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Selling Coffee During a Pandemic: Email Frequency, Tone and Content

email for coffee

As I sat down to write this, I got an email from a customer. He’s facing a 75% drop in revenue, and he’s worried. With bills still coming in, this roaster is seriously concerned, not just for his business, but also for his employees’ jobs. 

Sound familiar? 

We are all concerned about what’s happening to our businesses and the businesses around us that we rely upon. It feels like something has got to give.

That something, however, should not be the frequency with which you communicate with your customers via email. You should be writing your wholesale and retail customers often, on a regular basis, and with clear messages.

I know we’re all busy with everything else that this pandemic has thrown at us — children out of school, anyone?!? — but spending time on email can actually be a a smart investment of your limited time. A statistic jumped out at me during a recent webinar with Lianna Patch on the topic of email communications for coffee businesses. Patch said that out that of every $1 you spend on email, you make about $38.

Like it or not, email is a time-tested tool in connecting with clients and driving sales, two things every coffee roasting business needs right now. Here is a wide-ranging list of recommendations for roasters seeking to leverage the power of email right now:

What tools do you need in order to write and send email campaigns?

Not much, outside of an email provider and a voice.

Don’t sweat too much about looking fancy. Plain-text or simple template-based emails can outperform obsessively designed emails. While the look is important, what’s more important is the message. 

Write short, honest and focused emails, always keeping in mind what content is most relevant to the reader. 

Start emailing your retail customers a few times per week 

For an idea of how some leading companies are harnessing email, check out Blue Bottle Coffee’s frequency. If three emails per week feels like too much for your audience, start with two, or even one. Experiment with the frequency and review the reports from your email provider to determine what days and times may work best.

Sending multiple emails also helps you manage any discounts you offer. Analyzing the performance of individual emails within a campaign can help inform what content or offers, like a “free shipping” offer, may go in subsequent emails. 

Use a tone that is earnest, sincere and helpful. Your customers, or the people they love, may be extra vulnerable right now, and you don’t want to risk alienating them with failed attempts at humor. 

That said, you should still be you. Most everyone, including your customers, are receiving emails every day from from companies that mention a “commitment to community” or “updated safety standards” as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are all earnest, heartfelt, and helpful comments — until you’ve read them for the umpteenth time. Don’t just borrow the same language and hope it resonates; think about your own style, and use your own words. 

Identify Your Audience

Before we dive into content, we should address the fact that most coffee roasters have different audiences — B2B wholesale and B2C retail — who need drastically different messages right now. Please show your wholesale customers empathy and understanding and, if possible, offer them a way to earn some additional revenue while they may be closed.

Your other audience, your online retail customers, also needs empathy — as we all do right now — but they also need coffee. So, sell it to them. This is worth repeating: Even in a crisis like this, it is OK to sell your coffee.  

With that goal in mind, here are some topics you may want to use to engage your customers in the coming weeks:

We Are Still Open/Ask for Orders

Remind your customers that you are still shipping freshly roasted coffee (safely!), and provide an explicit call to action, like prominent text or a button that clearly states things like “order coffee” or “see our specials.”

I have read too many emails in the past week that bury the ask at the very bottom of the email that otherwise reads like an instruction manual on washing your hands. If you really must go into that detail — and you probably don’t need to in the email itself — create a page on your site about those procedures and link to it.

Free Shipping

It works, so use it. Free shipping can also be expensive, so consider limiting it to orders above a certain amount or a certain bag size, like your bulk 5-pound bags. You can create FOMO around free shipping, or any discount, by making it a limited-time offer, which also gives you a second email to send: “Free shipping is ending in less than 24 hours,” for example.

Subscriptions

You may already sell a coffee subscription through your website. Popular versions include “Roaster’s Choice” or a themed collection around single-origin coffees or blends. But do your customers know about it? Make sure to sell them on the convenience of their coffee being delivered automatically.

I also like using this message immediately following the “free shipping” offer. A subscription often includes free shipping, so selling a subscription acts like a second chance for your customers to get in on the deal. Incidentally, we are hosting a free ecommerce webinar on subscription programs on Wednesday, April 1.

Bigger Bags

Your customers may only need a 12-ounce bag per week during normal times, but that’s because they normally get coffee outside the home, too. Now, many their go-to places may be suddenly closed. Your customer wants to buy more from you because they need it. Bigger bags can give them the coffee they need while also offering efficiencies for both you and your customer. 

Discounts and Featured Products

Celebrate a single product, perhaps with a short-term discount, through an email. Is there a coffee that tastes especially good at home while we’re all social distancing? If not, isn’t this a time to create one? If you need ideas on how to roast for home consumption, check out Joe Marrocco’s webinar on the topic.

Collaborate and Be the Helper

We need each other, and we need to help each other. Look around your community and find a way to partner on a collaborative product that has benefits beyond just the bottom line of your company. Or just share someone else’s story to spotlight a community member in need, and how your company is helping. It’s human nature to celebrate helpers, so feel free to promote those community efforts. 

Communication with your customers is crucial right now. And as many coffee professionals are currently spending more of their days at home in front of computer screens, there may be no better time than the present to refine your email communications and begin sending clear, genuine and focused messages.

Now you just need to start writing. If you get stuck at the subject line, I’ve got some detailed advice here.

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