Email Marketing During Hurricane Sandy: The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly

 

Over the last couple of days there has been a lot of public outrage on how some marketers are taking advantage of the hurricane on the East Coast. Across Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere people have blasted American Apparel for sending out an email with a 20% off sale offer “Hurricane Sandy Sale! 20% off of Everything!”. Similarly, people expressed dissatisfaction with a major daily deals site that sent out an offer for a trip “overnight in Atlantic City for 2” right in the middle of the hurricane. But was the social media reaction correct? Did the people that received these emails shun them or actually read them at a higher rate? Read on to find out – the answer may surprise you. 

In the email marketing community, many people shared examples of emails that they thought were appropriate and well written given the crisis situation we had on the East Coast. I wanted to see how these emails actually performed and what we can learn from whom they were targeted to and their level of subscriber engagement. Using Inbox Insight and data from our panel of 2 Million subscribers, I researched the engagement of these emails. Below I discuss some examples of what worked and what didn’t in various industries.

Hospitality Industry: Kimpton Hotels Does It Right!

Kimpton Hotels is the largest boutique hotel chain in the United States. They sent two emails during the hurricane to about one fifth of their list (most likely targeted to people impacted by the hurricane). These emails received an extremely high read rate.

Date

Subject Line

Target

Read Rate

30 Day Avg Read Rate for Kimpton

30 Day Avg Read Rate for Travel

10/29

Stranded by Hurricane Sandy? We are here to help.

1/5 of Total List

 

64.16

 

33.55

15.1

10/30

Superstorm Sandy update for Kimpton InTouch members

1/5 of Total List

59

33.55

15.1

You can see that these emails had a read rate that was nearly double the 30 day average read rate for Kimpton hotels and was 4 times higher than the 30 day average for the Travel industry. So clearly, Kimpton hotels are doing it right by sending timely emails with subject lines that offer help to people in a time of need. The email sent on 10/30 let subscribers know that they could cancel reservations free of charge. The creative was plain and simple – some text from the President of the company expressing his condolences for those suffering through the storm and offering an easy way to cancel existing reservations.  

I checked a couple of other luxury hotel chains like Joie de Vivre and Hilton but did not see any emails they sent that referenced Hurricane Sandy.  The takeaway for the Hospitality industry is: instead of choosing the silent approach, send timely and targeted emails with an offer to help. Your customers will really appreciate it!

Finance: Bank of America vs. Wells Fargo

It is interesting to see how differently Bank of America and Wells Fargo approached email outreach during the hurricane.  Both companies reached out to the majority of their subscribers with information regarding the Hurricane, but the key difference was in the volume and personalization of those emails. BOA sent two email campaigns to their whole list with subject lines “Hurricane Sandy Relief” and “Hurricane Sandy Relief Update”.  Wells Fargo also sent an email to their entire list with the subject line “Important Update for customer impacted by Hurricane Sandy” but they also sent personalized targeted emails to their customers on the East Coast with the same subject line, but also including each customers’ name.  Wells Fargo’s strategy proved more effective as each of these emails had excellent engagement and boosted Wells Fargo’s overall email engagement for the month while BOA’s 30 day average read rate actually went down by a little bit.

Below I compare the performance of the Hurricane emails for these two companies.

Company

Date

Subject Line

Target

Read Rate

30 Day Avg up to 10/29

30 Day Avg Read Rate

BOA

10/31

Hurricane Sandy Relief

Sent to Whole List

 

25.34

 

25.06

24.06

BOA

10/30

Hurricane Sandy Relief Update

Sent to Whole List

21.14

25.06

24.06

Wells Fargo

11/01

Important Update for customer impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Sent to Whole List

35.99

32.56

34.57

Wells Fargo

10/30-11/01

[Customer Name] Important Update for customer impacted by Hurricane Sandy

Small, targeted emails

37.85

32.56

34.57

Personalization and targeting was remarkably effective in the Finance industry. Wells Fargo’s subject line was more specific to begin with, but by including each subscriber’s name, Wells Fargo was able to achieve significant engagement via personalization.  

Retail: Who is more inappropriate American Apparel or Jonathan Adler? You be the judge!

After examining emails sent out from various retailers, I’ve come to the conclusion that when marketers made references to the hurricane in conjunction with some sort of offer (a sale or free shipping), their read rates went up. Like it or not, the American Apparel email I mentioned above had a read rate of 29.1%  which was almost double the read rate American Apparel had on average for the last 30 days. This email campaign also had a lower delete unread rate than other emails sent in the last 30 days. The mashable article called this email a “blast”, however, it was sent only to about 1/5 of American Apparel’s list – most likely targeting their subscribers on the East coast.

Jonathan Adler’s Hurricane Sandy email is another email marketing example that offended people across social media. On 10/30, this retailer sent the following email: “Storm our Site: Free Shipping through Monday Nov 5th”. Unlike American Apparel, this email was sent to the whole list.  It had excellent engagement and a 28.66% read rate which was slightly higher than Jonathan Adler’s 30 day average.

Other retailers, like Ann Taylor, attempted to take on a different approach. On 10/31, Ann Taylor sent out an email with the subject line “We Hope You’re Safe and Sound” to about 1/6 of their list. This email contained no offers and the creative was just a straightforward email from the president of the company expressing sympathy to those affected as well as letting customers know Ann Taylor was also experiencing minor technical problems due to the hurricane. You would think subscribers would appreciate this type of email, wouldn’t you? Not quite – it received below average engagement, a low read rate of 11.2%.

So what is the takeaway from these examples in retail? Although the emails that contained offers and alluded to the hurricane received favourable engagement, the negative publicity probably had a negative impact on their brand. It seems like the best approach is to combine an offer with a way to help others. For example, “a percentage of the proceeds from this sale will go to the Red Cross from Hurricane relief” would not negatively impact the brand and still receive good engagement based on the examples above. And why did Ann Taylor’s approach fail? Let’s face it, if you are signed up to receive emails from Ann Taylor, it’s because you want to purchase something from them. While their sentiment is appropriate, it did not resonate with consumers.

If you have examples of emails you've received during the Hurricane that you thought were good or bad - let me know!  I’d love to hear from you!