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You Botched That Marketing Email. Now What?

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • Best-practices for communicating with subscribers after an error
  • Tips for minimizing damage from an email mistake

You rely on email as a tried-and-true communication medium. It's a great way to reach the audiences that have shown an interest in your brand or your products or services.

But as reliable as email tends to be, the marketers who use it are not perfect. All email marketers will make a mistake at some point. And when you make that mistake, you'll need to be ready to respond appropriately.

Exactly how you respond depends on the degree of severity and who was affected. Here are six email mistakes you may encounter as a marketer, along with guidelines for rectifying them.

1. Multiple Emails

Along with being one of the most common email mistakes, it's also among the most annoying for the recipient, who probably trusted you with occupying at most one slot in the inbox each day.

Multiple identical emails clog up the recipient's inbox, which can be a sin worthy of an apology. The catch in this situation, though, is that an apology would require a subsequent email, which is the very problem you're apologizing for.

If you sent two identical emails, you might be OK without sending an apology email, especially if you can address the mistake in your regular message the next day or later in the week. In the case of three or more identical emails, though, an apology is entirely necessary; you want your subscribers to know it was an honest mistake and not a blatant attempt to spam them.

2. Email Mix-Up

Though easy to avoid, mixing up your distribution lists is entirely possible. If you sent the wrong email to a particular list, follow up by sending the correct email as soon as possible. Address the error in the subject line or early on in the body.

If time allows, cross-reference the two lists—the correct list and the list you sent to—and create a third list that consists of people whose names do not appear on both. Then send the correct email with the apology to this new list. That way, you avoid apologizing to people who received the correct message.

3. Broken Link

If your email contains one or more links that are broken or which misdirect the recipient, you have two options:

  1. Move the landing page to the incorrect link that went out in the email. If you take this route, before you put the landing page in place you'll want to notify those who clicked on the bad link.
  2. Respond directly to anyone who clicked on the bad link to provide them the correct link (and maybe even a code for a small discount for their trouble, if applicable). The downside of this option is that new people will likely continue to click the bad link over the next couple weeks, and because you want to respond in a timely fashion that means several rounds of correction emails.

4. Inappropriate or Offensive Content

Whether it was an intentionally provocative message or an honest mistake, inappropriate or offensive content sometimes finds its way into marketing emails. If you deem an apologetic response is appropriate, the key is to keep it sincere.

Although using humor can sometimes be an effective way to save face after a mistake, in this situation it's not the appropriate strategy.

5. Template or Spelling Error

A hastily assembled campaign or simple lack of proofing can result in minor errors, such as spelling mistakes or placeholder text not being removed. You have to do a cost-benefit analysis in this situation, but it's probably not in your best interest to respond.

No one wants to leave recipients with a page full of "lorem ipsum," but apologizing for a minor mistake only draws attention to something most people probably didn't even see. If the mistake doesn't have an effect on the call to action, let it be.

6. Wrong Date or Offer

Whether you've sent an email to your subscribers with the wrong date or time or the wrong offer, you should follow up with a correction email as soon as possible. Simply sending another email with the correct details is not enough; you need to point out what the error was and what the correct information is.

Six Best-Practices

Although it helps to be prepared for different types of email mistakes, here are six best-practices to keep in mind—and to put into practice—no matter what the situation:


  1. Monitor the inbox of the "Do-Not-Reply-To" address. People will often respond to your email if they encounter a problem, making this a great way to catch an error.
  2. Create one or more apology templates so that if a mistake happens, you are ready to respond quickly.
  3. Proofread the correction email. Nothing is worse than apologizing for an apology.
  4. Update anyone who might need to be aware of the situation. For example, tell your customer support people they may be fielding calls related to the mistake, and let retail locations know that a discount offered in the original email is incorrect.
  5. Even if the sender of the original email was the brand itself, consider sending a sincere apology from a person on behalf of the company if the situation is serious. For a lesser mistake, a simple "Oops, we goofed!" from the brand might suffice.
  6. Even if you've sent an apology follow-up to your entire subscriber list, you might not have contained the problem. Monitor social media to see whether the mistake's reach expanded outside of your email list.


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John Murphy is president of Chicago-based email marketing service provider ReachMail. He has been helping marketers improve their email marketing campaigns since 1999.

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  • by Katie Drake Thu Jan 19, 2012 via web

    Great, concise round-up of the best ways to handle this problem! I'll keep it as a handy reference. (Hope I never need it, though....)

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