COVID-19 Email newsletters – read, write and press SEND

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating significant disruption in all areas of business and life. To help you to find some order in the chaos and adjust to new ways of doing and being, Doctor Digital has put together a series of COVID-19 blogs with tips, tricks, hacks and suggestions for how digital and e-commerce tools can support you and your business.

Doctor Digital Says

COVID-19 rolls on, business remain largely closed for contact-based transactions, with many businesses getting into the swing of an online inventory and new ways of engaging. Whether you are transacting a lot, or a little, or not at all, in the shutdown it is critically important to keep communicating with your customers, now more than ever. One of the best ways to communicate right now is using your email lists. Email remains one of the most engaged-with and converted forms of communication, and while we are mostly at home, we are tending to read more, and be looking for distractions and little rays of light in our inbox. Be that ray.

The success of your email marketing campaign ultimately begins with the size and quality of your mailing list database. If you have access to a large number of past customers, or people who are interested in your business and keen to receive your emails, then you will have far more success than if your database is old and out of date, or contains people who are no longer interested in your business or products. We’ve all received emails since COVID-19 from businesses we bought a vegetable peeler from eight years ago telling us they care about our health. Which is more likely to elicit scorn than feelings of being really thought about. If you don’t regularly communicate with your email list, have a quick tidy of it, perhaps run a social media campaign for some invigoration, and you can also note in your content that maybe it’s been a while since you said hi. But more on that content later.

To build a successful email marketing campaign, you should start by making sure that you have the best possible mailing list at your disposal. You should be aiming to capture email addresses and consent to receive emails from your existing customers, your followers on social media, visitors to your website and other people who interact with your business in some way. This will help you during COVID-19 and afterwards, so build in a capture of some sort or run a campaign on social media to get people signing up. A key advantage of building your own email list is that you own it. Using email marketing enables you to sidestep the gatekeepers and speak directly with your customers, using your brand language.

Ideally, your customers should have an easy opportunity to subscribe to your mailing list every time they interact with your business. In addition to making it easy for customers to sign up, you can also look into some options for incentivising mailing list sign-ups. Some common strategies include:

  • Discounts: Providing a discount on something the customer is about to purchase if they sign up for the mailing list, or offering a discount coupon for a future purchase at the point of sign up.
  • Exclusive promotions: Providing exclusive deals to subscribers to the mailing list that are only accessible to those who receive the marketing emails. This not only encourages people to sign up to the mailing list but can also encourage them to remain subscribed for longer.
  • Contests: Entering mailing list subscribers into a contest. The better the prize, the more likely subscribers will see this as a reason to share their contact details.
  • Newsletters and downloads: Offering your customers regular correspondence like a newsletter or magazine is a great way of value-adding their relationship with you and keeping in touch. Similarly, offering a download of a report, white paper, marketing strategy or the like is also a good way to collect contacts while providing a tangible product for your customers.

Learn more about building an email list.

Popular email newsletter platforms

Two particularly popular platforms that are powerful and easy to use are MailChimp and Campaign Monitor. You may have seen their branding at the foot of newsletters you’ve received, even from major companies. There are distinct advantages to using products like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, such as:

  • The newsletters can look highly professional and branded to reflect your business.
  • Newsletters can be personalised with a Dear <name> field.
  • Images and video are easy to load into the newsletter templates.
  • Bulk emails can be sent without your email crashing.
  • Newsletter opening and click-through rates are recorded.
  • Once you have set up an email template, you can quickly reuse it for subsequent newsletters.
  • It’s easy to export your email list from (for example) Excel to either platform.
  • There is an automatic built-in unsubscribe feature.

Products like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor also have built in tools that help you grow and maintain your mailing lists, including automated mailing list subscription forms that you can embed into your website or add to your social media accounts. Squarespace is now also building a customer relationship tool into its swag of paid features.

Learn more about Mail Chimp.

Learn more about Campaign Monitor.

Remember to comply with anti-spam legislation

Australian anti-spam legislation requires that businesses comply with three general principles when they use email for marketing purposes:

  • Ask for consent: Before sending emails to your existing customers or adding them to a mailing list you should ensure that you have asked for and received their consent to receive such emails. This can be done by including a tick box on a subscribe form, by adding a tick box to a printed form or by receiving consent in some other way. At its heart, it’s a pretty straightforward principle; if your customer hasn’t given you permission to send them marketing emails, don’t add them to your mailing list without asking them. Consent can be inferred through an existing business relationship, but even in those cases, it’s better to create a process to ask for consent more formally if you can.
  • Identify yourself: When you send marketing emails it’s important that your business is clearly identified as the sender of the email. You can use the from: field in the email to identify yourself, but ideally, you should also try to have some branding in the email itself to make it very clear who is sending the email.
  • Include an unsubscribe link: To comply with anti-spam legislation, you also need to ensure that every marketing email you send includes an unsubscribe link that enables people to easily opt-out of receiving such emails in the future. Most email marketing tools include this option by default, but if you’re not using an industry-standard product, you might need to include this manually.

Ultimately, complying with anti-spam legislation in Australia is relatively easy to do and, as a general rule, it also ensures that your customers have a better experience as a result.

Learn more about the Spam Act.

How often to send a newsletter during COVID-19

While posting frequently is typical for social media, marketing emails can be sent much less frequently and still have a lasting brand impact. The key part is that when customers receive something from you, it adds value, and isn’t just for the sake of sending something. So how often you send will have a lot to do with what you have to say. As this could become one of the primary ways you are doing comms during COVID-19, consider what might work best: for instance, if you have seasonal produce or a changing takeaway menu, you might send weekly. Or you might do fortnightly or monthly but have random one-offs for when there is an event like Mother’s Day or you are running a special. Be consistent in whatever you decide on, and it is cool to send a little more frequently now when you can’t have deep and meaningful chats with your customers in-house.

