On April 11th, 2020, Jessica Salifa posted a poem she’d written on Twitter. It’s titled “The First Lines of Emails I’ve Received While Quarantining”, and it is fantastic.
Using the refrain “As you know, many people are struggling”, it perfectly highlights an interesting side effect of the coronavirus pandemic on marketing language and copy.
Gone are the days of “buy now, while stocks last” subject lines. We’re now in the era of “order from the comfort of your own home”, “an update on delivery times” and “13 top tips to working from home”.
Sure, all of these pieces of copy follow the new Covid-19 marketing rules, (be sensitive, don’t be too sales-y).
But are we reaching a polite, subdued subject-line saturation point?
I think we might be.
90% of the emails in my personal inbox are written by marketers who are clearly treading on eggshells. Which is good, because you’re sure as hell not going to offend anyone.
The downside? They all look exactly the same. And they’re not telling me a story.
So, in a sea of similar-sounding emails from brands, how do you make yours stand out?
First of all, let’s take a look at the phrase that needs to be immediately retired.
Culprit #1: “In these uncertain times”
We get it. These times are uncertain. They’re also “unusual”, “difficult”, “unprecedented” and “trying”. It’s time to stop reminding your customers. At the start of the outbreak, language like this was an excellent way of bridging the gap between brand and consumer. We did it way back on the 18th of March. It’s factually inoffensive and a great way to start those “we’re here for you” emails.
But if you’re still using this line, or variations of it, in your emails, then you’re either about three weeks too late to be sending out a reassuring message, or you’re repeating yourself.
Nobody ever wants to read this line again. From now on, it’s safe to assume that everyone on your mailing list is aware of the coronavirus outbreak and its effect on their day-to-day lives. So instead of telling them that you’re aware everything is a little “odd” at the moment, show them by tailoring your content to meet their new expectations.
To gather some evidence of brands that have got the hang of this, I took a dive into my own inbox. Here’s what I found.
Marks and Spencer
This UK-based department store recently sent me an email that’s perfectly tailored to “staying at home” — but never, ever, mentions any “situation” of any type.
Subject line: Top-to-toe comfort: Flexifit bras, dreamy bedding and salon-worthy nails
Why does it work?
Playing on the idea of cosy home comforts, M&S invoke the joys of being in loungewear all day by promoting their comfy, wire-free bras right up there in the subject line, mentioning “dreamy bedding” (perfect for jazzing up a place where we’re suddenly spending an unusual amount of time), and addressing a big issue for many people — how the heck are we supposed to keep our nails looking good when all the salons are shut?
The first thing I noticed when I opened the email? M&S have placed the most important information at the very top of the email; information about delivery and returns now that stores are closed, including a new 90-days return policy. It’s reassuring, and it saves me from aimlessly scrolling about the website trying to find updated information.
The next thing? Well, I suddenly want to create my very own restful retreat. The idea of a “one-stop sleep shop” is incredibly enticing, considering the stress of the outside world right now. Have you heard about the vivid quarantine-induced dreams people have been having? Yeah, I’d like to avoid that. And if a new duvet and some pillow spray will prevent the 3 AM panic sweats, then I’m buying.
There’s other good information packed in there too, from the “how-to” pedicure guide to the calming notice at the very end about contact-free delivery, that cleverly name-drops several of M&S’s services, including wine and flower deliveries.
Overall, a masterclass in creating carefully tailored content and copy for an email that’s packed with products for surviving an at-home lockdown in style, but without ever mentioning it.
On the exact opposite end of the scale, we have Firebox. They specialise in daft and novelty gifts for the Millennial generation, and they’ve gone with a completely different approach.
Subject line: Booze Flash Sale 🍸✨ Up to 40% off!
Why does it work?
Because all the pubs and bars are closed, and we’re THIRSTY and BORED. Also, even though they’re going with a promo-led “sales” subject line, they’re softening the message and adding humour through the use of the colloquial “booze” and adorable emojis.
The messaging is simple. Pubs are closed, here’s 40% off so you can stock up your home bar instead and raise a virtual toast. Note that unlike M&S, who has a slightly older target audience, Firebox gives a careful nod to the very Millennial trend of virtual happy hour drinks, thanks to a combination of lockdowns and tools such as Zoom and Houseparty.
And at the bottom of the email, alongside the usual tongue-in-cheek CTAs? One that simply says “spread joy not germs” and directs to a page dedicated to cheesy lockdown-related gifts, including a mobile-phone jail cell marked as a “productivity booster”.
Absolutely mad, but the whole email is to-the-point, perfect for its target audience and managing “laid-back” without being insensitive by sticking to a single booze-focused message.
So here we have two completely different approaches to B2C marketing emails during the coronavirus outbreak.
But they’ve both thought very carefully about what copy, content and offers will best suit their poor, trapped-at-home audiences.
For some, that’s creating a beautiful, restful sleeping space. For others, that’s getting boozed on something called “red wine gin” while FaceTiming your mates.
Both promise to help you to make the best of a bad situation.
Both demonstrate their brand’s value.
Neither one mentions the coronavirus, but as readers, we know exactly what they’re talking about.
So think about how you can use copy, especially for that all-important subject line, to reassure without being cliched, to sell with humour, not fear, and offer inspiration instead of pushing too hard.
It’s never been more important to demonstrate value to your audience. To quote an excellent subject line by the US bra brand ThirdLove, you need to be offering “something to lift you up”.
Think about which of your products can help your customers at this time, and build a narrative that ties them together, just as M&S did. That way, you can anchor your marketing activity to the coronavirus outbreak without explicitly mentioning it, or boring the socks off of your audience.