The Importance of the Ad Hoc Email Template when Disaster Strikes

Email is especially important in times of emergency. It is practical: it's a robust and mobile-accessible channel, perfect for emergency communications. But it's also personal: when Hurricane Sandy hit around October 30th, 2012, we saw a humanization of brands through this channel that is rarely seen.

I live in Cambridge, MA, which, for the most part, was just outside of Hurricane Sandy's reach, but close enough to receive many geo-targeted emails. Looking at my inbox for the last week, if Sandy taught me one thing, it's that every business should have an ad hoc letter template and the signature of their CEO close at hand.

A disaster is not a time to design a new email format or code a new template. You don't want designers or coders involved in an approval process when you have an emergency email that needs to go out.

Below are a few emails I've received in the last few weeks. They are straightforward yet personal, and fairly legible on mobile devices. While some companies took advantage of the situation to promote a sale, most communications were communicating a change in service, shipping delays, or temporary closings.

Elements of a Letter Template:
    •    Subtle, professional branding
    •    View in browser link, for broader accessibility
    •    Personal yet concise copy
    •    Customer service contact information
    •    Large, mobile-legible text
    •    A genuine signoff, with an image of a signature and a photo if available

Some of these elements, signature especially, are carryovers from the printed page. Even though you know that it's just an image of the CEO's signature that the graphic designer scanned a year ago, seeing handwriting adds an element of human comfort in a time of disaster.

Birchbox Sandy emergency response

Xfinity service announcement - sent before storm

west elm service announcement

jetBlue will resume service, match donations

Chase - ATM and branch status

Williams-Sonoma generic help message

Martha servers affected, email, web outage notice


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