Silverpop - Sender’s Remorse: The Human Side of Email Marketing
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Sender’s Remorse: The Human Side of Email Marketing

by: Crawford McCarty (@)
20 October 2014

Sooner or later, it happens to every marketer who sends out emails. Whether it’s a tweet, a reply email or even someone down the hall saying “Is this yours?” you know you missed something, and it’s time to fix the damage.

The “oops” email is a terrifying possibility, and until you’ve had to send an email to hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, you won’t understand the fear that I, and many other marketers, get from hitting the send button.

I like to call it “Sender’s Remorse” (dibs on the trademark). It’s that period of about 30 seconds after you hit send when every possible error is racing through your mind. You’ve tested every link at least five times. You’ve reread the copy out loud 10 times. You’ve even reconfigured your mailing twice in case it changed on its own somehow. Then you realize you made a mistake, and your heart sinks.

So how do you fix an “oops” email? Well, it really depends on the send, but I thought I’d dive into three errors, one of them my own, and share the steps taken to make things right.

1. Dynamic Content Fail

Let’s start with my error, and then we can laugh at the other two afterwards. Dynamic content is an awesome tool and makes marketing much simpler. The only problem is you have to use it correctly. I sent an email to thousands of people a few months ago with this as the subject line:

%%DC::Previous Viewed White Paper::Subject Line%

Whoops. What made the mistake even more painful is that here at Silverpop, dynamic content is super easy to use. All you have to do is click the “DC” button and fill out the needed information.

Unfortunately, after successfully testing the email three or four times, I decided I should copy the code from the subject line over to the preview mailer to make sure the successful tests continued to work – duh. The problem was that I missed the last “%” in the subject line, effectively turning my code into text.

The first tweet appeared within minutes with a screenshot of my blunder and the words “Marketing Automation Fail.” Ouch.

The Reaction

I stayed calm(ish), and we were able to query who received the broken subject line and send out a “we goofed” email within minutes. In this instance, since I was emailing fellow marketers, I knew I could be lighthearted in my response. In the end, the number of positive responses vastly outweighed the negative ones, and the “we goofed” email had nearly a 50 percent open rate.

Lessons Learned

This email goof was the result of user error, specifically messing with code after the testing process was complete. In other words, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

2. Placeholder Text Fail

This happened to a friend who was working for a retail company. She was learning the process of sending emails and decided to build a program using dummy text. The plan was to see if her program would work and then swap out the dummy mailings with real content. Some of you are already laughing/squirming.

When she went to test her program, she missed that she had selected the main contact list instead of her own email and had chosen her email as the “From” name instead of the company. She hit send, and instead of a single test, 11,000 people received an email with no subject line and the following text in the main body:


Luckily for my friend, most of the recipients understood this reference to an old video game, but that didn’t stop nearly everyone from replying to her in various states of confusion.

The Reaction

Being new to the company, she tried to reply to each person individually. As you can imagine, this took several hours, as well as a healthy amount of humble pie. In the end, there was little blowback, but you can see how this could have turned out differently.

Lessons Learned

The biggest takeaway here is if you’re going to use placeholder text, make sure it’s appropriate. If you do find yourself in a similar situation, ask yourself how your recipients are likely to respond. The answers could range from “They didn’t notice” to “Ticked off.” Based on that, get your boss involved and develop a plan. In this “mistake” example, it would have been a good idea to send an explanation reassuring contacts that the company wasn’t hacked and no data was compromised, followed with an apology.

3. Query Fail

Sometimes “oops emails” have nothing to do with the content. The email itself is written perfectly, with just the right flow of emotion and humor, and you hit send with confidence. Uh oh. That send number is way higher than it should be.

If you’re one of the thousands of Shutterfly subscribers, you got to witness this type of “fail” first-hand a few months back. In summary, Shutterfly sent an email to its entire database congratulating recipients on their new baby. From what I’ve seen, people mostly reacted with a sense of humor, but when the subject is something serious like starting a family, the need for an apology email is obvious.

The Reaction

Within hours, Shutterfly issued a public apology via Twitter, and later that day it sent out an email to everyone affected. The message had a serious tone and came from the CMO. In my opinion, this is where Shutterfly really shined. I think the only downside was the couple hours of delay before the apology went out.

Lessons Learned

In this situation, the response was appropriate for both the mistake and the audience. Putting the CMO’s name at the bottom was a nice touch that showed the issue’s importance from Shutterfly’s perspective.

This brings me to my final point: You need an “Oops Email” emergency plan. When the inevitable happens, you’re going to be stressed, so you don’t want to lose time trying to figure out how to respond.

With that in mind, create a simple generic apology email you can tweak to speed up the apology process. As long as you remember to stay calm, figure out what happened and who was affected, and think through how to best address the problem, you’ll be on your way to minimizing your Sender’s Remorse. Notice I said minimizing and not eliminating — we’re are all human, after all.

Related Resources

1) White Paper: “Ultimate Guide to Assessing Your Digital Marketing Program

2) Blog: “3 Things Marketers Should Be Testing (But Probably Aren’t)

3) Video: “3 Tips for Prioritizing Automated Emails


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