Crisis Communication through Email Marketing

Find out effective tips for creating robust crisis communication messages through email marketing.

Crises hit when you least expect them. Take today’s “public enemy number 1”—Coronavirus. COVID-19 has come like an unexpected (and unwelcome) guest in the latter half of 2019 and brought the whole world to its knees. And while not one brand or organization was ready for it, everybody was expected to face the pandemic when it arrived.

What this pandemic taught many is the primal necessity and importance of planning ahead in order to safeguard not only businesses but the employees and customers as well.

Times like this call for a response framework like a crisis communication plan.

When you’re done walking your team through strategies and tools to use during this pandemic, it’s time to think about how to communicate to clients. Communication during a crisis is essential to keeping your presence felt by your brand’s customers; if you’re on digital (as you should), it will be fairly easy to proceed. And one channel that has proved itself continuously relevant is email. In this post, we will walk you through the process of crafting crisis communication messages for your customers using email marketing.

What is a Crisis Communication Plan?

A crisis communication plan is a collection of response guidelines created and used by a business during crises or emergencies. In other words, it’s a “general contingency plan” that helps an organization communicate to their staff, stakeholders, and customers who must be looped into how a business would proceed given vulnerable situations.

A crisis communication plan answers a few “what” and “how” questions, such as:

  • What steps must be taken following the onset of a crisis
  • How best to communicate with key stakeholders during a crisis
  • What measures must be taken to make sure that the crisis is prevented from happening again

Inside these bigger questions are smaller considerations that help an organisation respond quickly during a crucial period, including: pre-drafted templates to use when sending out messages, what information to disseminate, who to tap when a pandemic or crisis happens, what tone to use when conveying the messages, and so on. Overall, what a crisis communication plan does is deliver a message in a manner suited to your business and target audience.

Email Marketing in a Crisis: Reaching Your Customers

Email marketing is used as an essential tool for communicating business plans as well as changes during a crisis. Because the time calls for minimised face-to-face transactions, people are looking and communicating only through direct digital channels of the brands they subscribe to.

And these are not only effective in internal communications. With the right template and tools, everyone can easily use emails to disseminate information to their customers. As one of the most effective automated marketing strategies, emails maintain your relationship with customers and builds customer loyalty overtime. This ramps up your customer service game and ensures that you nudge customers in the right direction.

Everyone thinks this way. Just take a look at how corporate emails quadrupled since COVID-19 made itself present. But a lot of recipients are starting to wonder whether this “excessive messaging” is even necessary. The short answer is yes… and no. For Shopify, a “delicate balancing act” must be created so one could keep sending emails without risk of being perceived as an oversell—or worse, irrelevant. The last thing you need is to jeopardise your reputation. The trick is on making sure that you are targeting people who will find your emails relevant and not only jumping to the bandwagon.

…emails maintain your relationship with customers and builds customer loyalty overtime. This ramps up your customer service game and ensures that you nudge customers in the right direction.

Creating a Crisis Communication Plan using Email Marketing

Start by defining a few things before drilling down into creating an email during a crisis. For starters, make sure you know the:

  • Goals of the crisis communication plan
  • Core response team
  • Workflow
  • Audience
  • Questions and concerns

The goals make sure you know what you’re aiming for when sending those emails out to people. The core response team is your first line of defence; they’re needed to evaluate the situation and loop the whole organisation through internal communication channels. A clear understanding of your workflow gives you a bird’s–eye view of each team’s roles in mitigating the risks brought on by the crisis. Knowing your audience means anticipating their possible reaction to the situation and understanding how best to alleviate their concerns. And finally, anticipating questions and concerns from the point of view of various stakeholders keep your responses more focused, relevant, and aligned with their current needs.

Once you’re done identifying all these, it’s time to look at how you can utilise emails to halt the crisis escalation. Here are six tips for integrating a crisis communication plan through email marketing during a crisis.

1. Tailor your emails to highlight crisis-related updates

The crisis would automatically entail businesses and organizations to adjust a lot of daily operational aspects. For those with physical stores, look into and tailor your updates based on the following:

  • Changes in store hours
  • Adjustments in shipments and deliveries
  • In-store policies regarding physical distancing
  • Possible price changes
  • Available branches

Additionally (especially for digital-only industries), make sure to touch base regarding event postponements, adjustments in customer services’ working hours, new channels of communication, and so on. Keep in mind that your customers are looking for direct responses to their pressing concerns and not just a swarm of messages from brands wishing them well. A final pro-tip: always include the list of your crisis hotlines or channels at the end of each email so people would know where to reach you.

2. Be direct with your email subject and headline

Remember, your audience would want their questions and concerns answered from the get-go, so make sure that this is reflected on the first things they see—the email subject and headline. Make sure you’re clear about what the email includes. If it’s nothing but self-apparent, cliched statements, be ready to see a dip in email open rates. Harsh, but we’re way past the point of sending purely emotional messages. Take this remark from one Twitter user.

mass email tweet

Screenshot from Send in Blue

3. Be more empathic and sensitive (but not patronising)

This may sound counterintuitive to the point above, but while we’re asking you to stop sending purely emotional emails, it doesn’t mean that you should scrap empathic messages altogether. Inject emotions into your email after making sure you’ve covered the point of your email well. Empathy is appreciated; this makes you more relatable to your audience and reflects the human aspects of your brand. And people need this right now—assurance and feeling that their concerns matter.

4. Adjust content topics and issues that you wish to discuss on your email blast

Brands have way more wiggle room for creativity when sending promotional emails. Not so much in a time of crisis. Take locations, for instance: some brands that target a certain location would do well to observe its “climate” in relation to the pandemic. If people are being ordered to stay quarantined at their homes, sending emails about how best to drive out in the countryside is probably not the way to do it. Additionally, make sure you revise any content you have planned or scheduled before in order to reflect the situation.

Adding emojis may look dismissive of the vulnerable situation; super upbeat headlines can be inappropriate. The trick is commandeering the message with a narrative that is appropriate to the time, which brings us to the next point.

5. Keep emails succinct and straightforward

Writing during this time also means wielding the best and most effective copywriting rules. Break up the texts. Avoid beating around the bush. Review your draft; if your email draft takes its sweet time to warm up and get to the point, consider revising. And finally, write emails in a way that provides straightforward information on your audience’s most pressing concerns.

For reference, you can check out our effective email copywriting framework.

…write the emails in a way that provides straightforward information on your audience’s most pressing concerns.

Adjust your brand voice and tone

Your brand may typically be known to be cutthroat, witty, and clever. Maybe, your following already expects this from you—but not this time around. Now is not the time to go “business as usual”; it’s a time to acknowledge your recipients’ emotions but not to a point of being too dire or negative about the whole situation so you don’t heighten their anxiety. What you can do instead is keep a concerned yet objective tone.

Believe it or not, this shift is expected by your audience, so don’t be afraid to adjust your brand voice and tone to suit the situation.


Staying ahead with digital strategies during a pandemic protects not only your company and people but also your customers. Crisis communication using email marketing is a good way to connect with your audience. Allow them to see what steps you are taking to battle the pandemic in your own way.

To recap, make sure you: tailor emails to crisis-related updates; be direct in your email subject and headline; take a more empathic tone; recalibrate content; be brief and straightforward; and finally, adjust your brand tone.

If you’re interested to know more about how best to adjust your digital marketing initiatives during this time, make sure to drop us a message here.

For more information about the latest updates on Coronavirus, visit the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website.

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