How to Email During a Disaster — Without Alienating Your Customers

The last few days, Hurricane Sandy swept the East Coast of the United States.

She took down trees. She took down power lines. She even took down a few businesses’ email campaigns, at least a notch or two.

Those businesses leveraged the superstorm in their emails in ways their readers didn’t approve of. By contrast, other businesses’ emails on Sandy-related subjects were appreciated.

Which means that most likely, they’ll experience an increase in customer loyalty and goodwill.

What Made The Difference?

In short, compassion and consideration. Take a look at the emails that got called out for insensitivity on Twitter and forums:

Urban Outfitters
American Apparel
The emails’ frivolous tone was surely meant in good fun, but stressed recipients found their flippancy too callous to graciously accept.

Other businesses took a different approach, acknowledging the hassle – and sometimes danger – the storm incurred, and genuinely attempting to extend help. Examples of these include:

Small Business Administration
PNC Bank
WholeKids Pediatrics
UPS
American Express
US Airways

Something significant to note about these messages: the emails from banks were decidedly un-bank-like. The usual polished veneer was replaced with an obliging, accommodating tone. And none of these brands tried to sell anything – they understood it was not the time.

Anthropologie’s Monday email fell somewhere in the middle of the road. It did encourage online shopping during the storm by offering free shipping, but the approach of the text was far removed from that of Urban Outfitters above. Observe:

You’ll notice that instead of a flippant, “might-as-well-shop-with-us” attitude, Anthropologie’s copywriters went with thoughtful and attentive. The subject line read, “Stay put, please: shipping’s on us,” indicating that Anthropologie would rather lose some income rather than have any of its customers hurt.

So in the end, it really does come down to compassion and consideration.

When you make the extra effort to be aware of major events your readers are going through, they will notice. Whether you handle it graciously or badly, they will file away their emotional reactions.

When you’re marketing in the face of disaster, the impact of your email, even if it’s subtle, will last.

What About You? Share Your Sandy-Related Email Experiences Below

If you have a screenshot of the emails you received or sent, link them up — they may be good learning experiences for us all.

By:
Amanda Gagnon is the former Education Manager for AWeber and has started a number of small businesses.

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