The Do’s and Don’ts of Coronavirus Email Communication

We’re all receiving email on a level unseen since GDPR, as brands and businesses race to reassure us over the unfolding situation with coronavirus and pre-empt any concerns that they might have.

Unlike GDPR, however, where companies did have a reason to be reaching out to their customers and notifying them of privacy policy updates (although there is still debate over whether the deluge of emails was necessary), the situation with coronavirus is a lot more uncertain. Brand opportunism is going to be viewed particularly poorly at this time and the backlash for companies who are perceived to strike the wrong tone or be jumping on the bandwagon in the middle of a crisis could be severe.

While the temptation is undoubtedly strong to ‘weigh in’ in some fashion and make sure that your business is in communication with customers during a fraught time, following some common-sense guidelines will help prevent your brand’s email from turning up in a mocking social post or round-up of unwanted emails or worse, from damaging your brand at a time when very few businesses can afford to.

Here are our recommendations:


Provide specific updates on how normal service will be impacted

Most businesses are reaching out to either reassure customers about measures they are taking to keep them safe in the midst of the outbreak (extra cleaning precautions, financial protection, etc.) or to inform them of ways that the business or service will be impacted (limited stock, shipping delays, staff working remotely).

Either way, try to give specifics. What measures have been taken, and how will those help the situation? How has the business/service been impacted, and what does that mean for customers? Is there a helpline they can contact or a webpage they can refer to for more information?

Don’t fill up the space with empty waffle – people will already have email fatigue from receiving so many of these kinds of communications, so their patience and their attention span will be limited. Be sure to use clear, precise language and easy-to-scan formatting – for example, bullet points and headers that highlight key information.

Do provide information about online options or alternatives

It’s safe to assume that the bulk of the people receiving your message will want to go out as little as possible, if they are able to leave the house at all. Therefore, wherever possible, provide information about online options or alternatives.

If you’re a fitness centre, are there online fitness videos people can watch or a training app they can download? If you’re a restaurant or food business of any kind (no matter how small), can customers place orders online for delivery or collection? If staff are no longer going to be present in your branches or call centres, how can customers contact your brand online?

If you aren’t offering online alternatives or services for your business, now might be the time to start putting those in place.

Do tailor your language to the situation

It probably goes without saying, but now is not the best time for irreverent jokes or edgy humour, no matter how on-brand it might be. That doesn’t mean that your update needs to be dreary or in dry legalese, but be sensitive. Your customers are going to be on edge and anxious; they might well have loved ones who have been taken ill, or are afraid that they might be. They may also be worried about their financial situation, their living situation, food supplies or their children’s education and future.

In short, tread lightly. It’s okay to strike a positive or reassuring tone, but do so with care. And get as many people from all levels of your organisation to proofread and feed back on the message as you can.

Do direct people to your website

Many brands are falling into the trap of only making this information available via email – but it should be on your website as well. If you’re expecting there to be a significant impact, or a significant volume of queries, due to coronavirus, then it’s worth creating a page for information and updates, perhaps even a dedicated FAQ.

Make sure this is well-signposted and not just tucked away in a footer link – and direct customers to it from your email. This allows you to be more concise in your message, with a link in the email for further information (you may also want to direct your customers to where they can send queries or receive additional support).


Use this as a re-engagement opportunity

While this shouldn’t need saying, too many people have recently reported hearing from companies that they haven’t dealt with in years – or at all.

The current situation with coronavirus should in no way be seen as an opportunity to ‘re-engage’ a mailing list or entice former customers to come back to your brand – it’s simply not appropriate. At best it will result in customers feeling unsettled by you contacting them out of the blue – at worst they may be turned off your brand completely, and will probably tell their friends about the experience as well.

It goes without saying, that any contact details you use should have been obtained on an opt-in basis (GDPR…) and not via a third-party mailing list or other shady means. Beyond that, try to filter for customers that you have a current, active relationship with and not those who might have signed up for account five years ago and forgotten about it. One, they will be most receptive to your message and probably welcome the update; and two, as previously stated, they will have received a lot of email already and will be liable to ignore messages from brands they don’t have good reason to hear from.

Don’t send out emails for the sake of it

As a follow-on from the previous point, if you are making contact with customers at this time, it should be because you have something to say to them. If you don’t have any update to provide, or information to communicate, it’s best to stay out of people’s inboxes.

However, now is a good time to review any upcoming campaigns that you might have (email or otherwise) in light of the situation – are they still appropriate? Do their tone, imagery or themes have any unfortunate implications for the situation? Can you tailor them to the situation that people are likely to be in or offer something that will be of genuine use to customers at this time ?

Think about what people are most likely to need from your brand or service that you can provide – whether it’s a light distraction in the midst of the chaos, a product, or a resource.

Don’t make light of the situation – or encourage people to ignore health advice

Some of the messages from businesses around the coronavirus outbreak have struck a jarring tone, as instead of taking it – or their customers worries’ – seriously, they seem more concerned about keeping up potential business and encouraging people to act like nothing was happening.

As mentioned earlier, read the room – and don’t encourage customers to ignore government or health advice for the sake of spending money with your business. It’s likely to be much better-received if you can find a creative way to connect with them, provide them with needed information, or offer them something that they really need at the present time.