Ray Schultz

Many states are easing their shutdowns in the belief that the COVID-19 curve is flattening. That raises the question of how brands — which had sent millions of emails from their CEOs on their values, then promotional emails stressing empathy — should act during this new normal.

To get input on how email marketers should proceed, MediaPost spoke with Ryan Phelan, Chief Marketer of Origin Email Agency, a boutique agency that specializes in email marketing.

What kind of emails should marketers be sending as businesses reopen?

A lot of companies have dropped out. My inbox has not been as empty since the day I got it. But there are two ways.

You still get in touch with empathy, but maybe not over the top. Reassure people on what you’re doing to meet the present moment. Ask yourself how you are communicating about opening the store, how do you go back to selling stuff? And how do you do that on a state-by-state and city-by-city basis — in New York as opposed to Dallas, where stuff is opening up? Do you use current technology or other technology to standardize response by location or condition and to dynamically send email?

Campaigngenius.com does real-time content, and they have a back-end that looks at COVID rates by city. It dynamically serves up content. They’ve pivoted with time.

How do you achieve this?

It’s a big challenge. Some would say, ‘We lost up to six weeks, we’re losing sales. We don’t have time to sit around in a committee to figure it out. We have to write a check to help somebody do it.’

If you can’t develop it yourself, you can hire somebody to bridge that gap. Another way is to go out and find the third-party technologies and see what they have.

What is the second way to proceed? 

Then there is the effect of people going back to the office, and returning to the in-person brainstorming that we’ve all missed. You’re not able to write on a whiteboard, and you’re not as able to talk to somebody else. If people can take advantage of that early need to brainstorm, you can use that to power innovation in your program.

Everyone’s marketing plan has been thrown in the wastebasket. One of the principles of marketing is that it’s predictable. You can’t overlay panic into a model.

Are brands marketing to people who are unemployed?

Unemployment is a dynamic that ties back to empathy. Unemployment data isn’t available, so is there an empathetic way to say, ‘If you’re unemployed, there’s a way to snooze our emails for a month@f0’ Maybe it’s on the opt-out page.

We know people opt out because they get too many emails or they’re not relevant. Or we ask, ‘Would you only like to get emails in these topics@f1’’ What if you offered this option: ‘I’m unemployed and would rather not get these emails for awhile@f2’ That is an empathetic action just by giving it.

Wouldn’t out-of-work people respond to deals?

It may be clearance kind of stuff. Again, I don’t know of a fast way to determine unemployment by behavior, but on your opt-out page, you could also ask, ‘Would you like to sign up for a special dot.com with the deepest discounts we can offer on certain items@f3’ That would be a new stream of communication — very short-term. 

Is there one sector that everyone should emulate?

I hope marketers understand that consumers interact on a retail level more than anything else. So email should be in that retail mindset, although it doesn’t act the same way in a banking kind of environment.

You can’t be a good B2B marketer unless you’re a good B2C marketer, and you can’t be a good B2C marketer unless you’re a good B2B marketer. I hope people are not just in the shell of their own vertical. 

Can you tell us a little about your business?

Dave Baker, John Caldwell and I formed Origin Email a year and a half ago. We offer email strategy and we send emails and also do creative. And we have a fractional CMO business. It’s for companies that can’t afford a full-time CMO but need someone to come in on an hourly basis and act on a C-level.

John’s company RedPillEmail can link the data and pull it in from disparate sources, tied to our strategy. It’s an end-to-end agency offering. 

Do you seepeople being laid off in the email business?

I’ve heard of layoffs, but because of its price and ease of getting it out, email is the primary communications channel.

I think it’s pretty protected because everybody has to have an email program. I can’t see laying off an email team when email is so effective and so profitable — it would be a grave error. A lot of people, including myself, believe email is recession-proof.

Originally posted on MediaPost.com :: Author Ray Schultz