The State of Email Marketing: The Lasting Effects of the Pandemic on Email Priorities

We’re experiencing a myriad of crises all at once—ranging from the pandemic health crisis to social unrest and insurrection to financial crises. These have led to profound changes in consumers’ buying habits and housing choices, and an acceleration of ecommerce, digital entertainment, and work from home trends. With COVID-19 still spreading quickly in some parts of the world, it’s clear that the pandemic and its effects will likely persist for years to come to some degree.

In our Email Evolution Conference keynote, Wildbit’s Justine Jordan and I argued that the ripple effects of the pandemic will drive email marketers to continue to focus on three areas:

  1. The need for nimbleness in their email production process
  2. Empathy and customer-centricity in their email messaging
  3. Maximizing customer retention through content and targeting

Let’s talk about each of those areas in turn.

The Need for Nimbleness

Marketing teams have been whipsawed by a patchwork of COVID restrictions, rapidly changing consumer behaviors, and a series of national social and political crises. To cope, brands have sent more crisis messages and many have even paused their email campaigns to avoid appearing indifferent.

Brands have also been speeding up their email production. They’ve been embracing time-saving tactics like AI-powered content recommendations and modular email architecture. At the same time, they’ve been scaling back their use of time-intensive tactics that don’t work in all inboxes like AMP for Email, Email Annotations for Gmail, and CSS-based interactivity.

Empathy & Customer-Centricity

With all of the changes that are affecting consumers, companies are taking a more empathetic and customer-centric approach with their email messaging. For example, they’re focusing more on email accessibility and inclusive design best practices to increase the reach and engagement of their campaigns. They’re also optimizing their emails for dark mode, which is a major challenge because inbox providers implement dark mode differently.

Companies have started offering to snooze their email campaigns proactively during civil unrest and ahead of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, out of sensitivity to those who have lost a parent. Brands are increasingly dropping their corporate-speak in favor of elevating spokespersons, employees, and influencers, who can present a more casual and approachable message. Often that message includes a focus on well-being, self-care, and coping.

In addition to dropping their corporate-speak, brands are getting off the sidelines when it comes to social issues—whether it’s voting rights, the climate crisis, COVID vaccinations, anti-racism efforts, or religious values. A strong majority of consumers across all age groups want to buy from companies that share their values. Brands are trying to forge deeper connections with their customers around these issues to lock in brand loyalty.

Customer Retention

Loyalty more generally has become critical, in part because of the challenges caused by elevated out-of-stocks, unprecedented delivery delays, and the cancellation of in-person events. With market share up for grabs, marketers are trying to retain their existing customers by launching or improving their loyalty programs, trying harder to reengage their inactive subscribers, using RFM modeling to optimize email frequency, and increasing personalization.

Email marketing has been an all-star performer over the past 18 months and absolutely central to most brands’ pandemic response. If marketers continue to stay nimble and adapt to their subscribers’ needs, their email marketing programs will continue to generate stellar returns for them.

Watch our keynote session. Recordings of all sessions from the ANA’s 2021 Email Evolution Conference are available to conference attendees and to ANA members. Just sign in and click “View Presentation” in the conference agenda.


Chad S. White is the Head of Research for Oracle Marketing Consulting and the author of “Email Marketing Rules” and more than 3,000 posts about email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the Email Experience Council’s 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year.