This article was originally published on Blue Sky Factory’s blog.  View the original article.


We’ve all experienced technology fails and know that they can unfortunately strike at any time. And while it’s the job of an email marketer to test, test, and test email campaigns to ensure that they deliver as intended, you’re still bound to commit some form of human error at some point in your career. So, how do you handle it? Well, you have a couple of options:

  • Option #1: Never tell your boss and sweat out the next 48 hours hoping that no one else notices.
  • Option #2: Resend the campaign in the manner that it was intended, but without any note of the correction(s) within the email.
  • Option #3: Man up and admit the error to subscribers, and if you can, make it up to them.

Now I know that option #3 may initially put you in the dog house with your executives because they’ll be aware of a pretty big mistake you made, will feel as though their bottom line may suffer through how you “make it up” to the subscribers, and may have to spend more on the additional email volume for the apology email. Although I’ve got to tell you, an apology email really gives you a chance reach out to your subscribers, show your transparency, and show proactive customer appreciation. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Address the “Oops” in the Subject Line

When San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau realized they had forgotten to add important tourism ads to their monthly email, they promptly sent out a correction email. Unfortunately, they may have rushed the correction email just a bit, as they only made note of the correction within the subject line, as they changed it from the original “Special Offers and Events from SLO County” to “Correction for Seacrest Ad and One More Special Offer from SLO County”.

San Luis Email Creative Screen Shot San Luis Email Correction Creative Screen Shot

Don’t get me wrong – making note of the error in the subject line is probably the most important notification to make in correction emails. When an email looks like a duplicate email in the inbox, it will almost always be immediately deleted. Although, a brief message at the top of the email copy would reinforce that the second send does have added ads/offers that are worthwhile for the subscribers to scroll down and see. Removing the repeated image and welcome message that fills the “above the fold” area would also help subscribers understand that this email contains new, worthy content as well.

Send Subscribers an Offer as Your Apology

Email marketers in retail who need to send an apology email can actually get a leg up by offering a special promotion, coupon code, or other offer to make up for whatever blunder occurred. Take this Blue Sky Factory client, Russell & Mackenna. They made a pretty big mistake with an email they sent through their internal resources right before they came on as a client, so they sent the below apology email out as their first email through our services. (Click image to enlarge)

Russell & Mackenna Apology Email

They did a great job at keeping this email simple and from the voice of the Founder and CEO to show its sincerity. Not to mention, the increased discount they decided to give their subscribers made them feel so valued and appreciated that they observed a 50% conversion rate from this apology email! I’m pretty sure that after the way Russell & Mackenna handled this mistake, most of their subscribers walked away thinking, “I just got a great deal on furniture!” as opposed to, “I can’t believe they violated my trust and exposed my email address to everyone on their subscriber list!”

Clearly State the Error in Detail in the Email Copy

Another great example comes from the “email marketing famous” Daily Candy. Their sole product is their daily emails, so yea, there’s a decent amount of pressure on them to execute email marketing without any mistakes. Unfortunately, they recently endured a mishap of their own, by sending out the wrong information on an important promotion. See the original and correction emails below: (Click images to enlarge)

Daily Candy Email Creative Screen Shot Daily Candy Email Correction Creative Screen Shot

They do a fantastic job addressing the correction they needed to make and taking full responsibility for the error. The subject line also entices the subscriber enough to open the email because clearly, something is awry, but without being too dramatic or wordy.

Use the Apology Email to Further Show Your Brand Personality

Even those of us who specialize in the email industry have hiccups from time to time. See below an example from the Email Experience Council and another from Blue Sky Factory: (Click images to enlarge)

Email Experience Council Correction Email Blue Sky Factory Correction Email

With both of our emails being purely informational, we can’t make any awesome offers to make up for either of our goofs. But we can admit to it, make the correction, and spin the whole situation with a corky and conversational voice that only enhances the human quality we give our brands.

Now I’m not trying to promote email marketing blunders, but if it happens and you begin feeling that heart-dropping-into-your-stomach, face-turning-bright-red, my-boss-is-going-to-kill-me-feelings, just breathe and remember this happens. Then, stir up the courage to tell your boss and begin moving forward with a wicked correction email campaign. Not only will you survive the work day, but by tomorrow, you may actually be a better email marketer.

Elena Hekimian
Client Services Manager, Blue Sky Factory

I’ve been thoroughly impressed by my home state’s online marketing lately. The VisitPA website is colorful, fun and showcases not only a lot of the great things to do here in Pennsylvania, but also the numerous ways that potential visitors can get information about what PA has to offer.

So while I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprising, the email I recently received from them was startlingly well-done:

VisitPA Vacation Ideas Email

(Click image for full size)

Nailing The Basics

  • The “from” line is highly recognizable. Bonus: spelling out Pennsylvania – especially since the subject line uses the abbreviation “PA” which some subscribers (especially outside of the USA) might not recognize immediately.
  • The subject line – PA vacation ideas. Get ’em while they’re hot. – is simple, direct and fun, while managing to imply some urgency.

The Fun Continues in the Body

This is awesome copywriting for a tourism email.

It sells the sizzle (not the steak) right from the get-go. “Bumper cars, funnel cake, and screaming your head off. It’s what summer is all about.” It’s all about the reader, and it’s all about fun (and isn’t that what vacations are supposed to be?).

Just below that, the call to join the VisitPA Facebook page keeps the fun going with a playful (and direct) headline – Friends get benefits – and supporting copy – Let’s be friends. Facebook friends, anyway. (Aside: how awesome is the Facebook icon using the PA keystone?)

