Love in Lockdown – how the pandemic has shaped Valentine’s email marketing

Guy Hanson, VP Customer Engagement, Validity

Nearly a year into the “new normal” and we’ve already seen how various states of lockdown have impacted brands’ choice of marketing channel and messaging. The pandemic has made the stakes higher than usual, and brands are rightly focusing on channels with reliable ROI (such as email) to communicate with their existing customers and new prospects.

So reliant have brands been on email that our own data has shown that year-over-year global email volumes are already up by 25%, and those numbers continue trending upward. The downside is that it makes it harder to get into people’s inboxes, and harder to get people to engage with the messages they do receive in 2021. Being able to tailor communications with intelligence and sensitivity is crucial. With a Valentine’s Day like no other in memory just behind us, below are a few examples and my own analysis of how brands have shifted their messaging for a lockdown Valentine’s.

Spreading the Love

While Valentine’s Day is normally a celebration of peoples’ relationship with that “special other”, there is definitely a recognition this year with the combined misery of everything we’re dealing with (Covid, winter, the economy) everyone could do with some love – the principle of “Be Kind”.
John Lewis puts it nicely, opening their email with “This year we’re celebrating every kind of love – using Valentine’s Day to show our friends, family and partners just how much they mean to us.” takes a similar approach with “Our loved ones help us get through even the toughest of times. In the spirit of love and friendship this season . . .”. As a travel business, Lastminute is hamstrung by lockdown right now, so it’s offers are all future-focused, with a “May love triumph” message of hope.

There is also recognition that many people will be celebrating on their own this year, and we’re seeing plenty of campaigns encouraging them to spoil themselves! Jewelry brand Alex and Ani is promoting Valentine’s Day as #SelfLoveSunday!” and encouraging its subscribers to spoil themselves (“Write yourself a love note!”).
This sharing of love also goes beyond immediate friends and family. Pets at Home is making Valentine’s Day all about our furry friends (“Deals your pet will love!”), while Unicef reminds us to share our love with those less fortunate (“Spread warmth this Valentine’s Day”).

Stuck at Home

Email marketing senders are recognising that most people will be stuck at home this year, and are promoting ideas to make the most of this limitation.
Lookfantastic has built a theme around Date Night, tapping into the zeitgeist with clever references to “Designated hair-wash night” and “Zoom-call ready!”.

Oils and balms specialist Aesop takes a nicely humorous approach, encouraging “Clumsy caressers of the world, unite!”, noting that while home massages may not be as good as the real thing their products can go some way to making up for it!

Senders are also aware their customers are dependent on their presents being delivered in time, and prominent messages advising them of final order dates are common across many of the messages we’ve seen.

Business as Unusual

Businesses have learnt that their customers are asking for a lot of support and guidance around how to shop with them during this highly unusual period.
Boden takes a tongue-in-cheek approach with their “Business as Unusual” guidance.

Similarly, Boots offers customers the choice of using in-store/click & collect/online and also provides detailed guidance to maintain in-store safety. Shoezone let its customers know that all returns will be free of charge, and only have to be made when their stores re-open.
There’s been a lot of focus lot recently about how brands have been using Augmented Reality (AR) to bring in-store experiences (which can’t be experienced during lockdown) to their customers’ inboxes instead.
There is a really nice example of this from Pandora, which uses an animated GIF to showcase its website technology that allows customers to virtually try on Pandora bracelets to see which designs and accessories work best.

TK Maxx appears to have done some clever data analysis to identify their customer’s favourite designers, and building a “Brands you’ll love” message around this – “a little birdie told us these are your favourites . . .!

There is Always Booze!”

Despite all the great ideas listed above, it many people may still feel the best option this year is to simply drown their sorrows. This is Aldi’s approach, and their “Plan the perfect Valentine’s day” is unequivocally about alcoholic offers “for your romantic night in”.

Even COVID can’t stop everything

Although these examples demonstrate that many brands have had to change their marketing practices because of COVID, some messages are so strong they can weather any crisis.

Marks and Spencer’s Love Sausage, which I wrote about in 2019, is back for another year, generating headlines and shifting sausage despite the pandemic.

A love sausage only comes around every so often though, and for the vast majority of marketers they’ll have to be thoughtful in their messaging and their outreach to customer so long as the pandemic continues. From the examples above, many businesses are successfully navigating these difficulties and adopting the sensitive tone that is needed.