Consumers Share What Communications Work (and Don’t) During COVID-19

Consumers Share What Communications Work (and Don’t) During COVID-19

We receive a lot of communication on a daily basis. From email to SMS, social media, and digital advertising, the sheer number of channels brands use to communicate can be overwhelming. And because businesses are unable to communicate with customers face to face due to COVID-19, it feels like we’re receiving even more communication, especially information that describes new hours, cleaning procedures, and online sales. But do recipients actually want this communication?

We decided to find out by surveying a sample of our U.S. customers. We received responses from 244 customers across demographics and regions to better understand how people want to be communicated with during this period. 

Do consumers want to hear from businesses?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that it’s pretty evenly split between those who still want critical updates but less communication and those who want the same or more communication. For example, 45.5% of respondents said they want to hear from companies sparingly, and only with critical updates. But, 24.2% want the communication cadence to stay the same and 22.5% want to hear from companies even more frequently. Here’s the full breakdown:

Frequency of communications during COVID-19

Frequency preferences also varied quite a bit among age brackets. Those in the 18-29 year old group were 40% more likely to hear from companies at the same frequency as before COVID. While those in the 30-44 age range were 27% more likely to want an increased frequency of communications. The next age range, 45-60 was 37% more likely to want no updates at all. 

Tip: You can’t please everyone with the frequency of your communication, so let your recipients choose the frequency. Update your email preference center to allow your recipients to decrease or increase the frequency of communication depending on their personal preferences. 

What content are consumers looking for?

We asked recipients what type of communications they value most from businesses among these 5 categories:
  • Critical updates about what I can expect from an individual company—I want to know if they’re closing or offering alternative ways to continue to engage.
  • Inspiration and strategies to stay safe and healthy based on a company’s area of expertise—I’ll take any and all ideas to ease the stress I’m feeling.
  • Information about charitable actions companies are taking (or opportunities they’re providing me) to support others during this time—I appreciate companies that are community-minded.
  • General messages acknowledging COVID-19 and offering well-wishes or support—it’s nice to know companies I care about also care about me.
  • Normal promotions and communications that I’d expect prior to COVID-19—small moments of normalcy are comforting right now.
Interest in COVID communication types

Critical updates are wanted 

Critical updates were considered most valuable, rated “high” by 53% of respondents. This includes any changes to store hours or announcements of stores closing/reopening, as well as product and service availability.

“Notification of changes in store hours and different policies have been helpful.” Male, 18-29 years old

“Updates from restaurants and stores on their hours and closings.” Female, 30-44 years old

Tip: Keep your recipients up-to-date on any changes in your store hours, services, or product availability. They want to know when you’ll be open, at full capacity, and what you’re doing to protect employees and customers. 

Inspiration and strategies are valued

In addition to critical updates, customers appreciate inspiration and strategies to help them stay healthy and cope with the pandemic. This was the second-highest rated category with 37% of respondents ranking their interest as “high.”

“Walmart [sent] emails stating they are taking part in ensuring the safety for their shoppers.” Male, 18-29 years old

“PayPal sent an email comforting me and telling me to contact them if I am having trouble making payments and they will work with me.” Male, 60+ years old

Tip: Providing actionable information like how to stay safe and what to do if you’re having trouble making payments is much more helpful to consumers than a summer sale. This doesn’t mean you can’t promote your products, but consider how you are framing your messaging. Add value to your recipients day-to-day and they will continue to appreciate your communications. For examples on how to engage and provide value to your recipients, review our guide, How 5 Brands Craft Excellent Omnichannel Experiences.

What content isn’t working?

While there were many positive comments about how companies are communicating during COVID-19, there was a common theme with communication that missed the mark. 

“Too many [emails], and not offering any real information. I don’t want a credit card company trying to tell me how to deal with this crisis... that’s the last thing I want to hear from them.” Female, 45-60 years old

“[I’ve been put off by] Unhelpful or minor promotions that are not helpful during this time.” Female, 18-29 years old

The communications that recipients found most off-putting were messages that didn’t provide value to help them through this strange period we’re living in.

Tip: Offer tips related to your industry as to how your customers can stay safe or cope with quarantine. For example, if you are a retail clothing store, you could offer discounts on comfy outfits for consumers to wear while at home. Or, if you sell workout equipment, send tips on how to relieve stress by doing in-home workouts. For more tips on how to engage your customers during COVID, check out our blog post

How do recipients want to hear from businesses?

Email was by far the most voted channel by respondents with 67% saying they want to hear from businesses via email. The second most voted channel was social media at 44.6%. In a time where people want updates on how their local community and businesses are fairing, it’s helpful to have communication via multiple sources. 

Since email is archival (more so than most other channels) it’s easier for recipients to refer back to a store’s new hours, store policies, and procedures. Use social media alongside email to quickly broadcast updates and engage with your customers multiple times a day. You could even pair social media and email with SMS. As more businesses are reopening, sending customers an SMS notification that the store/office is open and then an email detailing the new hours and policies would be a great way to inform customers. 

For more information on how to use email with SMS, read our guide Using SMS and Email to Engage Your Customers in 2020.

Wrapping up

There’s a lot up in the air right now, so when communicating with your customers, remember to:
  • Put their needs, worries, and concerns first 
  • Provide updates on critical information
  • Offer strategies on how to stay healthy and sane
  • Use a mixture of email, social media, and SMS
If your communications provide value, your customers will want to stay connected to your business. To find tips on what to include in your COVID-19 emails, read our post, Email Communication During COVID-19: Tips and Examples.

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