October 26, 2022

How to Fix Marketing Email Blunders

By: Mary Hiers

Just about every business has sent out a marketing email with an embarrassing mistake in it. From a context-free photo of a mini-pig on horseback to a marketing message that seems tone-deaf or out of touch due to a recent news story, mistakes run the gamut. 

While you can laugh off an inappropriate typo in the casual email you sent your sister, marketing emails with mistakes often require an apology of some sort afterward. Fortunately, enough companies have been in this situation that it’s easier to outline effective responses. 

Rest assured you can recover from marketing email mistakes. That is, as long as you understand the problem, acknowledge it, and make amends. Here’s what you should know.

Types of Marketing Email Mistakes

Here is a list of common marketing email mistakes, from least concerning to most:

  • Spelling or grammatical mistakes
  • Failure to use personalization tools (resulting in messages that literally say, “Hello, [FIRSTNAME] [LASTNAME]!” and the like)
  • Missing attachments or broken links
  • Random, out-of-context material (like a test email that should have remained internal to the company)
  • Segmentation mistakes that send emails to the wrong recipients
  • Unfortunate timing
  • Emails that are unintentionally offensive

With the more minor mistakes, sending out an apology email is likely to only draw more attention to something that few people noticed or minded. But the bigger the error, the more necessary a response becomes, and the quicker that response must go out.

Non-Tragic Marketing Email Mistakes

If you mistakenly wrote “irresistible” instead of “irresistible,” you probably don’t need to send out an email apologizing for it. Chances are that few people even noticed it. 

Likewise, if you send out an email listing a promo code as “AUTUMN20” rather than “FALL20,” an apology email would probably only confuse things. The better approach here would be to simply change the promo code in your e-commerce system to match the one you sent in the email. 

And if you accidentally send out a marketing email two times, you probably don’t need to send yet another email apologizing for it.

Marketing Email Mistakes to Fix ASAP

If you send out an email with a broken or wrong link, you might be able to get your email service provider to replace the bad link with the correct one. If so, and you catch it quickly enough that people are unlikely to have tried the bad link, you can avoid an apology.

But typically, you’re not that lucky and should send out an apology email with the correct link as quickly as you can.

Here is another mistake you should correct. Suppose you sell pet food and you unintentionally send a “cat food” email to your “dog food” email segment. You should send an apology email, if for no other reason than to show you have a handle on things.

More dreadful is if you send out what you intend to be a casual or funny marketing email, and then a serious, major news story pops up within 24 hours. World events can render your humor ill-advised; you should probably send an apology email, even though you never intended anything negative. 

Some may argue that you shouldn’t apologize for being the victim of bad timing. But it may be better to err on the side of apologizing here.

Likewise, if you send out an email not realizing that a message could be misinterpreted by recipients, an apology is definitely in order. Send out these apology emails as soon as you can.

Some Marketing Emails That Missed the Mark

In 2017, Airbnb sent out what should have been an inviting marketing email about booking houseboats, with fun messages like, “Stay above water.” Unfortunately, the email went out exactly when Hurricane Harvey dumped 60 inches of rain on Houston. 

They sent out an apology email acknowledging their poor timing. Fortunately, the company had an existing disaster relief program to connect displaced people in emergencies with people willing to share properties. This had built up sufficient goodwill to forestall a PR nightmare. 

Also, in 2017, shoe giant Adidas congratulated people for “surviving” the Boston Marathon. They didn’t account for the fact that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured 260 was still fresh in marathoners’ minds. 

E-commerce company Fab accidentally sent out a test email featuring an out-of-context photo of a cat instead of a hero image. It was hardly a disaster, but someone at Fab probably got a talking-to. The company made the most of this mistake, sending out a light-hearted apology email with a promo code and plenty of cat puns. 

What to Do if Your Company Has an Email Debacle

The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging it. Find out exactly who received what, and discuss with your more level-headed colleagues what the worst-case scenario could be. 

Did you likely confuse people, or could you have seriously offended them? Be honest. This will influence how you respond to the mistake. 

If the mistake is on the level of Fab’s unintentional cat photo, then you can probably address the situation effectively with a light-hearted apology email. But if you come across as tone-deaf or say something that could offend people, you will have to be more serious in your efforts to fix the situation.

As soon as you know what the problem is and how serious it is, start working on the apology email. Its tone should match the seriousness of the situation. Make sure multiple people proofread it before sending it, just to be safe. 

Elements of a Good Apology Email

An appropriate and effective apology email begins with the very first words:

  • The subject line should strike a tone that matches the seriousness of the mistake
  • The email should be to a specific person (not “Dear Subscriber”) and from a person. That person should be a 3-letter executive if the problem is serious enough.
  • The body of the email should acknowledge the mistake
  • Explain that it was not your intention to offend or hurt anyone
  • Show empathy with the reader
  • Use humor only if it is appropriate and in keeping with the nature of the mistake
  • Include an offer, promo code, or other gesture to demonstrate your contrition
  • Try to emphasize positive company values in your closing
  • State the steps you will take to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again

How to Ensure It Doesn’t Happen Again

Without having a blame session, determine as objectively as possible how the mistake happened. Maybe the person sending the “test” email didn’t understand how to use your email marketing platform. Maybe the sender hadn’t been following the news for weeks before hitting “Send.” 

Determine what checks and balances can be implemented to prevent future marketing email errors. Often all that is needed is an independent set of eyes to read an email before it goes out. Or you may need a better marketing email platform that makes it easier to personalize and segment your lists. 

The point is, don’t write off a marketing email gaffe as “just one of those things” because that almost guarantees that it will happen again someday. 

Marketing Emails Are Still Worthwhile

Marketing emails can be spectacularly effective. That’s why so many companies of all sizes use them. 

But marketing emails aren’t foolproof. Sometimes companies make unintentional or boneheaded mistakes that require redress. Be prepared and use backstops, checks, and balances to minimize the chances of marketing email mishaps.

If you want to build an effective and efficient email marketing strategy, schedule a call with our team. We understand marketing emails inside and out as well as how to maximize ROI from them. Don’t let fear of mistakes keep you from using email marketing to your advantage.

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