Mollie Powles
Mollie Powles 22 July 2019

The ‘Oops’ Email: How to Survive an Email Marketing Mistake

Marketers are only human, and sometimes mistakes do slip through the net. Here's what to do after making an email marketing mistake, and some examples of companies who've been in the same boat.

We've all been there; just after hitting ‘send’ you notice a glaring error in your marketing email that is now on its way to hundreds, if not thousands of subscribers. While typos and grammatical errors are simply annoying, other email mistakes can do a lot worse than just leaving you red-faced. For example, a missing link or dodgy promo code can dramatically affect your conversion rates and the potential success of your email campaign. 

Here are some common email marketing mistakes that marketers sometimes fail to spot:

  • Sending the email to the wrong subscriber list

  • Broken links or the wrong landing page

  • Incorrect competition dates

  • Faulty discount codes

  • Incorrect promotional information 

  • Unintentionally offensive or insensitive content

  • Sharing personal or private data with the wrong party

The way you deal with an email mistake will of course depend upon what it is, how long it has gone unfixed, and the impact it’s likely to have on your brand. Luckily, many customers are willing to forgive and forget an email blunder, especially if the apology comes with some sort of monetary gesture, such as an extended sale code or further discount offer. However, if your mistake has more serious repercussions, such as causing offense or sharing private data, a well-executed recovery campaign is crucial to ensure minimal damage to your brand’s reputation. 

Here are some key areas to address when dealing with an email marketing mistake:

Act fast

When something goes wrong, it can be tempting to stick your head in the sand and wait for things to blow over, but by failing to act quickly you risk making your brand seem incompetent and apathetic towards its customers. 

Does it really need a response? 

Noticing a typo in an email after you’ve clicked send is beyond annoying, but unless it changes the meaning of a sentence, it’s usually best to just accept it and avoid drawing any more attention to it. On the other hand, if the mistake directly affects your objective, for example a bad URL link, buttons that don’t work, or a misspelling that changes the meaning of your email copy, you need to rectify things as soon as possible to minimise any adverse effects on your campaign.

Subject line 

When sending an ‘oops’ follow up email, choosing an effective subject line is key. You need to ensure that your subscribers know that you are taking action to correct your mistake, therefore the subject line of your ‘oops’ email needs to acknowledge your previous error. There are several ways you can achieve this, depending on your audience: 

  • Simply send a ‘corrected’ version of the original email’s subject line, without alluding to any errors.

(Be mindful that this may not be a wise choice if the correction is very subtle, as your subscribers may mistake the second email for a duplicate and delete without reading.)

  • A humorous call to action or ‘oops… !’ subject line to break the ice and encourage the recipient to open the email for more details.

  • If your client is corporate, a more serious subject line may be more appropriate, simply acknowledging the error and informing your subscribers.

E.g. “We have updated our package information, please disregard the previous email.”

Social media

If your brand has an active social media presence, it may be useful to reach out to your audience via their social media feed too.

Today, social media is ingrained into our daily lives and the chances are people are more likely to see and engage with a social media notification than an email. Perhaps on a more important level, it’s also a great self-preservation tactic. Consumers are pretty hot to use social media in order to call out brands for their slip ups, so unless you highlight your mistake to your Twitter followers first, someone else will beat you to it. There are countless real-life examples of this, for example, when Adidas failed to foresee the connotations of the subject line in their Boston Marathon email campaign, sent to subscribers who had successfully completed the 2017 event:

On the other hand, people’s readiness to share things on their social media platforms can also work to your advantage; if you support your apology email campaign with humorous or particularly creative social media activity, subscribers will naturally want to share it with their own following, demonstrating your brand’s personality and shining a favourable light on your ability to deal with errors.

Image via Twitter

Make a template library

Reacting quickly to a botched marketing email shows that, as an operation, you are on the ball and responsive, which is great news for your brand’s reputation. That’s why having a library of email templates ready to go in case of a PR emergency can be an invaluable asset. It’ll mean you can hit the ground running when it comes to formulating a rapid response, whilst helping to reduce the chances of missing out anything important in your apology email.

A template library is particularly useful if you regularly send out email campaigns to a variety of different audiences. For example, perhaps you are an agency and send campaigns on behalf of clients from various industries, or maybe you offer a range of products or services each tailored to a certain audience demographic, and therefore the style and tone of your email marketing campaigns will vary accordingly.

You could have different templates for each occasion or niche audience with appropriate imagery and design, so that, should the time come, all you need to do is select a suitable skeleton email and add in the appropriate information.

The ‘oops’ campaign arguably takes more skill and effort to get right; not only do you need to regain your audience’s confidence, but you also need to achieve what you set out to in the first place with the bungled original email campaign.  

Put it in writing 

Having an agreed plan written up on how to deal with each type of email error will avoid the stress of having to think on your toes in the event of a mistake, and mitigate any flapping. It could simply state who the decision maker is in these situations, and therefore who needs to be informed as soon as an incident occurs. Or it could provide thorough step-by-step instructions on what to do in each situation, and useful information such as where to find the above mentioned template library.

When devising this plan with your marketing team, consider important factors such as: 

  • Who/what email address should the apology come from?

  • Who needs to have final sign off?

  • What should the subject line include?

  • What channels will you use? A follow-up email/ direct mail apology/ social media announcement?

  • Reasonable response times

  • What discount codes/ reparations will you offer? i.e. 10% off, an extension of the sale period, free shipping

Regardless of how you choose to deal with email marketing mistakes, prevention is always better than cure, so be sure to always thoroughly check and test your emails before you push the final button. Make yourself a checklist:

  • Spelling and grammar

  • Do all the images load correctly?

  • Are all the links working?

  • Are the dates correct?

  • Am I sending it to the correct segment? 

There’s a reason email marketing is arguably still the most effective marketing channel; the ROI can be impressive, the process itself is inexpensive compared to other lead nurturing techniques, and they are simple to construct, personalise, and distribute. Yet with all the will in the world, marketers are only human, and sometimes mistakes do happen. In fact, often we have to make a few mistakes along the way to learn, grow, and ultimately become better marketers. 

What’s important to remember is that the way in which your company deals with a mistake will speak volumes about your brand. You’ll be surprised by how much damage a swift, well-polished apology can undo, leaving your campaign to run smoothly and successfully the second time round.

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