WWTT? So Many COVID-19 Emails … But Are There Any ‘Good’ Ones?

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. But there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. And while each day often seems weirder or scarier than the one before it, there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Because if you’re not offering up value right now (and no, I don’t mean a sweet sale on a pair of shoes), then maybe think twice about what campaigns you’re running, especially if they include COVID-19 messaging.

Also, a little tip I’d like to offer: Consider removing inactives from your list BEFORE you message your entire list. I don’t need to know that you’re keeping your establishment clean and being decent to your employees if we interacted maybe once, back in 2014. If you can wash your hands, you also can take some time for list hygiene.

So much like an episode of MTV Cribs, step into my inbox with me, and let’s look at some examples of COVID-19 emails done right:

COVID-19 email message from Lush I received this email from Lush on March 14, and the headline reads: “Be safe, get clean.”

Already I’m thankful the subject line isn’t the usual canned “[Company name] and COVID-19 update.” Yes, in some cases we do need an update from a particular company we do business with — for example, when my hair salon emailed me how they were were taking care of their staff and the salon, how this would affect services, hours, etc, I definitely read that email. My salon is a very personal marketer to me … some others who email me, however, are not.

Back to Lush. So the subject line is great and has me curious enough to open. The main message is simple: “Wash your hands for free at Lush.” The rest of the short email says that their stores are still open in North America, come on in and wash your hands for free with no expectation of purchase.

Now yes, this can be looked at as a way to increase foot traffic, but they are offering a service that is very relevant right now (How many of us have replaced our usual goodbyes with “Wash your hands!”?) Sure, some people might make a purchase, but the focus of this email is about a beneficial service Lush wants to provide the community, wherever one of their brick and mortar stores reside.

Unfortunately, the next day I received a second email from Lush alerting me to North America store closures from March 16-29, but even that didn’t feel like a boilerplate email. You can check it out here.

The bottom line about Lush is that their emails were compassionate, offered value to their customs, and were on-brand.

Now, let’s look at a nonprofit I support:

The Western New York Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in the Western New York (WNY) region of the Empire State. It’s a second home to me, due to the fact I went to college there and I have friends and family in the area.

While the WNYLC’s subject line is a bit closer to some of the boilerplate ones I’ve seen out there on other COVID-19 emails, what works so well is the message. It starts with a note from their Executive Director, leading off with a cancellation of a specific hike for the safety of others, as well as information about how future events will either be conducted via phone or video, or rescheduled. All important info, especially if you’re a donor who actively participates with this organization.

But what I appreciate the most is how this email ties into part of the land conservancy’s mission — to experience the land. The call to action to go outside and take it in during these uncertain times is what a lot of people need to hear: to take a break, step away from the constant news cycle or ding of email, and go breathe some fresh air. The specific mention of the Stella Niagara Preserve (land the WNYLC has protected) is fitting, and the P.S. includes a reminder that social distancing is great for the outdoors, so send photos of your favorite moments.

This call for photo submissions isn’t only user generated content, but when the WNYLC posts these images, their follows can enjoy them and feel a little less distant. Something we all need.

As marketers, before all of “this,” our jobs were to educate prospects and customers about our services and products, and to often help people be their best selves, whether professionally, personally, or both. Our creative and analytical minds were put to work building campaigns and helping support sales teams. And yes, those are all still our jobs right now.

But I think we have some new ones. We need to be there to help lift up our customers and donors (when appropriate and relevant, don’t just barge in out of nowhere). We need to make sure we share good, accurate information, no matter what the topic is. And we need to be positive … because I think keeping a positive attitude through the darkness is the only way through this. And we’re gonna get through.

Marketers, what do you think? Tell me about some thoughtful, well-executed COVID-19 emails you’ve seen in your inboxes (and if you’ve seen some cruddy ones, tell me about it on Twitter, over at @sass_marketing). And take care of yourselves, each and every one of you (Gary, stop touching your face.).

How Social Causes Can Become Part of Your Brand

Social causes can be aligned with your brand’s mission, positioning, and messaging. Some of the greatest brands have connected with causes that promote positive social change.

Brands have a unique role to play in our lives. From being superficial choices that express our style and sensibility to reflecting deeper preferences and loyalties that go beyond reason, brands occupy a space that can be personal and social. Large swaths of people can rally around a brand, and everyone has a personal origin story about the brands they love and hold dear in their hearts.

Brands are also global, and cross media and language barriers to knit into the daily threads of our life. Moreso than government agencies or public service programs, brands have an opportunity to change attitudes and behavior that can be meaningful and long-lasting.

Of course, brands exist as businesses to earn profits, but we all know that we human beings are emotional and social creatures, and we naturally seek out ways to belong and identify — even with the products we buy.

