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COVID Fatigue: Adjusting Email Communications for Overwhelmed Consumers

By Lindsey Roeschke | March 23, 2020 | 0 Comments


There’s no shortage of things to discuss on social media right now.  From images of empty supermarket aisles to parodies of apocalyptic songs to pleas for social distancing, the internet is rife with real-time consumer reactions to the quickly-evolving COVID-19 pandemic.  Starting to bubble up among all the COVID content? Reactions to all the emails consumers are receiving from brands in this time of crisis.  And the initial sentiment… well, it isn’t great.

“If there’s one good thing about Coronavirus, it’s reminded me how many email lists I need to unsubscribe from.”

“I delete everything that has COVID in the title.”

“Make it stop!!!”

Communication and transparency are crucial in times of crisis, so brands certainly shouldn’t be going completely dark.  But marketers must walk a fine line between thoughtful messaging and over communication.  Even prior to the rise of the pandemic, consumers were overwhelmed with information – in 2019, 26% of US consumers said they were overwhelmed and 15% were annoyed by the amount of content they were exposed to on a daily basis (Gartner Consumer Values and Lifestyle Survey, 2019).  It’s probably safe to assume those numbers haven’t improved in the context of a global health crisis and the resultant news coverage, conversation and brand messaging.

Brands hoping to strike the right tone should consider the following:

Strategic recommendations:

  • Lead with empathy. This is not a time of business as usual, so that “Spring Has Sprung and So Has Our Annual Sale!” email will likely across as tone deaf.  That doesn’t mean you can’t send product-related messages (online shopping may be a comfort to some consumers at this time) but keep it in context and dial back frequency.
  • Consider the relationship the consumer has to your brand when prioritizing and framing messaging. Did they buy one sweatshirt from you four years ago and nothing since? If so, getting daily emails about your store closings will likely be perceived as spam.
  • Evaluate your position as a brand. Consumers are more likely to be sensitive to the challenges of smaller, local businesses in this time.  If you’re a larger corporation, how are you helping those closer to home?
  • While it’s true that some messaging may be out of the marketers’ hands (for example, messages from legal or HR), consumers won’t make this distinction. Make sure there is cross-functional alignment on messaging strategy, tone and cadence.

Tactical recommendations:

  • Evaluate the purpose of each piece of communication. Does that update on your approach to sanitizing need to be an email that lands in a customer’s inbox, or can it live on your website with a clear path for those who want to seek it out? Prioritize communications that are important to consumers’ specific interactions with you, like policy changes or updated store hours.
  • Email campaigns are often planned far in advance – be sure to revisit individual messages in the queue to ensure sensitivity to the current crisis and related consumer sentiment.

For more on consumer sentiment and expectations in the time of COVID-19, read CONSUMER SENTIMENT ABOUT COVID-19: WHAT THEY EXPECT OF COMPANIES (subscription required).

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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