Being a marketer in the time of COVID-19 is tough. Heck, being a person during COVID-19 has been tough - but as marketers, we sure did have our work cut out for us. The initial panic as marketing budgets got cut across the board, to the furious brainstorming that followed. Most companies have got it right - once you get past the teething problems, we are an industry of innovators and pivotors after all.

For the last few years, there’s been a debate within the marketing community - is email marketing dead? As more and more digital communication channels came into play, email seemed to be less relied on, sure, automation grew, but tactical sends didn’t seem to be the number one choice in a campaign anymore. My take? I’ve always been on the ‘email isn’t dead’ side of the debate. Having previously been a marketer at the MA, a not-for-profit organisation, email was our best and cheapest way to communicate quickly with our audience. And now having gone on to being an email marketer in the Trade Me Property marketing team, where email is the most preferred way for our audience to hear from us, I feel strong in my belief in email being a solid marketing contender.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re noticing a shift in this debate due to mass marketing budget cuts. Email marketing has made a comeback, and it’s here to stay.

When it was announced that NZ would be moving into Alert Level 4 on 25th March, in the space of what seemed like 24 hours I received over a dozen emails from companies I had once interacted with (we’re talking 5+ years ago) and had unsubscribed from, all telling a very similar story. I know I’m not the only one.

In the blink of an eye, email marketing best practice went out the window. Unsubscribed? Now you’re not. Best time of day/week to send an email? Anytime - everyone’s working from home anyway! Keep it short and easy to digest? Nah, let’s send a book.

Since then, I’ve seen companies ramp up their email marketing, ones I’m subscribed to, now sending multiple updates a week instead of barely hearing from them - making me want to...unsubscribe. It’s a fine line. Thankfully, the majority of companies I interact with have been learning along the way, becoming more relevant as lockdown progressed.

In all of this, there was a simple solution for keeping your email marketing in check - segmentation. Have they been interacting with your product recently? Chances are they’re a highly engaged customer. No interaction so far in 2020? Haven’t been able to re-engage them with your first email send? Don’t include them in the next.

Picking and choosing who to send COVID-comms to, could have decreased email fatigue, saved your unsubscribe rate and put you in either the “those who got it right” or “those who missed the mark” groups, that we’ve all been mentally tracking.

So what should we be taking away from this strange, strange time?

  • Email marketing is not dead. It’s quickly become the front-runner in the marketing mix - don’t be too quick to dismiss it in the future.
  • Segmentation is key. Communicate to those who want to be communicated with. Use data and insights to pull out those key customers, start with them, and build off audience segmentation from there.
  • Be relevant. Relevant content works, do your research, what are people searching for online in your given industry? What might be relevant for one industry, isn’t always for another - don’t just send an email because everyone else is doing it. Have some valuable pieces of content to raise awareness and engage your audience.
  • Best practise really is best. Don’t send mass communications to everyone on your database, let those who have unsubscribed be, they did that for a reason, and some of the emails going out lately can not be justified as operational.

I have been fascinated by the use of email in the last four weeks, and my use of it has been in no means perfect either - this has been a massive time of learning for the entire marketing industry. Remember, think about your brand, your positioning and reputation.

There’s nothing wrong with taking it back to the basics.