The COVID-19 Playbook: What Not To Put In Emails

Want to drive email response during this crisis? Forget everything you learned prior to the past two weeks.

That’s the key takeaway from Email Marketing For Sensitive Times, a Webinar presented on Thursday by Jay Schwedelson, president and CEO of Worldata. 

Things are changing by the minute and email creative has to keep up. Don’t rely on the obvious.   

Worldata studied emails going through the hopper from March 6 to March 16 (and after). It found that 18% of all emails since March 10th have mentioned coronavirus/COVID-19.

“That’s insane, that’s a lot,” Schwedelson says. 

Those words may work if you’re sending a crisis manifesto from your CEO, saying, “We wash our hands, we don’t wash our hands,” Schwedelson jokes.

But promotional email “should NOT include these words: Coronavirus, COVID, Pandemic and virus,” he adds.

Why? They may attract spam or be flagged as such.



“Network administrators telling employees not to click on Corona, Virus, COVID, Pandemic, Sanitizer, Mask,” Schwedelson says. “They’ll probably will include toilet paper soon.”

Instead, acknowledge the situation with personal lines like one being used by Hannah Anderson: “Staying in?”

Acknowledge the situation and recipients will want to respond, Schwedelson continues.

Non-transactional emails that acknowledge the situation are producing a 41% increase in open rates in B2B and 34% in B2C.

Moreover, new offers plus acknowledgement are increasing click-through rates by 35% in B2B and 28% in B2C. 

Schwedelson’s take on it? “Recipients are hungry for something new.” 

He also advises: “Put on hold what you know to be true.” In B2C, these words are now increasing response:

  • Home – 18%
  • Delivery—22%
  • Shipping—14%
  • Bored—25%
  • WFH (work from home)—17%
  • Open—19%
  • You/Your—25%
  • Yes—11%

Schwedelson notes that “’free is bigger than ever,” increasing opens by — 39% 

In B2B, the big words are:

  • Virtual — 24%
  • Online — 16%
  • Home — 11%
  • Essential — 15%
  • WH — 22%
  • Tips — 21%
  • You/Your — 22%
  • Insight — 14%

And, again, "'free' is the dominant word,” increasing opens by 31%.

But avoid these words in subject lines: 

  • Urgent
  • Hurry
  • Critical
  • Serious
  • Alert
  • Rush

“They worked two weeks ago,” Schwedelson says. “The tone has changed. Be subtle about urgency.” Instead, stress valuable freebies — that’s what people want.

Meanwhile, email inbox activity is up 27%: People are checking emails even while email volume (omitting virus messaging) is down 19%.

Specifically, B2B open rates are up by7%, and B2C by 11%. Email newsletter opens are up by 8%. The reason? People want distraction from the terrible events going on. 

”I don’t want to say they’re losing their minds, but they might be losing their minds a little,” he jokes.

Schwedelson says he has never seen greater interest in a topic in his life. The webinar alone drew over 1,000 guests.



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