Inbox Love in the Time of Corona

I am diligent about keeping my inbox at zero. It’s a personal accomplishment of mine, one that brings me a sense of joy. I love looking at the blank screen with all my email folders lined up nicely on the side, quietly awaiting the next incoming blitz of messages. If I were to describe the feeling of Zen it brings in mere words, it would go something like this: The noise has ceased, I have accomplished all my tasks, I am up to date.

Imagine my surprise when the world recently upended itself over COVID-19 and my email inbox was flooded with emails from all the food, clothing, furniture, bedding, makeup, pet supply, carpet cleaner, technology, and home appliance brand from which I’ve ever purchased a product (and this list I’ve shared is by far incomplete, it stretches on and on and on).

Brand emails run the gamut from reactionary to informational to comforting during the Corona virus outbreak.

Did it feel comforting to have my favorite bedding company check in on me to let me know they’ll be there for me over these long weeks of social distancing? Hmm, maybe, a nap did sound good as stress over the state of the world mounted. What about that Australian-based company I purchased pool floaties from a few years ago? Did I care that they cared? I must admit, it felt good to know my health and wellbeing was on top of their radar too, even from half a world away. Did seeing all these emails increase my anxiety? Not at all, my anxiety was already through the roof. Was I annoyed at the deluge of messages? Since I regularly “Marie Kondo” my inbox, then honestly, yes. But that’s when I decided to look deeper and ask: What exactly were the ultimate intentions of these emails? What did they hope to accomplish?

Luckily I was not the only one mesmerized by the litany of “we care” communications and curious to dig into their language, message, and meaning. A “Moneybox” article over at Slate tackled the issue with a funny round up of relevant tweets about the email blitz. Adweek also got into the game by analyzing the language used in these emails. They even delivered a delightful word cloud demonstrating the most frequently used terms.

Overall, industry experts felt it important to look at the timeline of these emails to understand their full intent. Initial rounds were from a reactionary place, addressing the sense of financial disruption everyone feared and wanted to prevent. Next up was a vital informational angle: Here is what we are doing to make sure you are safe. These emails were perhaps most important, especially for small businesses who hope to keep their customer base around with curbside pickup and extra careful sanitation of their retail space.

Most recently, emails and advertising have shifted to a more heartfelt “we care” tone that feels like a warm cup of coffee on a cold day or a hug from a friend. As the impact of COVID-19 continues to evolve, brand communications will have to shift and alter in many ways. It’s important to remember that no matter what the circumstances, we exist in an age where consumers are demanding more from brands—especially as we have ample time to sit and think about what the company represents, what they offer, and their role in our lives. A noted trend among Gen-Z (who now make up 40% of consumers) is a desire to see real people with real problems. In other words, now more than ever transparency and authenticity are key for brands seeking to maintain a relationship with consumers and even go the extra mile to offer support.

What do you think about the deluge of COVID-19 communications from brands? Share your reaction with W5 in the comments below.

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