In the 21st century, we can buy pretty much anything we can afford. We can get great coffee, nice clothes, watches, good food, etc., and we rarely have to worry about the quality and effectiveness of things we buy.

So what is that added ingredient to influence our choices? It’s that magic stuff of brands that help us show and tell others – and ourselves — who we are, who we’re not, and how we want to present.

As brands continue to understand this, and a massive generational wave approaches the planet, I’m seeing more evidence that brands are moving more intentionally than ever to connect with the deepest belief systems we hold.

More than how we look and what we present, brands are opening ways that help each of us show and tell others – and ourselves – what we believe.

Should you align with a social cause? What is the risk? What is the reward? Why would it make sense for your business and your brand? These are questions only you can answer, but here are some examples of brands who have strongly and boldly connected themselves to a cause that aligns with their business and their brand.

Starbucks “All You Need Is Love” — Possibility of Peace in Our Time

This was a very simple concept from 2009. How do you get as many people representing as many countries as possible to sing the same song at one time?

Starbucks had yet to achieve the global reach they have now, but they were able to capture an idea and implement something beautiful. At a single moment, they recorded folks from around the world to sing “All You Need Is Love.” Proceeds of Starbucks drinks went to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa, which is also a major source supplier of their coffee products.

This isn’t really controversial — who doesn’t want more love? But it shows singers from Rwanda, Israel, and other countries where there has been an overcast of violence, shining a light on the idea that there is more that brings us together than pulls us apart.

Dove “Campaign For Real Beauty” and Always “Like a Girl” — Promoting women’s & girls confidence

For over a decade the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty has been promoting a mission to help more women feel beautiful every day, and a message that asks all of us to reflect on “What is Beauty?”

Through numerous, thoughtful, and compelling ads, they have struck right at the heart of beauty standards, how we see ourselves, and what we want to show our young girls. They’ve been consistently, brilliantly, fighting for a cause that’s worthwhile and global in nature.

Here’s one from this year that’s amazing. There are tons more. Visit the Dove YouTube Channel and bring your tissues.


And, I’d argue that Always followed in the wake of Dove’s approach with their newer ads promoting “Always Like a Girl’ campaign to lift girls’ confidence. These ads ring true to the product, business, and brand, and push a social change that’s positive and uncontroversial. Who doesn’t want girls to be more confident and grow to be more confident women?

Lush — Organically-made self-care products with no animal testing

When you walk into a Lush store, it looks like a farmer’s market. The soaps and bombs look and smell yummy enough to eat…and they are! You can eat them! Because they’re made with natural and organic ingredients, the business is able to authentically promote a movement of pro-eco friendly.

And, since they never test on animals, they also promote animal welfare causes, too. The alignment of the business model and the cause is perfect, and reflected in the branding, typography, and in-store experience. The employees absolutely walk the talk, and believe in the company and the social causes they promote.

See some employees talk about their fresh handmade cosmetics:

I would argue that any business can find a cause that makes sense for their model and brand. The question is if the leadership in your brand is compelled to make a stand for that cause, and how the cause knits into the culture and overall position and messaging.

What about you and your business? Is there a cause you believe in? Does the cause make sense? Can it become something that makes your brand stronger?

I’d argue that Starbucks, Dove, Always, and Lush are extremely strong brands, and are made even stronger with their alignment of social causes. Of course, I’d enjoy your feedback.

RIP, Victoria’s Secret Catalog … But Long Live Catalogs!

The news came out a few weeks ago: Victoria’s Secret – one of the most iconic catalogs of the last few decades – will be discontinued sometime this year.

The news came out a few weeks ago:  Victoria’s Secret – one of the most iconic catalogs of the last few decades – will be discontinued sometime this year.

VictSecretB_01Parent company L Brands cited high costs and a need to simplify its brand, but let’s face it, it’s also about the internet, especially mobile, and how it’s more and more the preferred channel for many customers.

That’s why this move isn’t that big a deal. One factor identified by the company was that testing revealed that eliminating the catalog mailings in a few areas had little to no effect on sales. As creative director Carol Worthington-Levy told me, “test-test-test.”

I’ve been thinking of other catalogs that show up on my desk every day at Who’s Mailing What! and how they differentiate themselves in the marketplace. What makes them special? Why do they stick with print?

Here are a few ideas about what works for catalogers today.

1. Photography & Paper
Patagonia_01Patagonia is an apparel and gear brand that has long relied on matching spectacular photography with the merchandise it sells in its catalogs. The paper even feels good, kind of satiny in my hands  – the same paper that makes those images looks so good. Patagonia even published a coffee table book, Unexpected, that featured photos from the catalog over the years.

