In response to the COVID-19 crisis, brands and consumers both felt a lot of uncertainty, panic and anxiety. Marketers had to swiftly provide facts, comfort, support and reassurance—all while working to evolve their businesses. Epsilon PeopleCloud Messaging statistics found that email proved to be the most critical communication channel between brands and customers because it’s personal, reliable, relevant and targeted.
To dive deeper into how the pandemic changed the way marketers view email, we decided to go straight to the source—our clients. From June 17 to June 30, we surveyed Epsilon client companies to ask them about how they used email in these turbulent times.* We heard from ten clients in retail, restaurant, financial services and CPG. Their responsibilities include functions such as:
- Email marketing, strategy and operations
- Retention and loyalty marketing
- Channel marketing
- Digital marketing
- Marketing leadership
Download the full report: Email 2020 trends guide: Renaissance
5 takeaways from marketing leaders
1. Email has been a critical communication channel during the pandemic
Every respondent reported that they launched emails to reach customers and prospects during our survey period. The great majority of respondents reported that they used email for:
- COVID-specific messaging, such as safety information, policy changes, relief efforts and supply chain updates
- To communicate changes in business operations, like curbside pickup
- Business-as-usual communications, including marketing messages not related to COVID
Many respondents also used email for promotional offers—such as free shipping, 10% off and curbside pickup—and specific product offers. Some used it for updates to product mix and value-added offers.
Almost all respondents said they “strongly agree” that email was their most important marketing channel during COVID-19.
2. Email’s importance has been driven largely by three factors: online sales, overloaded call centers and the agile nature of the channel
One senior CRM manager at a retail brand explained, “Ordinarily, many of our customers shop in stores. That wasn't feasible, and there was a shift to shopping online.” Given the shift from brick-and-mortar to online sales, channels like email drove the most traffic.
But email became more than just a way to drive traffic. Our respondents reported they also used email to divert phone calls from agents who weren’t able to answer them.
Another Epsilon email client explained, “It was a way for us to quickly get a message out to our customers. We were able to shift some questions that would have caused call center volume spikes back to our website.” By providing the relevant information customers needed via email, brands were able to proactively answer questions that may otherwise have come into the call center.
Email also proved to be the agile channel needed to quickly and easily adjust communications on the fly, keeping in touch with customers in the most personal way possible.
According to a senior manager for the global email channel at a financial services company, “Email played a vital role for our brand to continue offering safe and secure digital payment options to our customers, in a responsive and personalized fashion through these uncertain times.”
3. COVID-19 improved perceptions of the email channel
Many respondents said that COVID-19 has positively changed the way the organization views email marketing. The most common theme was that the pandemic emphasized the value of the channel across the organization.
Some of our respondents’ comments on their new perceptions of email marketing:
- “Re-enforcing the value of the channel.”
- “We've proven that there are ways to make email fast to market (which hasn’t always been the case).”
- “Put more value into programs to grow our emails.”
- “The value of email marketing is more understood across the organization.”
- “A valuable way to communicate to customers that while stores were closed, they could still shop online.”
- “We realized how impactful it was during this time.
4. Email platform stability is key
When provided with a list of qualities that are most important in an email marketing partner during their COVID-19 experience, the common responses from our client responders were platform stability; analytics and reporting; and client service/account management. Platform stability was rated as the most important quality.
5. You must have a crisis communications plan in place
According to some of our respondents, the old adage applies: communicate early and often. When asked what they would do differently facing a future crisis, verbatim comments included:
- “Have a pandemic strategy with an outline of email communications ready to go.”
- “We would have been more on target with initial contact regarding COVID, and earlier than we were. Paying better attention faster in terms of what worked vs. what didn't work in email, and what was selling well.”
The survey confirmed our hypothesis—during COVID-19, marketers turned to their most reliable method of staying in touch: email. In a contactless world, email reasserted itself as the most critical communication channel between brands and their customers.
For a copy of these results, download our The guide will also help you learn more about the role email played during brands’ initial response phase and provides recommendations for how to use email through the phases of recovery, rebuilding, and renaissance—with the ultimate goal of helping your brand thrive again.
Want to learn more? Download our new Email 2020 trends guide: Renaissance.
*Please note that this research was qualitative in nature. While these responses provide interesting insights, they’re not projectible across the industries surveyed.