The Sept. 8 passing of Queen Elizabeth II prompted many UK brands to suspend their email, SMS, social media and other digital marketing campaigns out of reverence and respect — as well as out of fear of coming across as insensitive if they were to continue with business as usual.
Such moves are wise, as they forgo some engagement and revenue in the short-term in order to avoid backlashes that cause brand damage and audience loss that significantly impact long-term performance.
Sadly, brands have faced an increasing number of circumstances in which they’ve decided it was in their best interest to cancel or delay their digital marketing campaigns, either on a national or regional basis. To respond quickly, your company should agree on the circumstances that would typically lead it to take action.
Consider these eight reasons to halt your marketing campaigns:
1. Natural Disasters
Hurricanes, typhoons, tornados, floods, blizzards, wildfires and other natural disasters are by far the most common reasons to suspend digital marketing campaigns to audiences in the affected locations. Campaign pauses are certainly common during the aftermath of natural disasters, but brands also pause them in anticipation of dangerous weather that’s forecasted.
Related Article: Messaging During Recessions: 3 Opportunities for Marketers
2. Business Scandals & PR Crises
When a brand suffers a serious scandal or public relations nightmare, it can be prudent to pause marketing campaigns to avoid giving people the opportunity to express their displeasure or outrage by unsubscribing or marking your campaigns as spam.
Here are some examples that would qualify.
3. Mass Protests and Civil Unrest
Numerous brands paused their marketing campaigns during June of 2020 when protests turned violent following the death of George Floyd. Many also hit pause during the uncertainty around the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Given the number of Americans who believe the unfounded claims of election fraud, this year’s midterm elections on Nov. 8 may lead to protests or unrest. Brands should have contingency plans in place for what they’ll do if that happens, and understand how any action they take will affect their holiday promotion plans.
Related Article: 10 More Common Email Marketing Mistakes — And Solutions
4. National Health Crises
Most recently, the declarations of COVID-19 as a global pandemic and public health emergency caused brands to put their marketing campaigns on hold. When campaigns started back up, many brands’ messages had a very different tone and feel.
5. Terrorist Attacks
Many brands suspended their marketing campaigns for days following the 9/11 attacks, and more recently in the wake of the Jan. 6 storming of the US Capitol by insurrectionists. The failure to do so can make your brand seem indifferent or, even worse, unpatriotic.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine caused many brands to pause their marketing campaigns. Of course, the size of the conflict, the countries involved and those countries’ relationship with the people to whom you’re marketing should all factor into your response.
7. Death of National Leader
As already mentioned, the passing of a president, prime minister or other national leader in the country of your subscribers is also a reason to consider pausing your marketing campaigns to them.
In addition to pausing segmented and broadcast campaigns, brands should also consider whether to pause certain triggered campaigns — or at least review them to make sure they don’t contain copy and images that would be offensive in the context of whatever is happening. For example, it was pointed out to some brands that their reengagement and re-permission emails had insensitive copy in the early months of the pandemic when some subscribers weren’t engaging because they were hospitalized or caring for loved ones that were.
Before we talk about the eighth and final reason to pause digital marketing campaigns, let’s discuss…
Two Alternatives to Campaign Pauses
If you’re unsure of whether you should be pausing your campaigns, or if you’re unsure of the size of the geographic area to suppress campaigns to, then consider giving your subscribers the option to snooze your messages for a period of time.
For example, in June of 2020 in the aftermath of destructive protests against police brutality, the Biden campaign included a preheader message that let subscribers snooze his campaign messages for two weeks.
Another option — either in addition to or instead of pausing your campaigns — is to convert a regularly scheduled campaign into a message of support, unity, or remembrance. For example, instead of sending their usual Friday newsletter, UK-based ActionRocket sent a message expressing their sadness at the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
Depending on the situation, you could also direct your audience to resources that can help them or to related charities you’re supporting and recommend they support as well.
8. Poor Customer Experiences
This final reason is different from the other seven in that it affects much smaller groups of subscribers at a time — potentially groups as small as just one person. Poor customer experiences can have a highly negative effect on marketing audiences, causing them to unsubscribe or report your messages as spam out of anger.
For example, during this past summer when there were record numbers of flight cancellations across Europe and the US, it would have been prudent for airlines to have suppressed promotional emails for a few days to anyone who had a flight cancellation.
Suppressions could also be triggered by poor product or service reviews. Brands could even go so far as to empower store associates or call center agents to snooze promotional messages to individual customers who they know have just had a bad customer experience.
Decisive Action Is Expected
While this eighth reason is tricky to address both technologically and operationally, the other seven are much more straightforward. Some, such as hurricanes and blizzards, are known about days in advance, giving brands time to consider how they will respond. Others, obviously, don’t give us much, if any, warning.
Nevertheless, consumers have little patience with slow brand reactions, says Jeannine Pine, senior director of Agency Services at Oracle Marketing Consulting. “If it takes too long for a sincere message to hit subscribers’ inboxes, it can have an even greater negative impact than if one wasn’t sent at all,” she says. “Consumers are quick to slam slow brands on social media with memes, so consider working on emergency planning to have these messages somewhat pre-approved.”
With all the pressures that marketers are under, these kinds of issues often don’t seem very pressing — until you’re faced with a crisis. But that’s the absolute worst time to try to work out a response. That’s why it’s wise to consider this list of reasons to pause your digital marketing campaigns and determine in more detail what might and might not cause your brand to take action and what that might tentatively look like.