Email in a Crisis: How to Manage your Email Strategy in Times of Uncertainty


At the time of writing this article, the world is being hit by a severe health crisis.

COVID-19 represents one of the worst outbreaks that we’ve ever seen, causing panic and illness all over the globe. The result of this pandemic isn’t just disease; it’s also uncertainty, chaos, and a universal crash in the economy.

In the face of declining consumer demand, companies of all sizes are being forced to rethink the way that they address their audience. Although email marketing might not seem like a crucial consideration for your team right now, it’s one of the most critical times for organizations to be thinking about the buyer journey.

When your clients are nervous, uncertain, and looking for support, there’s no better time to re-assess your marketing and communication campaigns and think about how you’re going to deliver the kind of messages that your audience needs.

Here’s how to handle your email in times of crisis.

Assessing Your Situation: Do You Need a Crisis Email?

First things first, it’s essential to sit down with your team and think about what kind of message you’re going to need to distribute. In cases like the most recent event with COVID-19, all businesses have a responsibility to their audience.

Whether you’re selling services or essential products, your customers need to know what’s going to happen with their purchases, how you’re going to be handling supply, and more. Most importantly, they need to know how you’re striving to protect them during a time of panic.

According to SendGrid, people subscribe to and receive emails from around 50 businesses and brands. This number alone shows that your audience wants to hear from companies.

If something about your organization needs to change, then now’s the time to let your customers know.

Crucially, however, it’s essential to ensure that you’re designing your emails correctly. In times of crisis, your audience is going to be judging your brand more harshly than ever.

So, what can you do to have the right impression?

Step 1: Act Quickly

During times of crisis, whether it’s an economic slowdown, a flood, or a global pandemic, it’s important to deliver information quickly.

Your customers are going to have questions, particularly if your service is something that they consider to be essential. So sit down as a team and think about what your people need to know. This is an excellent time to bring different parts of your brand together for a discussion, including your sales team, marketing experts, and more.

For instance, look at this email from the Post Office:

Post office crisis email

It addresses the potential worries of customers immediately and highlights the priorities of the brand. Although the post office can’t predict the future, they let customers know that they’re going to be kept in the loop – and fast.

Make sure that you deliver similar information and speed in your own campaigns. Waiting too long to send an email could confuse and stress your audience, while negatively affecting your reputation at the same time.

Step 2: Be Clear with Subject Lines

There’s a good chance that the open rates for your standard marketing emails will drop during a time of crisis. Customers are more likely to search for informational content in their inbox, than promotional messages.

Because of this, it’s important not to play around with changing your sender name or adding emojis to your subject line. A subject line that mentions the issue that you’re addressing is a good start.

However, you can also consider using something more personal, like a message from your CEO.

Etsy crisis email

Etsy uses the subject like “A message from Josh, our CEO” to make the email feel like something important sent from one human being to another.

In times of crisis, we look for human connection more than ever. This subject line lets you know that the message is essential (it comes from the CEO). However, it also highlights the human nature of the brand and the fact that there’s a real person behind the company.

Step 3: Adjust Your Voice and Tone

Tone of voice is one of the most valuable things any brand can consider when trying to build a positive reputation online. During times of crisis, the attitude that you convey is particularly essential.

There’s nothing wrong with having a playful or even cheeky attitude on a routine day-to-day basis. However, you need to tone down the free-spirited vibe, just a touch when panic sets into your environment. Don’t over-correct so much that you end up stressing your audience out too much, just be willing to add a more somber note to your voice.

Your reader should understand the shift in your voice given the situation, and they’ll appreciate that you’re taking the issue seriously.

For instance, this message from TGI Fridays isn’t anywhere near as fun and playful as the company’s usual correspondence. Instead, it focuses on calming customer concerns:

TGI fridays crisis email

Remember, whatever you do, don’t joke about the situation, as you could come across as insensitive, or just plain ignorant. You also shouldn’t make it seem as though you’re taking advantage of the situation.

If your service or product is in high demand because of the crisis that you’re facing, now isn’t the time to ramp up your prices. This is a time when you need to be deemed as empathetic and understanding as possible.

Don’t risk your brand reputation for a small amount of extra cash.

Step 4: Focus on Action

Your recipients are going to be particularly interested in whatever actions you might be taking to protect them, and your environment in the current landscape. Think about how you can put your client’s mind at ease during this difficult time.

For instance, LastPass used the COVID-19 outbreak as a chance to provide their customers with tips on how they could use their current services to protect themselves when working remotely.

last pass crisis email

Producing content that helps your audience to make the most of your service during a difficult time can help them to remember how much they value you.

As well as letting your audience know what they can do to defend themselves, make sure that you highlight what you’re doing too. For instance, during the COVID-19 outbreak, a lot of companies listed some extra precautions that they would be taking to defend their clients. These included everything from hiring additional cleaners to keep environments hygienic, to shutting locations down on occasion too.

Consider sectioning your email out so that you can include both what you’re doing as a business, and what your customers can do to assist in the same message.

Step 5: Show Your Altruistic Side

Providing your customers with discounts and freebies is always an excellent way to earn their respect and their approval. However, in times of crisis, it’s even more important to show that you have the best interests of others at heart.

Companies that take action to help those affected by the issue can connect to their audience on a deeper, more crucial level. For instance, something as simple as providing discounts to people in the healthcare industry that are helping to fight off a pandemic can make a big statement.

You could also:

  • Increase the amount of time your audience has to demo your product for free
  • Discount your product or service for those who need it most
  • Create educational content to help your audience navigate the crisis

In this update from Virgin Media, the company gives vulnerable customers a special number that they can ring if they’re having trouble with services and need support more quickly. The same email also addresses the extra measures the company is taking to support its clients, such as hiring additional agents to handle calls.

crisis email Virgin media

Step 6: Monitor and Adjust Constantly

Finally, just like any other email strategy, you can’t just set up your crisis email campaign and forget all about it. This is a crucial time for business leaders to keep a close eye on how their clients are responding to particular messages.

Communicate regularly with your audience as the crisis progresses, and make sure that you’re not afraid to change how you’re handling the issue if you notice essential trends. For instance, if you realize that your customers respond more positively to messages where you show a little more levity and humor, then it’s fine to lean into that.

During any difficult time, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with a unique audience with very specific needs. Although you can use the industry guidelines to make some of your initial decisions, you’ll also need to respond to the problem according to your own information, and what you learn along the way.

Staying Calm in a Crisis

In difficult times, like the COVID-19 epidemic, businesses must think about how they’re communicating with their team members, and how they can protect both their brand and their image from damage.

Consider what your audience needs from you carefully and deliver support in a way that puts the expectations of your customers first.

As difficult as the environment might seem right now, it also presents a unique opportunity for brands to prove themselves to their clients and develop stronger relationships for the long term. How you act during moments of crisis could affect the global response to your company for years to co


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