Right now, you might feel compelled to inform your customers about how COVID-19 impacts (or doesn’t impact) your ability to serve them, or your business may be struggling due to the economic impact of the current health crisis. So you’ve decided to send some additional email marketing, whether that’s to get out a critical update, or to try to increase sales and keep your income flowing.  That’s simple enough, and sound in theory. But how you do so may actually hurt your business by rendering your marketing ineffective entirely – a consequence that most businesses cannot afford right now – and you’re not alone.

Learning From the Mistakes of Others

As everyone is grappling with this new reality, many senders are abandoning email marketing best practices, for example, sending email to their entire contact list, instead of just their active subscriber list. This is generating increased spam complaints, hard bounces, and email sent to spam traps, which are all key identifiers of spam for recipient email providers. As a result, these senders are damaging their own email reputation, their domains are being blacklisted, and their inbox placement is plummeting, which means those critically important messages for subscribers are now not reaching the inbox. Malicious spam (e.g. phishing, malware, scams), has also massively increased over the past few weeks as attackers try to capitalize on the health crisis.  In response, recipient email providers are cracking down on spam, which makes it more important than ever to manage your  sender reputation and differentiate your legitimate business email from spam.

How to Send Updates Safely and Effectively

First off, ask yourself if you really need to send a COVID-19 update. Is it relevant to your subscribers? Take a look at your own inbox, and consider how many of the hundreds of these updates are relevant to you, and for those that are, what makes them relevant? Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to add a COVID-19 update section to your existing templates instead of creating a dedicated/additional email – this way you can continue to meet recipient expectations and still communicate your critical business updates. If you’ve determined you do have to send out a dedicated update email, then do so while still observing these three core marketing practices to ensure your email is both wanted and expected by your recipients:

Permission – Only send to recipients that have provide explicit permission for marketing.  This means only those that have asked for email marketing communication, not everyone who’s email address you have in your database, or even every customer you’ve ever had. Sending without permission will generate spam complaints, hard bounces, and spam trap hits.

List Hygiene – Only send to active and engaged subscribers. Remove recipients that have not opened/clicked (or are newly subscribed) in the past 6 months. Sending to old or unengaged contacts will increase spam complaints, hard bounces, and spam trap hits.

Meet Expectations – Your subscribers expect email from you with particular content, at a particular frequency, and from a particular identity (branding, logos, etc), which are based on what the information you provided when they subscribed. Anything that fails to meet expectations will increase spam complaints.

Even though you may want to send this update to your entire customer list, or send daily updates when your subscribers only signed up for a monthly newsletter, keep in mind that the negative impact to your email deliverability will negate the benefits of your efforts.  The additional emails are useless if you can’t reach the inbox. While it may make sense to you to forgo best practices in these unique circumstances, recipient email providers don’t share your assessment – spam is spam, no matter what’s going on in the world, and they will treat it as such.

From an email deliverability perspective, this trend is similar to Black Friday or any other time where, for business reasons, you might be compelled to send unwanted or unexpected email. Regardless of the business reason, consider that for legitimate businesses, the consequences of ignoring best practices will always offset any potential benefit. The more dire the situation, the more compelled you may feel to do so, but there’s never a good time to shoot yourself in the foot.  If you’ve already sent out a campaign to your entire database and are concerned about the impact to your email deliverability, you can (and should) still take steps to improve your reputation going forward. Check out this guide to repairing your reputation for more information.

A Note on Public Health and Safety

One side note: If you’re sending out any health related advice as part of your COVID-19 updates, please be careful not to spread disinformation. Whenever possible, refer recipients to official sources such as the CDC, as opposed to providing health/safety guidance yourself. It’s a critical time for many businesses right now and you’ve probably seen some marketing campaigns pushing the envelope too far. Though it is in the very nature of marketing to present your product or service in the best light by highlighting your strengths and downplaying your weaknesses, just make sure that marketing spin doesn’t put public health at risk – misrepresented health information won’t help anyone right now.

Stay safe out there.