The next section uses phrases like inside scoop and get in the loop to push the deals page of the VisitPA site without, well… being pushy.

Short and Simple Sells Social

The clean design and short length of this email not only make it easy to read and act on, they draw out the “Find us” links toward the end of the email.

(Oh, and the last one on the right there? I had to click on it since it was the only one I didn’t recognize… turns out it goes to VisitPA’s well-designed “Savvy Grouse” blog.)

Throw in the fact that whoever made this email dotted just about all the i’s and crossed all the t’s (I could quibble about the ALT text usage, but that’s relatively minor), and this email is one that a lot of other tourism boards – and businesses in general – could learn a lot from.

Looks like Comcast subscribers to DSW’s email program have had some issues getting to their site.

I was recently traveling on business to a destination far far away (meaning many hours in the air) on an airlines that didn’t have any inflight movies.  I found myself so bored that I decided to hop on the wireless service provided during the flight so I could peruse my Facebook page, catch up on the latest with Goldman Sachs and chat with friends.  How’d I do it?  Gogo Inflight Internet.

The service is pretty cool and it was a new experience when the flight attendant asked me to check an Amazon.com order status for her instead of eying me suspiciously and telling me to turn off my computer (or, as they say, “anything with an on/off switch”).  But, apart from the cool service which they get handsomely rewarded for (it is a monopoly after all), the email experience was lackluster.

Here’s the email I got from GoGo – my first interaction with them via email.

Are they for real?  All I get is a text email with a quick “thanks” for doing business with them.  No color, logo, call to action or even a link to point me back to the site.  Under this, they had my order details listed out but there was nothing pushing me back to GoGo to interact with their site.  Here’s where I put my thinking cap on.

  1. The subject line is boring.  I know I just ordered the service and I appreciate them providing me with an e-receipt.  But, seeing as how this is the first email I’ve EVER gotten email from them, can’t it be spiced up a bit?  How about a “Welcome to our service!” or a “GoGo with GoGo?”  Something witty or even personalized would be better than this banal subject.
  2. I get two horizontal gray bars separating the message from the order details.  Whoop!  Some extra time and effort could’ve been invested in making this email pop.  Email designers everywhere are cringing.  This message is above the fold so I didn’t even realize I had details listed below it until I went back and took a closer look.  Even an image with a plane in the down direction (as a clever pointer) letting me know I had order details would’ve reinforced the idea I just bought from this company something I could use on an airplane.
  3. The message itself is something that reminds me I am just a nameless, faceless drone with a credit card who signed up for the service.  Nothing more than what it took someone in the copy department 10 seconds to write up.  They don’t even remind me what airlines I’m flying (which I would think would be a “gimme” for the airlines to incent customers to remember where they can get inflight internet when deciding who to fly the friendly skies with next time).
  4. Well, what do I do now?  They’ve thanked me and notified my card was charged.  My next move was to move on in my inbox.  Nothing more since they don’t have any call to action or navigation options.  I have to remember the link to the site’s login page to get back online.
  5. Is there a reason I should purchase another time share for Wi-Fi?  According to this, not really, unless I find myself bored again and needing internet access on a flight.  No marketing material in their transactional message letting me know where I can go to check history, look at their packages, or even an introductory offer to win me back after the flight.  I don’t fly all the time so this will have a hard time competing for space in my frontal cortex next time I’m looking for entertainment when I have my Kindle and iPod under the seat in front of me.
  6. How do I get other devices pared with the service?  I know I can get my Blackberry online with GoGo because I turned it on and the GoGo network was showing up as an option.  But, I didn’t know what I needed to do nor did I care enough to play around with it long enough to figure it out.  Having a link to a set of instructions or side bar call outs letting iPhone, Blackberry, or other wireless device users know how to get plugged in would’ve been great.

If they’d created a cool tracking device in the email which would tell me what airlines I was flying (they know it since it’s a very finite connection point – what router is aboard the plane) and where the plane was heading since they’d also know the flight number, I could’ve played around with the site after being pushed in that direction from the email.  Or, it could have asked me to fill out a profile on GoGo where I could put in airlines I normally fly and whether they’re available on those carriers.  Having something pop in the email would’ve kept the concept relevant and not just brought the act of communication down to it’s lowest function of simply giving me a virtual nod letting me know they had my money.

Again, it’s a really cool service.  But, they should invest a bit more time into their email program to tie it into the technology that’s running the backbone of flight internet services and spruce up their email with more compelling content that will get me excited to sign on when I’m 60k feet in the air.  The email didn’t reinforce the act itself of being online.  It was static and rudimentary in the manner in which the information was conveyed.  I wasn’t buying a flint and some sticks here to reminisce about the good old days when our ancestors lived in caves.

On the surface, this seems like a great idea. The LA Times is updating their newsletter look and is taking that opportunity to clean their lists. Up front, clever, I like it. Let’s take a look:

Here’s what’s good about this message:

  • Great sense of urgency between subject line and top headline.
  • Succinct, to-the-point copy, gets the point across.
  • Incentive to continue the subscription (both the gift cards and the “renew for free.” People like free.)
  • Big call to action.
  • Appropriate support imagery on the right.

Here’s the problem: the LA Times hasn’t sent me an email in over 5 years.

I’m not upset about it, and I remember signing up for the emails when I was in college 6 years ago. And clearly, their segmentation strategy all but opted out for me through engagement data. So it’s interesting that they would send me this message now.

Has their newsletter look not changing in 5+ years? I guess it’s possible.

But it’s an interesting win-back attempt strategy. I never opted out, so it’s not illegal. And I’m not upset because I remember opting in.

I would love to see the reports on win-backs for this campaign.