Getting email marketing right can be a challenge in and of itself, despite the abundance of resources and articles about how to excel.

From ensuring proper segmentation of emails to thinking through how your subject line would sound if read aloud by Alexa, the list of best-practices goes on and on. And although they are all vital things to implement into an email strategy, what happens when a global crisis hits and your emails are all of a sudden one of the last things a customer has time to think about?

My answer: don't proceed like normal.

As a marketing leader, your team and your organization are looking to you for guidance, so what is your answer?

Don't drastically cut your marketing budget. Instead, think about how your organization can help customers or prospects grappling with the fallout from the pandemic. If you have a special offer, ensure it is truly an offer to help, not a veiled attempt to increase sales.

In March, marketing shifted its focus to conveying empathy, and though that is still important, we have now entered the authenticity phase: The truth is now the most vital tool at your disposal.

You'll need to understand the impact that change will have on your marketing channels; identify the right, empathetic, and authentic tone; and implement the guidelines you've developed into your program.

The Change

Email will always have a unique role and opportunity, even during a pandemic.

That's because email is the most trusted and reliable marketing channel. It's a tried-and-true medium to connect with your customers, showing them you care and assuring them you are in this for the long haul.

That said, marketing budgets are shifting, moving away from in-person events and toward virtual ones. Fully 65% of advertisers say the emergence of COVID-19 will result in focusing their media spend in ways that can show direct outcomes.

Because of the regular cadence of change and the continuing uncertainty, it makes sense for brands to pause some marketing channels and put more focus on reliable marketing programs, such as email and content marketing. Such programs are imperative now as marketers seek one-to-one connections with new customers and continue to foster relationships with existing ones.

Again, this is not a time to be pushing sales, and customers are still listening carefully and learning. They'll have extra attention on every social post, marketing email, and statement you put out. Because of their extra-critical eye, the wording of your email can make or break your brand.

Your focus over the next few months should be retaining subscribers, establishing new relationships, and maintaining authenticity throughout every touchpoint so that when customers are ready to buy again... you are top of mind.

Five Practical Tips

There is a big difference between understanding the change in the economy, and that it should impact your marketing efforts, and actually knowing how to go about altering your email marketing approach.

However, by prioritizing email in your marketing channel mix, you can create personalized experiences, deliver better customer care, and bridge social distance; this strategy is better known as an email-first approach.

To ensure your email program is effective and consistently delivers authentic experiences, follow five practical steps.

1. Adapt to change, and act quickly

Collaborating with remote teams can pose a challenge, but it must be mastered if you are to succeed. All of your email optimization solutions should encourage collaboration and assist with automating and streamlining email testing.

Ideally, your tools should integrate with your email service provider (ESP) to reduce previously manual steps and eliminate wasted time going back-and-forth between different products.

2. Embrace authenticity

Every single email you send—whether transactional, automated, or a one-off from sales staff or customer service—must carry appropriate tone and content.

Though an empathetic tone is still fitting, authenticity must be portrayed across all touchpoints to show customers you prioritize being truthful over making a sale. This statement is always true, but considering everything going on in the world, a poorly worded email may be all it takes to lose a loyal customer for good. And even during less-challenging times, it is 16x more expensive to acquire a new customer than retain a current one.

Save that outlay and use this time to strengthen your bonds with customer-retention tactics: audit your automated emails, build segmentation based on customer activity, and use email to win customers hearts even if it won't win their business.

3. Make every email perfect

Every email marketer's soul aches when they have to send the "Oops, we made a mistake" email; now, however, is truly not the time to find yourself needing to send one.

Your email program is the primary way you are working to create and foster relationships right now; that places a stress on the importance of sending only high-quality emails that reach the inbox while creating a personalized experience.

4. Don't skip steps

The email-building process—including the build, collaborate, test, and analyze phases and the ability to preview all your marketing emails—has never been so vital.

The more applications and devices you can preview your emails on to see what experience you are providing subscribers, the better.

This is also the time to bring all necessary people into the collaborative review process to allow important stakeholders throughout the organization to review, re-review, and approve an email before you press send.

5. Create relevant, personalized experiences

To achieve compelling email experiences, you need to understand what challenges your subscribers face in adjusting to their new work/life balance.

Look into analytics more deeply than basic open and clickthrough rates. Also consider the times of day your emails are being read, how much time they spent reading, and what they do after reading. Use those insights to get closer to your customers, increase campaign engagement, and improve performance of your overall media mix.

After all, considering what I call the "perform" stage, analyzing the insights of an email program can inform your other marketing efforts:

  • Is a certain geography showing a low read rate?
  • Does your audience not have patience to read an entire email? Maybe targeted LinkedIn posts are better for them.
  • Or maybe, a certain campaign performed so well it proves worthy of being turned into a paid media campaign too.

We are facing a zero-patience economy: Everyone is busy, they're flooded with messages, and they don't have the time to sift through mounds of content. Maintain relevant, personalized messages, but make sure you are getting to the point.

* * *

Customer relationships are at stake: Don't halt your email marketing campaigns, but do make sure you are going about it in the appropriate way.

Have your company, customers, and the email marketing community in mind to identify the right tone, remain sensitive and authentic, execute, and then share the wealth of knowledge with when and where you can by providing educational content and resources.

An effective email program can help you navigate change while getting the best possible results from your marketing channels. You will better position your brand to build lasting relationships, show customers you care and assure them you will be there for them now, and when the economy gets back on its feet.

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Five Steps for Leading Email Marketing Through Change and Crisis

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image of Melissa Sargeant

Melissa Sargeant is CMO at Litmus, where she runs worldwide marketing initiatives. including corporate and product branding, demand generation, product marketing, public relations, and event management.

LinkedIn: Melissa Sargeant

Twitter: @mhsargeant