The art of the oops: recovering from email marketing mistakes 

As an Email Marketer, I Am Very Familiar with the Anxious, Almost Terrifying, Feeling One Might Have When Scheduling a Campaign Deployment.

What if I scheduled it for the wrong time? What if there is an error in the template? What if I chose the wrong list? There are a number of different variables that go into a successful email marketing campaign, and thus, there are a corresponding number of different chances to make a mistake. And depending on the size of the audience and the content of the message, some mistakes are more costly than others. Regardless, you should always have a plan in place just in case something goes awry. 

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

Although no one expects to make a horrible email mistake, knowing how to deal when an issue occurs is a very important step to remedying the problem. 

Having a thorough QA procedure should eliminate most errors. I often preach to clients – “Test, test, test!” I also suggest having a colleague be a second set of eyes on both the message you’re sending and the campaign set-up, if at all possible. Still, most people juggle several projects at any one time, so it’s inevitable that something could still slip through the cracks. 

Much like school fire drills prepare students for an emergency, having an email disaster plan is vital for marketers to stay calm and fix the problem in a time of stress.  

What to Do When Murphy’s Law Occurs

Let’s first quickly assess and try to limit the damage. Obviously if you catch the error on a scheduled campaign prior to deployment, cancel the campaign, fix the issue and get it re-scheduled. If you catch the error on a campaign that has deployed, perhaps it has not been sent yet to the entire audience. If this is the case, quickly stop the campaign from hitting any additional inboxes. Then again, fix the issue, get it re-scheduled to the group that has yet to receive it, and then re-assess what to do with those that have. 

What if the damage is minimal? Let’s say for example, you notice a campaign has been sent out and there is a minor typo. Sure, this could be embarrassing, but it’s not going to be catastrophic (no increase in opt-outs, extra spam complaints, or loss of revenue). Given that most people quickly scan their emails or look at them on mobile devices while on the go, there is a great chance that many subscribers will have overlooked the typo as you did during QA. There is no need to take any immediate action here – just chalk it up as a learning experience and try harder not to make that mistake in the future. 

What if the damage is a little more severe? Let’s say for instance you send out an email and put the wrong promo code or CTA URL for a sale you’re running, or maybe you sent to the wrong group of people entirely. Now it’s time to leap into action and call upon your email marketing contingency plan. 

The “Oops” Email

Anyone who has been involved in email marketing for enough time has probably heard of the “Oops” or the apology email. Just as if you make a mistake that affects others in regular day-to-day circumstances, you should say “I’m sorry”. Well an “Oops” email is a way for marketers to say “I’m sorry” too when an email error occurs. 

Having a basic “Oops” email ready (at least some sort of framework) is smart, because timing is pretty important. It’s a great idea to be proactive and try to get ahead of the error. In other words, if you can apologize for the error prior to subscribers realizing there was an error, this will eliminate some of the potential frustration. For example, if you send out an email stating “25% off” and the CTA links to a webpage offering only “15% off”, most likely people will be confused and upset. If you can get a second email in their inbox quickly that explains the issue and confirms the true promotional offer of “15% off” they should be more understanding. 

If possible, be prepared to offer an extra incentive to those affected. For instance, let’s say you send out an email advertising a new product at 10am, and you notice that the sudden influx of traffic knocks your website down until 11am. Once your site is back up and running, compile a report for anyone who clicked on a link to your site during that time, and only send an “Oops” email to that segment. Chances are many people were unaware, so no need to call extra attention to it. Craft a quick apology email, maybe offer an extra discount if you are able, and target it just those people that clicked while the site was down. 

Consider the use of humor in your apology email too, depending on the circumstances. For example, some companies have used “OOPS” as a promo code to make it light-hearted and come off more human rather than strictly digital. 

Like I mentioned above, timing is an important piece to the apology puzzle, however it is even more important to still go through your standard QA checks. The whole purpose of the “Oops” email is to make up for an error, so you certainly do not want to send a second email that is inaccurate. 

Final Word

Mistakes happen. It’s part of life, and unfortunately, it’s also part of email marketing. But don’t stress out – sometimes how you react to those mistakes can be more important than the mistake itself. Because an “Oops” email is the exception rather than the rule, it should stand out in the inbox. As a result, don’t be shocked if it outperforms your traditional newsletters or promo messages. 

Be prepared: have a template and a plan in place for a time of need. Hopefully you’ll never have call upon your “Oops” template, but it will be a lifesaver should that time ever come. If you make an email marketing blunder, act swiftly yet cautiously. Because you’ll probably have more attention on that message than normal, consider it a great opportunity to both smooth things over with your subscribers and achieve the desired results from the original campaign. 

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