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The Most Common Email Marketing Fails (And How to Fix Them)

The Most Common Email Marketing Fails (And How to Fix Them)

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We’ve all been there…

That sinking feeling after you’ve just pressed ‘send’ on your latest email marketing campaign, only to realize there is a glaring mistake and no way of turning back the clock.

Your first instinct may be to quickly scramble a follow-up email together and mitigate the risk of things snowballing into a bigger problem. But flooding your recipients’ inbox with a series of rushed and clumsy apology emails is likely to send your unsubscribe rates soaring, and therefore do even more damage.

Marketers are pretty brilliant, but we’re not infallible; everyone is capable of having a bad day at the office.

Some of the more common email marketing fails include:

  • Typos and spelling errors.
  • Sending a test email by mistake.
  • Sending an email to the wrong subscriber list.
  • Incorrect/missing basic information such as dates, names, or voucher codes.
  • Broken links or incorrect links such as sending the user to the wrong landing page.
  • Misjudged content which is offensive or insensitive.
  • Sharing private or personal data with the wrong party.

We’ll take a look at each of these potential pitfalls in more depth and how you can recover from them, should you fall foul of one (or more!) in your own email marketing campaign.

Typos and spelling errors

Most of the time a spelling mistake or typo, although careless and rather frustrating, can be swept under the carpet. As long as it’s not potentially going to cause offense, it’s often best to just accept it, learn from it, and move on. Of course, frequent spelling errors or grammatical mistakes will make your organization seem slapdash and lacking attention to detail, neither of which are going to help your brand’s image.

On the other hand, if a misspelling changes the meaning of your email copy, or renders a link broken. For example, a misspelled Twitter handle in an anchor text. You’ll need to put things right as soon as possible to minimize any adverse effects on your campaign.

Incorrect or missing information and broken links

Imagine sending out a flash sale email in January with a faulty voucher code that doesn’t work when customers try to check-out?

Or sending a test email for a new product launch before the resources are in place to make this new product or service available to the public?

Mistakes such as this are likely to have a direct impact on your campaign objectives and therefore must be resolved quickly.

Firstly, take a look at the click-through rate for this campaign. For those who haven’t yet opened the email or tried to click through the broken link, you could ask your technical team to quickly fix the existing link before anyone else discovers the mistake.

However, for the recipients who have already tried to click through and failed, you’ll need to send a follow-up email to correct the error and avoid losing that potential business.

Fixing these email marketing fails: The ‘oops!’ email

The Oops Email when email marketing fails

The ‘oops’ campaign requires skill and planning to get right, as not only do you need to regain your audience’s confidence, you also need to achieve what you set out to do in the first place!

Take this very basic ‘oops’ email template, as an example.

Eye-catching subject: Choosing a hard-hitting subject line and email header is key.

It’s important to let your subscribers know that you are being proactive in correcting your mistake. If you simply resend an amended version under the same subject line, recipients are likely to assume the second email is a duplicate (and another error on your part) and not bother opening it.

Outline where you went wrong: Your email needs to cut right to the chase. A disgruntled customer is not going to waste time trawling through fluffy marketing copy, so make your email simple but effective, and acknowledge any fault on your part quickly so that the recipient knows straight away that the error has been rectified and your organization is on the ball.

Humor: Of course, humor’s not going to be appropriate across all industries, so consider your audience. However, a humorous call to action or ‘oops… !’ subject line can help break the ice and encourage the recipient to open the email for more details.

New message for The Oops Email when email marketing fails

Personalization: By addressing the customer directly, and recognizing them as an individual, your apology will hold more sincerity and help to retain your audience’s trust.

Compensation: Recompense your audience for their inconvenience, for example, with a higher value discount voucher than the original unusable one. Although, on the face of it, this means less profit for you, customers who would not have used the discount code and made a purchase before may well be tempted by the bigger saving, therefore increasing your potential conversions.

Social media: They say that good news travels fast, but in an age of social media, bad news really does travel faster, with horrible consequences for your brand’s image. If your brand has an active social media presence, it may be beneficial to reach out to your audience via their social media feed too, and ensure they don’t just hear about your slip up via the grapevine.

Offensive content

Luckily, many customers are willing to forgive and forget a minor email slip up, especially if the apology comes with some sort of monetary gesture. However, if your mistake has more significant consequences, such as causing serious offense or compromising private data, a well-executed recovery campaign is crucial to ensure minimal damage to your brand’s reputation.

A recent example of this was in 2017 when Airbnb launched its ‘floating world’ marketing campaign promoting a niche range of off-shore accommodations around the world. Visually eye-catching and featuring enticing headlines such as “how to spend a day – or an entire trip – without touching dry land,” and “stay above water”, the material had all the makings of a successful email marketing campaign.

