With the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, an outbreak of strong tornadoes in the south and flooding along the Mississippi River, this spring has been a hotbed of disasters.
Even if you don't watch the news, your inbox would most likely tip you off about the events. Companies and brands -- from Microsoft to Kenny Chesney -- are addressing the needs of the victims through cause-related marketing efforts that seek to raise funds while also enhancing their image.
Email can play an important role in cause-related marketing. Last month I received an email from an airline offering to reward me with miles if I made a donation to the American Red Cross to aid storm victims. That airline is just one of hundreds of companies seeking to "do well by doing good."
Because their efforts are on behalf of charitable causes, companies should be especially cautious. A misstep in either the look of the email or the message it contains can cause the effort to backfire, confusing customers or making the company appear self-serving.
Revisiting good email practices can help companies raise these funds successfully.
1. Strive for consistency across the brand. Make sure emails reflect the look and tone of other marketing efforts. When emailing customers, you want to assure them that you are who you say you are. If you typically send text emails, switching to an html format that's heavy on photos of a disaster will be unnerving for customers.
2. Know your audience. The more relevant the message, the more your subscribers will be engaged. Before embarking on a cause-related marketing effort, make sure the effort is relevant to your audience and won't offend them. For example, it would be poor form to ask vegans to support cattle farmers.
3. Revisit your message. Good taste must prevail in cause-related emails or your customers will be quick to criticize. Humor and gimmicks simply don't work during disasters, and should be avoided. And, even if you're not emailing for a cause, always double-check the content of emails to ensure they cannot be misconstrued as insensitive. For example, the day of the Alabama tornado I received an email from an outdoor clothing company with the subject line: "Mother Nature hates you. Deal with it." While the email was written two weeks earlier, the delivery was ill-timed, reflecting poorly on the company..
4. Proofread and test your message. In the heat of the moment, it's easy to hit the send button without fully vetting your message. Have at least one other person proofread your content for mistakes and for taste. Then test the email to ensure it renders properly on different email client platforms.
5. Monitor reaction. Always review campaign metrics and monitor what's being said about your effort. Respond quickly to criticism. The clothing company that sent the unfortunate email immediately sent a follow-up email containing a heartfelt apology. Any disapproval I was feeling quickly abated because of their quick action.