Email volume has increased rapidly as the world struggles to contain the Coronavirus pandemic, with communications going out from B2B brands (for cancelled events, etc.), B2C brands (in-store closures, etc.), and health organizations (for patient updates). When an unexpected change in the environment or the way companies conduct business causes a shift in email volume and frequency, what steps can you take to ensure your messages get through and hit the right note with your customers?
Here are 7 ways to avoid deliverability issues (and customer backlash) when everyone is emailing:
Before sending an email about a crisis, you should ask yourself – “is it necessary?”. Avoid sending anything that states the obvious or is exploitative. When consumers are inundated with information, your canned message about the importance of employee health or heartfelt email about solidarity without any pertinent details can have the opposite of the intended effect – it may frustrate and anger people who are already distressed. If you have a non-vital update that you’d like to provide to your audience, post it on your website where those who would like to know more can easily find and reference it. In many cases, there is likely no need to communicate out another invasive message if the information it offers is not essential.
In addition, a sudden increase in email volume can negatively impact your sender reputation (Gmail, for example, has proved particularly volatile), so your deliverability could take a hit if you casually send mass updates to your subscriber base.
Image source: @instachaaz
For marketers who need to send vital updates about store closures or event and appointment cancellations, you can mitigate risks by doing some housekeeping. If you can afford to take the time, run some of these data hygiene best practices to clean up your list before sending mass-updates. Doing so can help you avoid spam traps – email addresses that an ISP (Internet Service Provider) has taken over (or created from scratch) to identify mailers who do not adhere to best practices.
Before deciding to engage your entire subscriber base with a crisis-related message, you should ask whether lapsed subscribers really need to receive the communication. Subscribers who haven’t received messages from your company in 4 years due to inactivity will be confused when they suddenly receive an email about store closures, so they may report your email as spam. In addition, your inboxing could be hit because of higher bounce rates from emails that are no longer in use. Marketers should establish a limit for how “deep” into their inactive database they are willing to go.
You can send a crucial update email to subscribers who haven’t engaged in a while, or even extend your typical parameters to mail subscribers who have fallen out of your regular communication cycle, but you should take some extra precautions. To avoid deliverability issues, throttle your messages (spread them out) over multiple days and consider segmenting your audience based on their activity. Send to your most active subscribers first and save the highest risk subscribers (i.e., the most inactive) for last.
Even though your stores may be closed, or your events cancelled, you should be careful not to stop trying to engage your subscribers. Sender reputation can fall when a brand suddenly decreases or increases volume, so you will want to create a plan for how to communicate with subscribers while operations have slowed down. It’s a delicate balance – you don’t want to come across as insensitive or trying to profit from a crisis by sending tons of promotions, but you also can’t afford to go completely silent. Marketers can come up with ideas for how to support customers who may be facing uncertainty, or provide content to those who are bored, or provide a way for your customers to connect with others who may be lonely.
Senders – such as healthcare providers – who need to send the most vital communications to patients may run into issues when they suddenly try to send significantly larger volumes to their subscribers. Because of the urgency, spacing out these communications to avoid deliverability issues may not be possible (or may even endanger patients). Organizations with an established remediation team can work directly with ISPs to coordinate domain protection while sending these communications to avoid blocking.
For those who do not have an established remediation process and/or team, you can seek help from a deliverability support team. They can interface with ISPs (e.g., Gmail, Hotmail and Outlook) on your behalf to proactively avoid issues and quickly manage deliverability problems when they arise.
When UCLA Health had to send a critical email regarding COVID-19 to patients – at a sending volume that was significantly higher than their typical sends – the organization worked with Data Axle’s deliverability team to help negotiate temporary IP and domain protection and coordinate delivery to ensure their communication reached patients.
After sending a higher-than-normal volume of emails or engaging riskier portions of your subscriber base, you should be on high alert for signs of trouble. Continuous monitoring to flag any signs of rising complaint, bounce, and unsubscribe rates, as well as declining inboxing rates, ISP domain reputation and IP reputation, or spam trap hits and blacklisting can help you spring into action if your deliverability starts to slip. Deliverability platforms can give you a holistic view of key deliverability KPIS, and help you monitor and improve your performance.
As brands strive to do right by consumers during this uncertain time, taking precautions to avoid deliverability problems and considering the emotional impact of your messages will help keep your email program on track.
Kathleen Schaefer is the Senior Director at Inboxable. Kathleen is a leader in email and cross-channel digital marketing solutions. She focuses on leading and maintaining client facing support for Data Axle/Inboxable technology and service offerings. Kathleen’s expertise allows her to help Data Axle clients to conceptualize campaigns, recognize capacity and achieve successful outcomes.