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Failing Fast: Marketers Share Lessons From Email Mistakes

It’s every marketers worst nightmare: an email sent to thousands of people with the wrong information. Meetings will be hatched, mea culpas will be issued, and workflows will be investigated.

Of course, every company will make its share of mistakes. The question is what you learn from them. That was just one of the takeaways from the panel “Failing Successfully: The Best Lessons From Our Worst Screw-Ups,” at MediaPost’s Email Insider Summit.

For starters, social media can be your friend.

Dustin Porter, director of lifecycle and CRM marketing for SoFi, recounted an incident involving an email meant for a small audience of users in the midst of the loan application process. The email, which reminded recipients to upload their documents, was accidentally targeted to a much wider audience.

The company were able to stop the email from going to the full six million-plus email list, but the email still went out much wider than it should have.

“As you can image, when something like this happens, that can stir your social channel,” Porter said, adding that having a strong brand helps in that situation.

“Our social channel can really be a positive thing for us, even though that is the first place people go to complain," he said. "It is funny, these oops things for us will turn into positives, honestly. Our user base is so loyal, they get a good laugh out of them.”

Cody Duke, manager of mortgage product marketing for LegacyTexas, faced a different sort of problem. He found that some of the automated marketing emails his firm was sending were simply not effective, so it stopped sending them. 

However, in an industry built on relationships, some others at the organization felt they should have been consulted before pulling the plug. Duke said that communication and persuasion is key.

“Do things aboveboard, be honest, really present your data -- and really, if you believe in something, sell it as hard as you can and get a clear answer,” he said. “We brought back the things I didn’t like, but we didn’t automate them, so we found a nice solution there. It is suboptimal to have one thing work perfectly if it doesn’t fit with your organization.”

Jimmy Wojtila, senior specialist in digital marketing for Vitamix, recalled an incident during a campaign with a brand partner which had a special offer and created unique redemption codes, only to see the codes sent out mistakenly.

“The first thing I did was fill my coffee, because you can't approach that without a good cup of coffee,” Wojtila joked.

Vitamix ended up trying to make things right, and in some cases developed one-to-one tactics for some customers who used the codes. The company had the benefit of a loyal fanbase to build on.

“Thankfully this was an owners' database, so right then and there we could simmer down our panic a little bit,” he said.

Wotjila added that it is important to educate your team so they know what mistakes to keep an eye out for.

“Oftentimes you send out a creative test or a stakeholder test, and they say, 'Oh, it looks great!'” he said, noting that obvious mistakes can sometimes slip through the cracks. “Did the links work? Is everything spelled right? Is there even pre-header text?”

Of course, while mistakes can have consequences, it's always important to keep things in perspective.

“It is something I learned early on in my career in email -- that we are not saving lives, we are sending emails,” Wotjila said.

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