Digital Marketing Strategy In The Time Of Coronavirus

We’re currently living in a state of scary uncertainty. The Dow has plummeted, the death toll due to COVID-19 is increasing, and many businesses have shuttered their doors for the foreseeable future. As an ecommerce digital marketer, my job during this time is to help clients maintain a sense of normalcy without making them look insensitive or unempathetic. If you’re reading this because you have the same goal, here are some tips for formulating a strategy that won’t get you called out on social media.

Be Careful With Messaging

It’s good to send an email informing customers of what you’re doing to ensure that they stay safe. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Here is a nice example from Catbird, sent March 14, with the subject line, “Our stores are closing temporarily.”

First, they inform us that brick and mortar locations will be closed until March 28. This is essential information that will hopefully prevent people from leaving the house and showing up at their physical locations. Next, they reveal that retail employees will still be paid for their time. Now more than ever, many shoppers may have a hard time supporting brands that don’t take care of their employees. I’m much more inclined to make a purchase if I know that it will help a company continue to pay out-of-work employees. Finally, it gives directions for how those inclined can still shop and support the brand. The brief postscript at the end is a nice touch and fits with their brand history of supporting the local community. This email from Chewy is another good example of careful, pragmatic messaging.

Do you know what people aren’t looking for? A vague email that doesn’t provide any necessary information and is sent in the name of lukewarm solidarity. Here’s an example:

This email was sent on March 13, a day when eight people in the United States succumbed to COVID-19. During this time people are looking for factual information, not emails that are vague and don’t even contain a click to action. The message from Barnes & Noble feels incomplete and makes me think that their marketing team hit “send” too quickly by accident. It isn’t insensitive, but it certainly is unnecessary. I had no idea I was even on their email list until I received that weird email. If there’s no important information to convey, it’s silly to send out an email just because other brands are doing it. Err on the side of caution.

Review Your Automated Campaigns

Especially in the midst of a pandemic, data is your friend. If you sell items that people clearly want (like hand sanitizer or home gym equipment), sending a “back in stock” email notification is a great idea. If you sell expensive cocktail dresses that no one is looking at or purchasing, consider reviewing and pausing some of your automations (especially those spread over longer periods of time) or planned marketing pushes. If someone really wants to make a purchase, they will! Sending three abandoned cart emails pushing them to convert on a $500 dress that they haven’t looked at in a week will not give you the results you’re looking for.

Here’s an unfortunate ad that I saw on Friday:

As you might imagine, the comments on this post were not positive. I recommend reviewing all your campaigns with a fine-tooth comb and pausing anything that could be considered gauche. It’s also a good idea to regularly analyze your metrics and stop putting money into campaigns that don’t work well. If it didn’t work when the economy was flourishing, it’s probably not going to work now.

Don’t Conflate a Pandemic with a Marketing Opportunity

Whether your business is suffering or booming, absolutely do not use COVID-19 as a marketing opportunity. Here’s a list of some mistakes you should avoid:

  • Using promo codes with crisis language
  • Offering advice that you’re not qualified to give or haven’t validated with a licensed professional
  • Leveraging the current situation to frame an upcoming product launch
  • Joining off-brand conversations
  • Pushing products to help “fix” problems


Here’s an example of an email that I found especially frustrating:

You know what isn’t going to save the planet? $18 t-shirts. Now is not the time or the place, Everlane. Save it for later.

As a brand (or digital marketer), it’s okay to be concerned about your business. Continuing to run campaigns is understandable and necessary. At this time, I simply urge you to be as conscientious and empathetic as possible. If you have any questions or need advice on strategy, feel free to shoot us an email – we’re happy to help.

Lindsay Pugh

Lindsay is a voracious reader who also enjoys making and watching films. She’s currently on a never-ending quest to discover the best burrito in the city.