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The Dos and Don’ts of Crisis Email Marketing

It seems as if every brand I have given my email address to has decided to send me an email regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The emails have varied in subject and CTA, but one thing is for sure – everyone is trying to get their message out regarding this pandemic. 

That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to do crisis email marketing. Let’s dive in.

Shifting Our Focus

Segmentation is Key

Honestly, I love it when a brand I truly care about reaches out to me to share their insights into this whole situation. But what about all those other emails? I’ve been getting messages from brands that I have only interacted with once in my life – yet for some reason, they’re now sending me an update on how they are handling the situation. 

This is where segmentation comes into play. It’s great that you’re emailing your customers and fans about the situation, but that’s only relevant to me if your brand is relevant to me. If that’s no longer the case because I only interacted with you once or twice before in the past – or if your brand never was relevant to me in the first place – this is a weird way to get back on my radar, you know? 

When planning your crisis email marketing strategy, consider segmenting your lists and just sending this email out to your fans and customers that engage with you on a regular basis. If you are rekindling email marketing efforts to other segments, that’s fine. A better way to speak to your Coronavirus policy might be with a note as part of your other emails vs. suddenly sending a crisis email marketing campaign. 

Show Empathy and Don’t Be Insensitive

I know it sounds obvious, but it times of personal and business stress we humans don’t always think with a clear head.

Everyone Crisis Email Marketing
Everlane: A Note To Our Community

I’ve gotten some emails recently that have done a great job of showing empathy in their messaging. These are hard times for everyone. From the state of the economy to the state of everyone’s health, we are all on edge.

I’ve also gotten some emails that just increased my anxiety. Why? Because they used “urgent offer” messaging that email marketers often rely on to trigger sales. In today’s tense environment, however, phrases like “act now before it’s too late” or “you’re running out of time” (yes, I got an email with that subject line) trigger a very different, and very negative, response.

Pro-Tip: Please, please, please…during this difficult time, take a long look at your email campaigns (and all of your communications) through a crisis email marketing lens. Consider changing verbiage from “this 30% offer won’t last” to something more like “to help ease the pain we are all dealing with, we are offering our community 30% off during this difficult time.” This can go a long way toward humanizing your brand, as well as separating it from others. 

Marketing Automation Gone Wrong

If your brand has a marketing automation platform set-up, revisit all of those approved emails. Everything from thanking people for their orders to cart abandonment to fulfillment delays should be reviewed – even your unsubscribe messaging. People are on edge, and we want to be a source of calm and security whenever possible. 

This may not be the time for flip responses, even if your brand’s tonality is one of irreverence. It also may not be the time for cold and clinical, robot-like responses. I just got an email informing me that the product I ordered would take longer to arrive than normal. I’m disappointed, but given what’s going on in the world right now, I get it. I just wish that there would have been a bit more compassion in the email. This is a time to think more human, less automated.

Being a marketer, I get it. That was the AI and not you (the brand). But put yourself in the shoes of a consumer. Most people don’t know about marketing automation software or what it even does! So, again, if you have a marketing automation platform set up on your website, review every single email template that is set up. This is not a time for “set it and forget it.”

Don’t Focus on Selling, Focus On Being Resourceful

Now, there is a right way to sell and a wrong way to sell. Generally speaking, educating is preferred over straight selling. That’s what Google recommends to help increase search rankings: create content that educates, right?

CNN Crisis Email Marketing
CNN: COVID-19 Fact vs. Fiction

Today, I would take that a step further. At a time when the economy is less than certain, your emails are likely reaching many people who just lost their job – and they need help. Helpful brands will be the winners in the long-term. They always are. 

When you message your brand’s fans, think about how you can be there to help. What resources can you offer: can you provide guidance, information, what else? Yes, offering a discount is important, especially when people are out of work. Keep doing that. But if you can, do more than that. 

In the long run, we are all human. The consumers and the people behind the brand. Whether or not you realized you are crisis email marketing right now, every email sent by every brand during this pandemic is part of a crisis email campaign. Doing what you can to help, especially in an unexpected way, will go far with your customers and prospects.


As email marketers, these are some instances we should be aware of all the time, not just now. We should always be considering the person on the other end of the email and what they might be going through. 

Crisis Email MarketingThe better we relate to our customers, the better marketers we will be – no matter the situation. Stop thinking b2b or b2c. It’s all about h2h (Human to Human) communication. 

Want some really good email examples? ReallyGoodEamails.com is a great way to stay up to date with email trends. Also, these tips are not just subject to your crisis email marketing strategy – they can be pulled across all aspects of your marketing. 

One final thought: don’t just shut down your email marketing because you fear sending the wrong message. Sending no message can make people feel forgotten about or uncared about. Just because everyone is social distancing doesn’t mean your brand needs to distance too. 

How can we help? Feel free to reach out if you have questions about crisis email marketing. Stay safe out there, and let’s get through this together.



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