Establishing your writing style and tone

For many people, the idea of writing a newsletter is a little daunting but it will get easier and you will get better at it as you write more and reveal your voice to the world. So just start, and develop as you go, don't let "great" get in the way of "good". No one is looking for perfection now, just real and connected.

To help you decide on your tone, consider which words you associate with your business brand. Do you have three or four words that describe it? If you haven’t yet thought much about this, another useful trick is to consider the top five things you wish your business to be known for and write them down.

The words in your list will help inform your style and tone of voice. Once you have a bit of a feel for the tone you’re aiming for, you’ll find it’s easier to come up with ideas for what you should be talking about, and the writing process itself should be a bit easier as well. Keep a running spreadsheet for your brain dumps, and brainstorm all of the things you can write about. This is great to have on hand if you are stuck for ideas, also to make sure you don't forget your genius ideas when they strike at 3 am.

Consistency is key here, and people should know as soon as they read the newsletter that it is your brand voice, the same as they hear it on all the other channels you use, just in a longer form.

Content ideas for your COVID-19 marketing emails

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas for what to talk about in your marketing emails, here are some suggestions. Always imagine the experience of the reader rather than the writer when you are editing your work, and if in doubt of anything get someone in your business or a trusted friend to give feedback. And use Grammarly. Just saying. For a pedantic friend.

An image for each item

Before we get into this list, bear in mind you’ll probably want to source an image for each item. During the time between newsletters, take photos when you can so that you have visual content ready at writing time. Use a free image library such as Unsplash to supplement your own work. If you're a keen Instagrammer, remember that you can cross post images you have already shot and filtered in your newsletter, and a strategy like this serves to reinforce the look and feel of your brand. If you have images that have performed particularly well, you could even highlight them as your image of the month and ask readers to send you their images of your brand in action.

Consider how to discuss your business, product and brand in the light of what is happening locally and globally with COVID-19 and how that may be impacting people emotionally. Let them know upfront that you are with them and you get their situations, as mentioned earlier, this is especially relevant if you don’t normally use your email list for regular comms. No one wants to feel like your email is just blatant sales or opportunism disguised as caring. Write and think from the heart, your readers will feel it.

1. Connect authentically

This isn’t a time for marketing bravado, it’s a time to connect authentically with compassion. People are hyperaware because of the crisis and are looking for discussions that are real and genuine. Update your customers and give them details about what’s going on at your end. They need to know how you are operating in the pandemic, how to contact you, how to transact with you, and have a sense of anticipation for when you and they can be together again. Keep them in your loop and be vulnerable, this is the best way to connect.

2. Show compassion

Show and tell your customers you care. Think about how the pandemic and quarantine policies are affecting them. Think about any email (or social campaigns) that you might be running that aren’t hitting the mark. These include contests, holiday-related deals (cruise related sales would be a no no), and be very careful about how you use humorous content – if in any doubt as to how it will land, then err on the side of caution.

3. Share what you’ve been doing during the pandemic

Give a major update in your email campaigns. A message detailing what measures your brand has taken during these trying times, this is how we know we are in it together. Show your customers you’re cooperating with local quarantine policies. Highlight the practices you’ve implemented for limiting the spread of the infection. Inform your customers about any changes in communication or services. So at the very least, you’re making your clients aware that you have everything in control so they don't have to worry. Anticipate their questions and answer them.

4. Create real value with show and tell

Your customers are, like all of us, in a very weird situation. This is not business as usual, so you have a great opportunity to open up a new conversation with them. Don’t underestimate how many interesting things there are about your business to share. Drawback the curtain and show unboxing, unpacking, making and creating, how your business works. If you sell a service, educate your customers. If you are a beautician and can’t see your customers, give them a demo on skincare to do at home, video some makeup techniques, explain how eyebrows work. It sounds silly, but who thinks about these things in normal times? Most of us not so much, and now while we can stop and pay attention, there is so much you do in your expertise that we can enjoy along with you, and feel you have really given us some insight and value. When business is up and running again, we are going to remember your brand as top of mind for what you shared, not for your silence.

5. Use all the tools

As well as text and images, use video in your newsletters, especially if you are smashing out some how-to or explainer videos. Perhaps you have made an epic Spotify playlist, or recorded a meditation? Add in a link, give us plenty to keep us busy and engaged.

6. Tell a story

Don’t forget that newsletters take a narrative form, which means they need a traditional beginning, middle and end structure. When you start, take some time to map out what you are going to cover in the newsletter, in what order, and gather together what you need to make a satisfyingly complete piece of work.

7. The medium is the message

Think about what device your customers are reading on too – make sure what you send is easy to consume on a phone or tablet as well as a desktop and renders appropriately for all sizes.

Hit Send – but wait!

Before you hit send, don’t forget the call to action. Even though this is a communication probably driven by a need to communicate, make sure you give an overall call to action, and sub calls to action throughout the email. Your primary call to action may be as simple as don’t forget we are here and will reopen and are walking alongside you. It may be to come to the website to purchase products or services that way, it may be to enrol for a course or a webinar, it may be to let other people know about your brand by sharing the email. Sub calls to action may be to watch, listen, read or remember a tip or trick at the end of each section of your email. Help your customers by pointing them in the right direction with clear and unambiguous instructions. And don’t forget a contact and unsubscribe option in the footer. Take the opportunity of this business as unusual time to use email newsletters to reach new and familiar customers, you might just find a hidden treasure trove of engagement and conversion that will last far longer than 2020.

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