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Lessons marketers have learnt from the pandemic

Marketing during covid

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a steep learning curve for marketers across all industries, but those in the retail sector were among those forced to adapt the fastest in order to survive.

In the retail sector, lockdowns forced businesses to embrace technology in new ways and to quickly innovate in order to take advantage of the surge in online shopping, and to compensate for a significant drop in in-store shopping.

Just a few short months into the crisis, consumers who had never shopped online before were becoming experts at buying goods digitally — perceiving the channel as an acceptable and trustworthy way to transact. Not long after the crisis began, global email volumes were up 50 per cent as huge sections of the population began working, socialising and shopping from home. 

Businesses were presented with opportunities to experiment and innovate in the digital realm. 

For digital marketers there were some obvious challenges— how to successfully cut through the noise online and stand apart from competitors, create and send compelling emails, and adapt to customers being more responsive at different times of the day?

It’s no surprise that marketers identified email as the best way to grab consumers’ attention — with recent research by the DMA identifying the channel as the preferred method by far for consumers to receive communications. In fact, 73 per cent of responders ranked email top — two times more than any other channel — driven by strong scores for its relevance and trust.

This is why email has been integral in generating online sales for retailers during the crisis; like no other channel. If we take a look at Australia for example, their national postal service revealed that six months into the pandemic, online shopping growth topped 75.8 per cent year on year.

While marketers where quick to embrace it, this isn’t to say all were successful at nailing their email programs from the beginning. In a recent virtual event hosted by Validity Inc called ‘The Summit’, industry experts came together to discuss the trial and error involved in reaching peak email marketing performance during the pandemic.

According to The Summit panellists, in the first few months the most common mistake made by marketers was sending emails with little substance that didn’t reflect the challenging times. Communications with meaningless reassurances like ‘we’re here to support you’ with no ways for people to access said ‘support’ only worked to annoy and turn them offside.

Retailers rushed to figure out how to engage customers while walking a fine line of not pestering them with unnecessary communications or seeming disingenuous. This required them to reconsider their email programs and pivot from a role of the ‘sales person’ to that of a ‘support network’. And as the year went on, the challenges changed again as marketers had to work out when they should start reintroducing more traditional sales campaigns.

By applying the tried and tested essentials of email marketing— testing, measuring and resetting campaigns accordingly — many did this well, despite the slow start, and online shopping and email continues to thrive like never before. 

One retailer who embraced the core principles of email marketing to better reach and engage subscribers was The Iconic. Through extensive A/B testing to see if copy, content, and send times needed adjusting to reflect the changed circumstances (as well as more than a few changes in direction), The Iconic managed to execute a dynamic and engaging email program throughout the year.


The pandemic has reaffirmed that in many cases, the simplest messages can be the most effective — providing helpful and timely information like how delivery times will be affected and returns policies extended, inspiring and creative content such as home improvement tips while in lockdown, and genuine care and support. It’s businesses that prioritise these simple, yet value-adding communications that continue to reap the benefits of loyal, engaged, and active customers.

To learn more, download the ebook Disruption: How the 2020 Pandemic Changed Email