Hubspot's David Fallarme outlines how brands can and have leveraged email marketing to engage with consumers actively seeking information, pointing out that not every email has to start with “we know this is a trying time". 

COVID-19 has shown us that people want to stay connected. Whether through trying relatively new technology like Zoom and Houseparty – or through the familiar – email.

The pandemic has resulted in a surge in email marketing, buoyed by a general shift of consumer behaviour moving online.

While marketers in Singapore have had to continually adjust to changing business circumstances, it appears they are getting better at engaging with customers – marketing email engagement rates have been consistently up against pre-COVID benchmarks, even though the volume of emails received has been anything but consistent.

Here are some interesting findings from our data, as well as some learnings for brands who want to find the right balance in email.

What the data says for Singapore

At first glance, the volume of email sends in Singapore seems highly irregular, almost erratic. After an initial burst of “here’s what we’re doing about COVID” messages, marketers leveraging email to connect with customers have been in ‘wait-and-see’ mode, waiting for major announcements to decide their next moves. Large upticks in email marketing sends are generally preceded by announcements that affect Singaporeans’ everyday lives, such as the extension of the circuit breaker or a third Budget for the year.

On the other hand, consumers in markets such as Singapore, which have felt the impact of COVID-19 since earlier in the year may be in an ‘ok-what’s-next’ mode. With quick and dramatic change being the name of the game in recent months, people appear to be looking for answers. Although email marketing sends have fluctuated, open rates have been consistently higher than benchmark. Website traffic has also stayed above the benchmark for more than ten weeks now, suggesting that consumers are engaging in information-seeking behaviour.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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Getting better at email marketing: It’s about finding the right balance

Trying to engage customers against the backdrop of a pandemic is difficult, and it’s been a trying time for marketers everywhere. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned about how to get better at email marketing over the past months:

Be helpful

While financial woes are top of mind for everyone right now, discounts and offers aren’t the only things that are helpful. Brands can also provide valuable content that's informative, resourceful, and responsive to current landscapes. If businesses depend on you, find out what their pain points are and offer what assistance you can. If you’re serving B2C, translate what the latest news and changes mean for them.

For example, to help businesses adjust to the new environment, we launched an educational content series, Adapt 2020, with live webinars, new data on marketing and sales trends, and sharing educational resources on a range of relevant topics. This has yielded some of the highest engagement rates of all of HubSpot’s content and seen some of the most heartfelt feedback.

Be transparent

Businesses don’t have all the answers right now, and that’s okay. Some companies are offering discounts to lessen potential financial burdens for their customers, while others tweak their services or products they offer to be more valuable to clients impacted by the global pandemic.

However, not every company is able to pivot their offerings that quickly. What’s important is to be upfront with customers about changes that are coming their way (if any) and be transparent about costs and charges. The last thing anyone needs as they grapple with the financial fallout of the pandemic are hidden fees, or automatically renewed subscriptions to services they no longer need.

One company that has done well in this regard is Netflix, which recently implemented a system that proactively flags dormant accounts for possible cancellation. While it means fewer subscribers for the service, it can make a real difference to users that are reviewing their spending habits. Putting in the effort to make leaving easier for customers may seem counter-intuitive but remember this – making it harder for customers to cancel doesn’t reduce churn, it merely delays it. In fact, when you block a customer’s exit, you also block their potential return, which makes for a further setback for the company in the long run.

Be relevant

Segment your database - everyone’s needs have changed, and therefore so should your messaging. The pandemic has hit everyone differently, some businesses are actually in growth mode. Sending a “we know you’re hurting, here’s a discount” message to these businesses would clearly show you’re out of touch with your customer’s needs.

Inching toward new normal

While turbulence has been the name of the game so far, it should come as good news to marketers and sales leaders that deal pipelines are showing some signs of recovery. While the number of deals closed in the region is still nearly 20% lower than pre-COVID averages, it has seen a three-week trend of increase. This is especially important as markets such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand are easing or preparing to ease restrictions, signalling that marketers need to be ready for changing consumer behaviour again.

Building bridges through empathy

As companies, we sometimes forget to think ‘human’. Your customers - be they businesses or individuals - are real people facing real problems in a global crisis. Understanding their pain points and reaching out with empathy is always a good way to start.

The backbone of any successful email strategy is a shared system used by anyone interacting with the customer, from marketing to sales to customer service. Better conversations can only take place when your teams are aligned on how to talk to and what to say to prospects.

Not every email needs to lead with the boilerplate, “we know this is a trying time.” However, the reality is that this is a stressful time for everybody. Even the companies that are fortunate to be doing well are facing new challenges every day and operating in unchartered waters. Demonstrating empathy at a time when we are all experiencing different emotions and being affected in different ways goes a long way.

If there’s one thing that this crisis has shown us, it’s that people react to and cope with situations differently. There is no single right way to engage, communicate or do business when tough times hit; no magic words or formula that will always draw higher open or click through rates. What is important is to think customer-first, and to approach your outreach with awareness, empathy and understanding.