ignore the power of email throughout a pandemic. As well as email marketing’s ability to help the business stay connected with the consumer, its draw back to the businesses website can produce a huge increase in revenues and deliver usefulness to the customer.

Marketers should understand what works for their audiences, analyse the data and test & adapt new ways of delivering on business objectives.

Why now is the time for marketers to invest in AI

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing marketers to think of new and innovative ways to meet business objectives and increase revenue. A new normal will mean that returning to usual BAU activity will render you irrelevant. Old processes and old ways of thinking will need to adapt to ensure your business cuts through the noise and stands apart from the competition.

Over the past two months many marketers have struggled to keep up with changing consumer behaviour. A struggle that may have been resolved with AI.

In part 2 of this article, our study will look at two excellent use cases that articulate why marketers should invest in AI now.



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