2. Social Awareness
Penzey_03A lot of catalogs use content (more on that later), but not many express a viewpoint or advocate for a cause. Uline is one I can think of right away, with a new issue addressed every few months. Another one is Penzey’s, the spice catalog. In this example, it ran stories of people involved in Milwaukee’s public transit struggles around recipes and the ingredients they required.

3. Transparency
Lush_01Lush is a cosmetics retailer that at the front of the catalog announces its commitment to using responsible packaging, buying ethically, and opposing animal testing. Each product listing includes its ingredients.

4. Fun
I’ve always liked catalogs selling products that are good for a little laugh, but this heavy card stock paper football game from Zoro, the tool supplier, really caught my eye. It’s more elaborate than what I ever did as a kid, and it has the company brand on it. Nicely done.

5. Curation
TravelsmithCurate_01You can sell clothing or other merchandise, so how about championing your expertise? Lots of style guides do this, laying out the trends for a new season, or maybe putting together a wardrobe. TravelSmith here talks about how its team starts a year in advance to select materials and styles for its apparel.

6. Content
Design_01I never miss an opportunity to look at how catalogers use content, and there are too many to easily name. And, I’ve already mentioned Patagonia and Penzey’s. Build.com is another catalog that’s much more like a magazine.

This is a great example from Design Within Reach, the furniture brand. A recent issue of the catalog featured a collection based on the work of George Nelson. Besides articles about the late designer, the stories behind individual items are told.

Somewhere along the line, after changing how lingerie is sold in several retail channels, the economic rationale for Victoria’s Secret’s continued existence as a printed catalog ended. But with so many exciting developments under way, like programmatic print, and augmented reality, the age of the catalog is far from over.


This One’s for the Moms: A Mother’s Day Swipe File

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and as is usually the case with holidays and special events, my inbox didn’t let me forget it. While we’re all sufficiently brunched and flowered out, let’s take a look at six of the best Mother’s Day themed emails that I’ve come across in the last few weeks.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and as is usually the case with holidays and special events, my inbox didn’t let me forget it. (Not that I would have anyway … love you Mom!) While we’re all sufficiently brunched and flowered out, let’s take a look at six of the best Mother’s Day themed emails that I’ve come across in the last few weeks.

From: Broadway Boosters
Subj.: Happy Mother’s Day from Golde

Why I like it: Partly because of personal bias; Fiddler on the Roof just happens to be one of my favorite musicals of all time. But this email was a winner anyway. The nice little video from the musical’s matriarch was a sweet and clever way to tie in the holiday and promote the show. The design and personalization are keepers too.


From: LivingSocial
Subj.: Keep Calm and Shop for Mom

Why I like it: The whole “Keep calm and _______” meme is honestly a few years stale, but I give this one credit because it’s so catchy. Extra points for the simply pretty art and the creative sale itself.


From: TLCme
Subj.: Have You Bought Your Mother’s Day Gift Yet?

Why I like it: I love guilt-trippy reminder subject lines, they’re so to-the-point and effective. The clincher: “9 Perfect Mother’s Day Gifts Under $20” is sure to get those click rates high.


From: Charming Charlie
Subj.: The flowers your mom really wants!

Why I like it:  I love an email that judges other emails. As a matter of fact, I did receive no less than 20 emails from flower services in the days leading up to Mother’s Day, and you’ll notice none of them made this post. Most just felt a little uninspired, same old. Charming Charlie assumed this would be the case, and took the opportunity to one-up them in this tongue-in-cheek promo for floral necklaces. And hey, they’re right — my mom would like this more than flowers.


From: Hallmark
Subj.: Send Mom Some Love

Why I like it: Speaking of flowers, Hallmark made use of them in this cute, colorful, cartoon design. Of course Hallmark is in its element during sentimental holidays, so it’s no surprise they came through on their Mother’s Day campaigns. Definitely a smart time to offer a good deal for their eCards subscription service. I had to cut the image off, but the email also showed thumbnails of some of the Mother’s Day eCards you can find in their collection, a convenient way to show rather than tell readers why they should sign up.


From: Lush
Subj.: Everyone and their mother will love this

Why I like it: Okay first of all? That subject line, though. Cmoooooooooooon the puns are my weakness. Next — that present graphic is actually an animated gif, very nice touch. The copy is good, and the link to a curated Mother’s Day Collection is good. There’s not even a special deal involved here but they’ve got me clicking through anyway.



That wraps up my mini-swipe collection for today. I want to wish all the moms a truly fab belated Mother’s Day. If you got nothing else from this blog post, at least you now have a nice little collection of emails you can forward to any forgetful or procrastinating kids who might need an idea or a reminder of what they might owe you. You’re welcome!

