SMEs and Post-Covid: Recovery Must Include Digital Integration

18 February 2021Reading time: 6 min.

Digital Marketing during and after the lockdown

2020 was a particular, difficult year full of challenges and changes that upset every sector and area, from the sphere of work and the economy to social aspects, forcing us to radically change our daily habits. The coronavirus pandemic will certainly be remembered as a point of no return that opened the doors to a new normal, where continuing to learn and adapt is essential. 

When the first effects of the pandemic were manifesting in March 2020, we saw some marketing trends that continued throughout the lockdown period:

  • increase in the sending volume of emails, with a surge that reached never-before-seen levels. Comparing the mailing data for a sample of MailUp customers, there was a 12% increase in mailings between January and June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and in some cases a fivefold increase in the number of emails sent in a single day. The peak volumes remained consistent even in the months following the first quarantine, as the graph shows: 
increase in the sending volume of emails graphic

Source: Validity

  • change in the keywords and topics addressed, foreseeably overrun with communications about Covid-19; the subject lines in inboxes adopted an increasingly empathic tone and the keywords “Coronavirus,” “Covid,” “pandemic,” and “lockdown” multiplied. Analyzing all the massive mailings sent during 2020, MailUp recorded a peak of communications containing these keywords in the subject line that was highest in March, around 9% of the total volume of emails sent;   
  • less attention to segmentation and deliverability. While the volumes soared, in the early stages of the pandemic the best practices of deliverability and segmentation were often neglected, with a consequent increase in the risks of cyber scams such as phishing: companies with little experience which were forced to resort to online activities out of necessity tried to send their communications to dormant, untested, and poorly constructed databases without first obtaining authentication systems, while the more experienced companies neglected the normal segmentation and deliverability practices, sending communications relating to the emergency to all their contacts regardless of their level of engagement;
  • increase in openings, due to users’ greater propensity to read communications relating to the pandemic, recording an open rate 30% higher than traditional emails. Among MailUp customers, the open rate of mailings linked to the emergency doubled compared to the average for communications and there was an increase of +73% in the click-through rate. 

As the crisis progressed, companies sent less communications about the emergency and began to change their strategies to meet the new needs of their audience and adapt to the new normal. Six months after the start of the pandemic, the hallmarks of post-lockdown marketing were:

  • engagement and open rates returned to pre-pandemic levels;
  • although the number of emails relating to the crisis initially multiplied, they then reduced to a minimum value, after which they stabilized, following the evolution of the crisis;
  • although they no longer reached the peaks of the first weeks of the emergency, the mailing volumes during these months stayed at higher levels than in the pre-Covid period;
  • from the start of the pandemic to today, web traffic has increased by 25%, remaining constant both in the summer and winter. 

On the SMS Marketing front, companies have allocated a large part of their budgets (about 46%) to activities on social media and mobile, about double compared to before the pandemic, rediscovering the enormous potential of this channel and its usefulness in emergency periods. 

The new needs of consumers and companies: a (likely) irreversible scenario 

Digitization, enhanced online customer experience, and inbound sales strategies are all phenomena that existed before the pandemic, yet in the new post-lockdown normality have become strategies that companies cannot ignore if they want to survive the crisis. 

Covid-19 has forced companies to start operating online and to implement a series of tools and new technologies (home delivery, chatbot, e-commerce, on-demand services, contactless forms of payment) that consumers will not easily give up after the pandemic. What were previously innovative pluses, seen as something extra to add to one’s digital strategy, will be necessary tools to meet consumer expectations in the new normal. 

The pandemic has therefore accelerated a process of evolution towards digital that was already in the air, transforming it into an obligatory and urgent change. This has highlighted all the shortcomings of companies in their approaches to digital, especially in the pre-pandemic Italian context where the digital universe was still a distant horizon for many companies. 

Not only companies, but also many consumers have tried digital experiences such as online shopping for the first time: considering only the months between January and May 2020, about 2 million Italians purchased on an e-commerce platform for first time.  

Many people have come to know and appreciate all the advantages of the online experience and are not willing to give up this new habit even in the post-Covid future: according to the data, 72-83% of Italian consumers intend to continue these changes in the new normal

customers who tried new shopping behaviors

Source: McKinsey 

Globally, 78% of consumers tried new shopping habits in 2020, and almost a year after the start of the pandemic, we can say that these changes are destined to remain even after the crisis has ended. In fact, statistics and surveys confirm that the scenario is irreversible: 46% of the sample plan to buy more online even after the crisis. 

The needs of the public have changed and companies cannot ignore it: filling the gaps in the digital sector and abandoning traditional approaches that are no longer effective in this new normal are the two mandatory actions that must be taken to adapt to the transformations that the pandemic has accelerated. 

In all sectors, from Food & Beverage to Retail, from Healthcare to Banking & Finance, we are witnessing a change in consumer preferences and purchasing habits mainly oriented towards: online experience, home and on-demand services, safer and more comfortable purchasing methods (such as in-store pick-up and contactless payments), increasingly digital interactions free from space and time limits (through the use of chatbots), virtual and streaming content, etc. 

Email Marketing and digitization: no longer an option, but a necessity 

If these changes are destined to become normal even after the end of the Covid-19 emergency, companies must rethink new ways to connect with and reach their customers.