Offensive Content if Email Marketing Fails

Image Source: mediapost.com

Unfortunately, Airbnb ran the campaign during the events of Hurricane Harvey, one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record which ravaged coastal Texas causing several fatalities and leaving 30,000 residents without shelter.

To make matters worse, the subsequent backlash and negative PR following the mistake not only ruined the campaign itself but completely overshadowed the fact that Airbnb had actually waived the service fees for local homeowners who were listing their properties on the platform to provide accommodation for others made homeless by the disaster.

Email marketing automation is a highly efficient tool, but it’s still the responsibility of the marketing team to stay abreast of current affairs and world events to ensure any scheduled campaigns aren’t inappropriately timed.

Sharing information with the wrong recipient

If you’ve ever sent an email to the wrong recipient or subscriber list, you’re certainly not alone. Research by data security company, Clearswift, shows that 45% of employees have accidentally shared emails containing key data with unintended recipients, including personal details, bank details, and other confidential information.

However, if you have inboxed an old list of subscribers who have since actively unsubscribed, it’s important to ensure your organization isn’t in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced in 2018, as this could result in crippling financial penalties on top of any reputational damage.

To avoid spam complaints, you’ll need to quickly get in touch with those affected, either:

  • Explaining your correspondence was on the basis of legitimate interest and provide the recipient with an opt-out route should they wish to unsubscribe.
  • Apologizing for the error and ensuring the recipient that their details have now been removed from your database (and then make sure that they are!)

Avoiding these email marketing fails

It’s great to be prepared should you need to deal with an email marketing fail, but prevention is still certainly better than a cure. Having a few useful procedures in place will help safeguard against any potential errors in your upcoming campaign.

Make a template library

Having a library of ready-to-go email templates can be a valuable weapon to have in your arsenal in the event of a PR emergency. As soon as an incident arises, you’ll be able to quickly select and populate the appropriate document and provide an efficient and professional response, which is great news for your brand’s reputation.

You could have different designs tailored to each specific occasion, product range, or audience demographic, so that all you need to do, should the time come, is select a suitable template and populate it with the appropriate information. What’s more, it’ll also help to avoid any ‘flapping’, mitigating further mistakes.

Put things in writing

By having an agreed policy on how to deal with email marketing mistakes, you’ll eliminate the stresses of having to think on the spot should an incident occur, and we all know how easy it is to make further mistakes when we’re flustered.

It doesn’t have to be a 100-page document. It could simply state who should be the first port of call should an error occur and therefore who needs to be notified, or it could provide detailed step-by-step instructions on what to do in the event of an email marketing fail and other useful information such as where to find the above-mentioned template library.

When writing an email marketing policy guide, you’ll need to consider important factors such as:

  • Who/what email address should the apology come from?
  • Who must have the final sign off before emails are sent out?
  • What channels will you use to contact those affected?
  • Is a follow-up email enough?
  • Is a social media announcement necessary?
  • Will you contact those affected by direct mail?
  • Reasonable response times.
  • What compensation will you offer those affected? i.e. a further voucher code, an extended sale period, free shipping.
  • What will be your company policy for dealing with an employee who has made an email marketing error? This will differ depending on the gravity of the incident. For example, if customer data has been breached as a result of a mistake, the consequences are likely to be far more severe than say, a typing error or poor punctuation!


It doesn’t matter whether you’re a well-seasoned marketing pro or you’re just starting out, we are all capable of making mistakes from time to time.

Set aside time to thoroughly check and test your emails before you push the final button, working through a clear set of checkpoints to leave no margin for error. This should, at the very least, include:

  • Spelling and grammar mistakes – Check for any typos and punctuation errors that may have slipped through the net.
  • Images – Do they all load correctly?
  • Links – Are they all working and connected to the correct landing pages?
  • Merge tags – If you’re using merge tags, data tags, or other methods of personalization in your email, are they pulling through the correct information?
  • Basic information correct – Check your contact details, dates, T’s & C’s, etc are all up to date.
  • Distribution – Are you sending the email to the correct email segment?
  • Test email – Send yourself a test email to ensure all the elements of your email are definitely working as they should be.
  • Second opinion – It’s always prudent to get a second opinion as a fresh pair of eyes will spot any obvious errors that you may have missed.

The way in which you deal with an email marketing fail will depend on what the mistake is, how long it has gone unfixed, the industry you’re operating in, and the potential impact on your brand. However, dealing with an issue swiftly and effectively will certainly reflect positively on your organization.

Guest author: Based in Colchester, Mollie is Marketing & PR Manager at Browser Media, supporting clients in the financial industry with their PR strategy as well as focusing on Browser Media’s own inbound marketing efforts.

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