Effective Customer Messaging during a Weather Emergency

January 16, 2024 | 5 minute read
Elizabeth Thomas
Senior Art Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Meghan Flynn
Designer in Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Kelly Moran
Senior Art Director for Copy, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
Patrick Colalillo
Creative Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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Extreme weather events like blizzards, hurricanes, and wildfires are unfortunately becoming much more common. Brands should be prepared to send their customers messages to help them both prepare for these events and stay informed afterward.

Let’s discuss some key issues that go into creating effective customer messaging during a weather emergency.

Segmentation & Personalization

Unless your customer base is fairly localized, it’s unlikely that any given extreme weather event will affect all your customers. That means you’ll want to use geographic segmentation to get your messages in front of your customers who are most likely to be affected.

Zip codes and the location data attached to IP addresses (even in the wake of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection) are precise enough that they can be used for geosegmentation purposes. It’s better to err on the side of going overly large on your catchment area rather than too small, which will have some of your customers affected and uncertain of what’s happening.

Also personalize your messaging based on the kind of service the customer has, the products they own, and other relevant factors based on your brand’s relationship with them.

Send more relevant messages by using our checklist of more than 170 segmentation and personalization criteria.

Promotional vs. Transactional Messaging

Depending on your line of business, you might send transactional messaging or promotional messaging—or both—related to a weather emergency.

Transactional messaging related to extreme weather events is most likely to be sent by service providers, including internet service providers, utilities, subscription-based deliveries, and transportation services. However, this messaging could be sent by almost any brand whose business operations would be affected by an extreme weather event. These messages could include:

  • Store closures or reductions in hours, or the unavailability of certain services because of the weather
  • The anticipated impact on order deliveries dates
  • How to get customer support, including whether the call center will be closed or operating at reduced hours
  • How to get updates, whether via mobile app, SMS messages, email, or some other method
  • Precautions your brand has taken to minimize damage from the weather and maximize service for your customers
  • Information about emergency relief organizations

The overarching goal of these messages is to preemptively answer common or likely customer questions. This will reduce customer support burdens and increase customer satisfaction through easy self-service.

For example, we worked with an internet service provider client to craft pre-storm messaging that prompted customers to download their mobile app to stay informed, asked them to sign up for text alerts about outages, and directed them to an outage map, in addition to highlighting other resources.

Promotional messaging related to extreme weather events is most likely to be sent by retailers and other B2C brands, and only to people who have opted in to receive their promotional emails, texts, and push messages. While the goal of these messages is to drive purchases, the most successful ones have a helpful rather than promotional tone.

For example, one of our clients in the pet supplies industry sent a pre-storm message encouraging pet owners to “prepare now…to keep your pets safe during extreme weather.” The message included content blocks about ensuring pets have ID tags, stocking up on essentials, creating a pet first aid kit, and minimizing pet stress. Yes, it was about selling products, but it led with an editorial feel as it highlighted preparedness issues.

A national home improvement retailer used similarly helpful pre-storm messaging, saying, “Start preparing for winter weather. We’re open and ready to help. It’s what neighbors do.”

It’s critical to recognize how radically different in tone promotional messages would be for, say, a heavy snow versus much more extreme weather. The former may be cause for a light-hearted Snow Day sale or tips on entertaining kids who are off from school. The latter is much more likely to result in deaths, which most brands work very hard not to be associated with. For example, swept up by the novelty, a number of brands regretfully promoted Polar Vortex sales in 2019, when temperatures plunged in the US and caused more than 20 deaths.

Understand what is and isn’t a transactional message.

Tone & Imagery

Whether your messaging is transactional or promotional in nature, the issues around tone are similar. You want to be mindful that your copy doesn’t scare customers, but you also don’t want to make light of the situation with jokes or puns. Extreme weather is scary, and the prospect of store closures and losing power or internet service, for instance, make it more so.

For that reason, it’s best to play it straight and to use empathic, caring language. For example, consider saying things like:

  • We're here for you.
  • We understand the stress you may be feeling. 
  • Your health and safety is our priority.

Your imagery should support that language, if you decide imagery is necessary at all. For example, in our clients’ messages, we’ve used images of empty, snow-filled streets and pets and people looking expectantly out rain-splashed or frosted windows. The subjects of the images are still and calm.

Formatting

The best formatting approach varies depending on whether you’re sending your message before or after the extreme weather event.

Pre-weather emergency messaging tends to use either an editorial or letter format, if it’s transactional, or a mix of editorial and promotional formatting, if the messaging is that helpful promotional messaging we discussed earlier. In both cases, we often use additional white space and padding around content blocks to give it more of a relaxed transactional feel with lots of breathing room.

Post-weather emergency messaging varies depending on the impact to your operations and your customers in the impacted area. If the impact is minor, then you might just add an informative banner to your next promotional email or newsletter.

However, if the impact is major, then a text-heavy crisis messaging format is the most appropriate. This conveys that the message is urgent and serious, so much so that you’re not investing any time in dressing it up with images and fancy formatting. Just make sure you follow best practices for text-heavy and plain-text emails to maximize readability, including using subheads and bullets, when appropriate. You don’t want to create large, overwhelming walls of text.

Take a deep dive into disaster and crisis messaging best practices.

‘Be Helpful or Be Gone’

Whether your message is transactional or promotion, or pre- or post-weather event, be sure to follow our cardinal rule for weather emergency messaging: “Be helpful or be gone.”

In times of stress, consumers have little tolerance for self-serving and tone deaf messaging. That’s why, in addition to well-crafted weather emergency messaging, you should consider pausing your routine digital marketing campaigns for one or more days, depending on the severity of the extreme weather event. Don’t hurt your brand image or drive audience churn with unwelcome or insensitive messaging. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about how you can best help them during a stressful time.

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Need help with your customer and employee experiences? Oracle Digital Experience Agency has hundreds of marketing and communication experts ready to help Oracle customers create stronger connections with their customers, partners, and employees, even if they’re not using an Oracle platform as the foundation of that experience. Handling everything from creative and strategy to content planning and project management, we consistently exceed our clients’ expectations, earning a customer satisfaction rate of 96%.

For help overcoming your challenges or seizing your opportunities, talk to your Oracle account manager, visit us online, or email us at OracleAgency_US@Oracle.com.

Now completely updated, this blog post was originally published on Feb. 3, 2019 by Lizette Resendez.

Elizabeth Thomas

Senior Art Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Elizabeth (Liz) Thomas is Senior Art Director for Creative Services at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. She is an experienced lead with a demonstrated history of working in the email marketing industry. She is skilled in setting up email architecture systems, spearheading email creative audits and analyses, leading client presentations, managing projects/timelines, and has a passion for fostering client relationships. Liz has supported a breadth of high-profile clients in achieving their email goals through streamlined design systems, industry best practices, strategy, segmentation, and automation.

Meghan Flynn

Designer in Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Kelly Moran

Senior Art Director for Copy, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Kelly Moran is Senior Art Director for Copy at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. She is a writer by day and by night with a background in linguistics. Her understanding of copywriting across channels has been shaped by her experience in customer success, content management, and supporting boutique brands in retail and e-commerce. 

Patrick Colalillo

Creative Director for Creative Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency


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