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Email Marketing Mistake #7: Not Learning from Mistakes and Turning Them Into Opportunities

By Loren McDonald, Vice President of Industry Relations

Sooner or later, you will send out an email message with an obvious mistake in it. It's embarrassing, but making the mistake is not the real problem. What is? Not correcting it or learning from it, thus possibly repeating it or not turning it into a positive.

What to Do When You Mess Up 
How you recover from your goof, make it right and learn from it, can help you retain your customers and also prevent it from happening again.

1.  First, do not panic. Admit the mistake. It's embarrassing to say, "We goofed!," but covering it up or ignoring the mistake makes you look worse than inept to your customers.

2.  Make it right, quickly. Move quickly to respond to and rectify a key mistake. If you have a technical or organizational issue that delays your ability to fix the Web site, correct the offer, etc., acknowledge the mistake and that you are working on a fix and will follow up as soon as possible. If you can suggest a work-around or other "make good" means, take that tack until the actual correction is in place.

3.  Communicate your follow-up first to those directly affected. If you have an embarrassing mistake or bad link, you probably don't want to send an apology email to everyone who received the message, but rather just those directly affected. For example, if a link takes recipients to the wrong product or landing page, you might send your apology and corrections email only to subscribers who clicked on the bad link.

A few years ago, a retailer I worked with had a discounted price on two products in their email, but when users clicked through to the Web site, the higher regular price was displayed. After analyzing subscriber behavior, I worked with the client to craft a corrections email that incorporated some humor and an additional discount on the affected products.

The email was sent only to those that clicked on one or both of the two product links. It generated a phenomenal response: an 80 percent unique open rate, 25 percent click-through rate and a 10 percent order conversion rate, up from the normal 2 percent to 4 percent for this retailer.

This goof also delivered a key learning opportunity: the power of sending highly targeted messages based on actual customer behavior.

4.  Turn the mistake into an opportunity. Consumers recognize that companies make mistakes. In fact, acknowledging and properly acting on an error can often result in a more engaged customer. Turn an error into an opportunity to reward customers with a discount, special offer, gift, etc., that rewards a purchase or similar activity that results from correcting the error.

Also, consider extending the offer, or a similar one, to email recipients whom the mistake did not affect. If correcting and incentivizing recipients who clicked on the bad link achieves your business or ROI goals, send the same or a similar offer to either your entire list minus the ones who acted on the make-good offer, those who opened or clicked any link or who fit a certain segment or profile.

5.  Learn from your mistake. Figure out how it happened and what, if anything, you need to change in your workflow or chain of command to reduce the chance it will happen again. Second, learn from recipient behavior and the responses to your correction emails and offers to see if you might incorporate certain offers, messaging or specific targeting in future emails.

When Good Subject Lines Go Bad
Perversely, email messages with obvious mistakes in the subject line often draw higher than your typical open rates. You've seen these: email messages that still have placeholder words for the subject line, or someone who hit "send" on a campaign email without updating the subject line.

Why the higher open rate? Partly because of the intrigue. People want to see what that obviously wrong subject line is all about. Also, it's different from all your other subject lines.

What's the lesson here? Not to put misspellings or other errors in your subject line. But it could be telling you that you need to shake up your subject lines a little and test new variations.

Let's face it: Nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But when you act fast to correct the mistake and learn from it, your email program will be all the stronger for it.

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