There’s no sphere of the human experience that the COVID-19 crisis has not touched.
Apart from the obvious medical, political and social implications, the pandemic has also changed the way we shop, consume and conduct business. This means that many organizations that relied on more face-to-face customer interactions in pre-COVID days are now realizing that they need to pivot to other more subtle means for sales, marketing, and even customer support. To this end, email marketing is assuming even greater importance than ever before.
Research from paved.com shows that in the last three weeks of March 2020, global email open rates increased by 21%. Other research has also found that between March and April, open rates were up 26% compared to the same time period last year. They also increased by 21% compared to the earlier pre-pandemic months of 2020. Equally important, attributed revenue from email is also on the rise. While brands were generating $8.5 million dollars per day through email marketing between January and March, revenues had shot up to $14.3 million dollars per day via email between March and April. One reason for these trends can be attributed to the human need for connection – which email marketing can provide. Consequently, this is driving people to appreciate – and therefore open and engage with – brand emails, especially those that make an effort to connect with their customers in “non-salesy” ways.
The most high-performing brands understand this, and are creating effective email marketing campaigns with the help of some evolving strategies and their ESP of choice – Salesforce Marketing Cloud (SFMC).
So what are some of these strategies that the brands are adopting, and how does SFMC provide support?
#1: They choose their audience wisely
As they (try to) cope with today’s unparalleled circumstances, consumers’ lives and needs have changed very rapidly, and their buying priorities right along with them. The only way to fulfil these priorities is to find new ways of engaging with them by first understanding who they are. And for this, subscriber segmentation is critical.
Subscriber segmentation allows brands to understand the needs of a specific customer base, and align their email marketing strategies and messaging towards fulfilling those needs. Segmentation also supports a brand’s objectives around email personalization.
Email marketers and Salesforce email specialists have multiple segmentation options in SFMC:
- Use data filters in Email Studio
- Create SQL queries in Journey Builder
- Create data filters in Automation Studio
SFMC also supports the automation of audience segmentation with data extensions.
In general, it makes sense to segment the audience before launching any email marketing campaign. However, segmentation is especially critical when designing a campaign during the COVID-19 crisis because consumers can be:
- Freedom-focused: These are the subscribers who have a low level of concern and want things to go back to normal
- Easy accommodators: Subscribers who are slightly concerned about the crisis and have some financial worries
- Unfazed normals: Those who’re mildly concerned about the crisis but have some degree of financial security
- Struggling worriers: These subscribers have serious concerns about COVID-19 and are likely to change their buying habits, say, by switching to cheaper products
Understanding these realities can enable email marketing managers to determine how to segment their audience, say around purchase history and profile properties, and target them with specific, personal and relevant messaging during the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, these segments can be very relevant for brands:
- VIP customers
- New users
- Loyal customers
- Active customers
In SFMC Email Studio, Einstein Engagement Scoring is a useful tool to segment subscriber lists and then deliver to the most engaged users first. It uses Machine Learning and customer data to generate predictive models and “personas” that indicate each subscriber’s likelihood to stay subscribed, open an email, or click on links.
#2: They clean their data, measure their campaigns and make adjustments
During the crisis, smart brands make full use of customer data to send the right message to the right people at the right time. They build their email lists and use them to compensate for a potential decrease in revenue with these tactics:
- Implement an easy sign-up process to turn web visitors into first-party contacts
- Set up a multi-layer subscription model, with options for different types of communications
- Curb abandonment by giving “unsubscribers” more flexibility than just a global opt-out
SFMC offers a number of powerful tools to make full use of customer data to automate segmentation, implement email personalization, and implement triggered sending. It also provides powerful tracking and analytics capabilities, so email marketing professionals can easily review the performance of their campaigns and optimize their approach over time. These include:
- Analytics Builder to gain insights into the behaviors and interests of subscribers
- Standard Reports in Email Studio to track campaign effectiveness
- Einstein Engagement Scoring to target customers to maximize engagement and conversion
- Einstein Engagement Frequency to identify the optimum number of email messages to send
- Einstein Email Recommendations to observe customer behavior and build preference profiles
Data also tells the story of a subscriber’s interaction with the brand. With SFMC, brands can use this information to understand them better, respond to their needs and retain them for longer. For example, if customers are abandoning their shopping carts, this data can be used to make necessary adjustments to future email campaigns. Next, if they find inactive subscribers, they don’t necessarily remove them from their mailing list. Instead, they send re-engagement emails to touch base with them, and let them know that they’re not forgotten.
Similarly, if a subscriber has not purchased anything in a while, their interest can be reignited by sending them a special offer or discount.
Timing is also crucial for email campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis. Smart email managers review their release schedule and make adjustments according to the demographics of their different email lists. They may spread their emails out which could change the time that emails are sent.
One way to spread out email spreads in SFMC is via the Send Throttle feature in Email Studio. It sends emails during the hours specified every day, starting from the day of the first send, until all emails are sent. The throttle ensures that SFMC does not send a greater number of emails than the throttle limit during the specified time period. This is an effective way of ensuring that subscribers are not overwhelmed by emails as they try to cope with the crisis.
Optimizing send times is another way of staying in touch with subscribers without getting in their faces. Einstein Send Time Optimization (STO) automatically determines the best time within the next 24 hours that are most likely to lead to opens. It thus helps marketers and Salesforce email specialists increase email and push notification engagement.
To send successful email campaigns during the crisis, it’s also important to pay attention to data migration, cleaning and integration by:
- Transferring only useful and up-to-date data
- Removing duplicate data
- Cleaning up incomplete or inaccurate data
- Removing invalid email addresses
#3: They add more “humanity” to their emails
During the crisis, successful brands use email marketing to reinforce the human connection with their audience, not just to overwhelm them with brand messaging. They use sensitive and empathetic “recognition” language that acknowledges the crisis, and adjust their tone accordingly. They avoid discount codes or promotional sales related to the crisis (“Special Corona discount!!”). Many brands use in-store shopping data to personalize messages and encourage their subscribers to shop on their online stores.
They also help their subscribers navigate through this difficult crisis with personalized messaging and real-time email campaigns. SFMC Email Studio provides a number of Salesforce templates and dynamic content blocks which they use to create memorable email campaigns with personalized content quickly. They also use features like Live Weather Content Block, dynamic banners, webcrops, product recommendations and coupons in SFMC Content Builder to personalize every email message based on each opener’s personal context the moment it is opened.
They check all automated campaigns, including transaction messages, password reminders, order confirmations and triggered emails, and ensure that the content isn’t “tone-deaf” or inappropriate.
They also pay attention to potentially “spammy” content and use Content Detective in Content Builder to ensure that their Salesforce templates and email campaigns are spam-free.
Email marketing has taken on even more importance due to the COVID-19 crisis. To create a unique place in the hearts and minds of their subscribers, brands need to pay attention to some key email marketing strategies. Of these, audience segmentation, content personalization and data are among the most important.