Are Email Marketers “Flattening the Curve” of COVID-19 Messaging?

Apr 30, 2020
Nick Ziech-Lopez

Recently, we published an update to the research we had conducted concerning the marketing messaging trends among the world’s Super Senders as the world came to grips with COVID-19. Now, after a month of continued self-isolation and quarantine in many places around the world, we wanted to take another look at the larger trends of email sending and interaction to see how marketers were reacting to the prolonged fight against the virus. Key questions for this analysis were:

  • What are the volume trends for email over 2020? Can we observe some sort of stability or continuing trend?
  • What kinds of mailings are being sent? Do we see a shift in marketing campaigns vs. triggered messages?
  • How are recipients interacting with mailings? Now that many people are staying at home for much of the day, will that affect interaction?

To perform the analysis, we reviewed billions of delivered emails since the beginning of the year. All times displayed are in Eastern time for ease of visualization, and all volumes are relative.

So what do we see?

Looking at this first graphic, it’s plain to see that there has been a relatively large drop in volume since the peak at the end of last year. Previously, I wrote that email rates were steady for the first few weeks of the crisis, but that trend has not sustained itself over the following month. However, taking a week-by-week look at the volume gives a positive outlook:

Email marketers are flattening the curve! After an initial drastic reduction at the beginning of March, we can observe that volume has stabilized over the past few weeks, and is even beginning to trend upward. This rings true with the consensus we are seeing around much of the industry — many brands are beginning to ease back into their “normal” marketing programs as we adjust to a world of mostly online shopping and purchasing.

This is not to say that we are anticipating the world going “back to normal” soon — but is reflective of a larger trend of marketers (and consumers) preparing for the middle to end of summer when the end is likely in sight. Shoppers getting more comfortable with online shopping, people booking trips for the end of summer, and brands holding more virtual events are leading to the stabilization and increase in traffic. But with all that increase, are we seeing a difference in the kinds of mailing being sent?

As we assemble the data into a heat map, we can see a few trends pop out at us. We can see dramatic spikes in the amount of triggered emails being sent near mid-March, with a general pattern toward more bulk messaging in recent weeks. However, when we put a little context around the image, trends start to pop out at us — I’ve marked up the data a little bit so we can see a clearer view:

So we can see a definite surge of triggered messaging near the time the travel ban from the United States to Europe was announced. This is likely due to trips being canceled/changed, and people purchasing things to stock up as they could see the impending shelter-in-place orders being announced.

Let’s shift our attention to audience interaction. Do we observe any change in how recipients open emails throughout the day?

Here we see a more general shift to open activity being more spread throughout the day, with longer and more dramatic dry spells of interaction overnight — but there is a marked uptick in interaction around mid-March. Let’s see the image again with more context:

We can definitely see people interacting more with their marketing communications as the changes were announced.

And finally – what about email clicks? Will those trends mirror opens, or will we see something different?

Similar to open patterns, we see a general shift toward clicking emails throughout the day. Once more, with context:

Users were definitely concentrating interaction more around lunch/dinner but are now interacting throughout the day, with more pronounced dry spells around the weekend (perhaps because most interaction took place during the week while working from home?).

As email marketers become more acquainted with our new normal for awhile, we’re confident email volume will continue to rise throughout 2020. And as new trends emerge, we will be here to give an analytical view of what’s going on in the world of marketing messaging.

Have any thoughts on this analysis, or are there other data points you’re interested in? Reach us on Twitter @messagegears.

About the Author

Nick Ziech-Lopez

Nick is the Senior Director of Product Marketing at MessageGears. He applies his background in engineering and data analytics to organizing his product backlog, understanding user experience, and obsessing over the Chicago Cubs.