Can You Feel the Love Tonight? (It’s in Your Inbox)

Happy Day After Valentine’s Day! Known in some circles as “Singles Awareness Day Part 2,” “50% Off Candy Day” and the “National Flag of Canada Day.”

Happy Day After Valentine’s Day! Known in some circles as “Singles Awareness Day Part 2,” “50% Off Candy Day” and the “National Flag of Canada Day.”

Whatever Feb. 15 means to you, one thing is certain: Even the staunchest V-Day nonbeliever on Earth would know what yesterday was just from a quick peek in any email inbox. It’s like every shade of pink and all iterations of “feel the love” and “we heart ______” were having a massive mixer in there.

To be honest, I’m into it. I like pink, I like hearts, and my cat is the only valentine I need to enjoy the holiday. So please, join me on this frolic through some of the standout Valentine’s-themed promos that shot their arrow through the heart of my inbox.

  • Bath & Body Works
  • Line: Ready for this? You’ve truly hit it big with an EXTRA $10 off!

bbworksThis was a fairly long HTML, I think you get the idea from this top section alone. The more classic Valentine’s Day imagery works for what B&B Works is all about, and those blossoms (sweet pea I think?) fit the theme while invoking some of the store’s most popular aromas. The subject line is good — it went outside the holiday language and straight up told you the deal you’d find within: Heart!

  • Apple
  • Subj. Line: Apple gifts say it best.

appl1On the other end of the spectrum, check out Apple’s simple, subtle nod to the season of romance. The message is simple: Nothing says romance like the cool, metallic touch of a rose gold iPhone. All kidding aside, the short copy with a focus on staying in touch and sharing puts just the right spin on things.

  • Hallmark Cards
  • Subj. Line: Valentine’s Day is just 5 days away. Don’t forget the people you love.


05-FEAT-A-8903vAThe cynics will tell you: Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark to sell cards. Whether or not you agree, it wouldn’t be right to do a Vday Marketing Roundup without them. And if this email is anything to go by, they rightfully earned their claim to the holiday. That subject line is just the right blend of “gentle reminder” and “subtle guilt-trip,” and the creative gets right to the point by reminding you when the big day is. The animation gives a nice glimpse of your options without being overbearing, and we have a bright, direct CTA. Hallmark can have my X’s and O’s for this one.

  • World Wildlife Fund
  • Subj. Line: Save a Rose, Send Some Prose

WWFCardsValentine’s Day isn’t just for retail! Check out how the WWF took the opportunity to create these adorable e-cards, available for you to send after making any size donation to the fund. Love this idea — after all, you could donate the same amount you’d spend on a card anyway, and have it go to a great cause. That’s my idea of spreading the love! Bonus points for the awesome subject line.

  • Justice
  • Subj. Line: We ❤ you! Join us this weekend!

justiceSo we’re back to retail, but still on animals. I just thought this design was so cute, absolutely eye-catching. It’s a little more of a unique spin than much of the Valentine’s Day imagery I’ve seen. I do have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of this font. It’s a fitting style, but not the most readable; I kept thinking it said “We’ve got the pun” (which I’d be all for, to be honest). Two paws up for the romantic pup, though.

  • Lush
  • Subj. Line: For that special Valentine…


I always like Lush’s emails. Here’s another company that tends to not slam you over the head with whatever the theme or message might be. The colors are muted, copy is short and punchy, and it was nearly impossible not to click “read article” about anything that claims to be “better than chocolate.”

  • Sally’s Beauty Supply
  • Subj. Line: Love Is In The Air: Take $5 Off $25

sallySo many beauty product companies in this post. Can’t say I blame them for using this approach though, it’s so easy to make the connection between beauty products and Valentine’s Day, both in concept and in design. I mean, look how nice it looks to have that arrangement of pink/red/purple products behind the heart. This design also went with the classic dotted-line as a border for the heart, which totally screams “elementary school valentine”, I love that. Plus: another example of an upfront subject line, what you read is what you get.

  • Zoya
  • Subj. Line: Valentine’s Day Bogo ❤

zoyaOK, I saved this one for last because I love it, I honestly love it. (Yes that was meant to be read in Olivia Newton John’s voice.) LOOK AT THIS DESIGN, JUST LOOK AT IT!!! It’s nail polish, but like, in a HEART-SHAPED POOL. I wish I had a technical explanation for what’s so great about this. I don’t, really, it’s just so aesthetically pleasing and strangely satisfying to me. Two Valentine’s Day colors, because it’s Buy-One-Get-One, AND they’re making a heart, because Valentine’s Day … who knew nail polish could be so nuanced? Also, it’s a good sale. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some nail polish to buy…

I hope you all had a great month, and a great Feb. 14, whatever the day represents for you! If you need to get any discount candy off your hands, you know where to find me.

XOXO 4ever,