The audience to satisfy has drastically changed, and not only because we have witnessed the emergence of those new segments of people who had never approached the digital world before the crisis. Even those users who were the traditional recipients of companies’ marketing strategies are now a completely new audience, with radically changed habits and needs. The traditional engagement and conversion methods must inevitably leave room for new ways for reaching a wider and more demanding audience. This is why new digital technologies and the use of Email and SMS Marketing platforms are now more essential than ever if the goal is to adapt to the historical period and the current audience. The increase in mailing volumes and openings of emergency communications during the lockdown are tangible proof of how important it is to use these channels to reach new audiences, now more than ever. 

The pandemic: from an initial temporary parenthesis to a paradigm shift

What initially seemed to be a transient emergency limited to a certain geographical area has reached global dimensions and has become a real crisis whose duration and impact have gone beyond all expectations. 

The shift of work from the office to home and an education that confines children to their homes, with around 1.6 billion children affected by the restrictions, is having a significant impact on mentality and social relationships, with concerns about the future of the new generations

The scenario will never go back to how it was before: we are faced with new habits not only in how we purchase things, but also in social interactions and working methods that are profoundly changing all of us and cannot be ignored in future communication and sales strategies. 

MailUp’s response to the emergency

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, we have tried to act promptly at MailUp, implementing a series of initiatives, strategies, and changes in how we work in order to adapt to the new scenario. We had already tried working from home before the crisis; with the onset of the emergency, we tried to make it more efficient and fluid. Today we can consider it a well-established way of working, which is allowing our collaborators to continue working safely and without difficulties,” said Luca Azzali, General Manager of MailUp

In addition to this choice, at the strategy level we revised our priorities and work plan, postponing physical events or opting, where possible, to adapt them digitally, and giving greater importance to customer support initiatives. So we defined a plan of concessions and extra support services, making a series of resources such as the MailUp Video Academy marketing video courses and some platform tools accessible for free. Our calendar of events intensified during the months of the lockdown, to make our closeness felt and continue to support our customers despite the distances.

The digital race of SMEs

The pandemic has transformed the Email Marketing channel into an urgent and necessary one, which until now had been neglected by some small companies. In the new normal that the emergency has introduced, traditional massive approaches and strategies must be abandoned: if the aim is to reach the new audience, resorting to more direct, personalizable, and digital communications such as email is imperative.

One of the first effects that we have seen since the beginning of the lockdown was the increase in platform activation requests by all those SMEs that had serious difficulties approaching the digital world, which they had explored quite little and were unfamiliar with,” said Davide Castioni, Sales & Operations Director of MailUp.

If the goal is to overcome the crisis and continue to be present on the market, companies must begin to adapt and react, making use of tools, technologies, and platforms that can help them make their entry into the digital universe and define an effective communication strategy for the historical crisis we are experiencing. 

For these reasons, since last year MailUp’s strategic choices and interventions have mainly focused on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, such as participation in the A domicilio (At Home in Italian) project,” continued Davide Castioni. “We provided the MailUp platform to help facilitate the communication activities of domicilio.app, a home service portal created by a private citizen of Cremona to facilitate local activities during the lockdown. The project grew in 2020 and today the service is present and active in many Italian cities.

Thanks to MailUp’s support, we had the opportunity to add new channels for communicating with our users that would allow us to analyze the effectiveness of our messages,” added Daniele Scotti, Co-Founder of Dueper Studio and one of the creators of the A domicilio project. “Furthermore, thanks to the integration with the tools provided, we have enhanced the functionality of our platform, allowing us to improve the experience for our users.

The integration of digital platforms for recovery

Also for this new year, MailUp’s work plan will be geared towards supporting SMEs, with particular attention to the e-commerce segment

In fact, having an online shopping platform proved fundamental during the lockdown and in this new normal it will be a necessary tool that companies in the Retail sector cannot do without. In the current scenario, there are many tools that can come to the rescue of companies and help them implement an e-commerce site without having particular skills: from the e-commerce plug-in WooCommerce for WordPress to Shopify, companies have no more excuses for postponing what is now a mandatory choice today. Furthermore, the possibility of integrating these tools with the MailUp platform is a further aid for companies seeking to create sales and multi-channel marketing strategies that operate synergistically. 

Not surprisingly, over the last year we have seen exponential growth in these tools: only in the period from April to June 2020, Shopify recorded double profits compared to the same quarter of 2019. The number of stores created on the platform increased by 71% and in the third quarter the company grew by 96% compared to the previous year,” said Tommaso Mari, Head of Solution & Operation Management at MailUp. “WooCommerce, on the other hand, currently has 1.5 million online stores and a 27% share of the e-commerce market. Among the same MailUp customers who joined during the last quarter of 2020, 34% use a WordPress platform and 37% of these also use the WooCommerce plugin.

MailUp’s objective for 2021 will be precisely to work in synergy with Italian companies and  provide technology, consultancy, operating support, and our training resources to help all these small and medium-sized enterprises forced to adapt to unexpected changes, for which they were absolutely unprepared,” concluded General Manager Luca Azzali.

This article was written by

Paola Bergamini

Paola Bergamini

I was born in 1993 in Como and I escaped from this little town to study in Milan, where I graduated in 2017 in philosophy. I've always been interested in marketing and communication and I love writing and reading. As Content Editor at MailUp, I try to keep up to date with Email and Digital Marketing news, in order to share trends, theories and tools about this constantly evolving sector.

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