Commentary

Making Lemonade

This week I inducted the 2007 class into my Oopsy Hall of Fame, which is a collection of email marketing mistakes made by the retailers I track via RetailEmail.Blogspot. The point of the list isn't to shame anyone; mistakes in this business are pretty much unavoidable, given the high volumes and short deadlines that many work under. Rather it's to point out where trouble spots lie and to inspire processes to avoid them.

Just like last year, subject lines once again proved to be fertile ground for oopsies, which is unfortunate since they play such a strong role in determining whether the recipient goes on to open the email. I saw misspellings, including the misspelling of brand names, as in this CompUSA subject line: "NEW LG Monitors & Samung TVs Now Available." And I also saw strangeness that should have been easily caught with a spot check, like this subject line from Musician's Friend: "2007-01-11_MF_Newsletter - src=3NL7AB."

I also saw deployment errors. In one case, a season's greeting message clearly went out a week too soon. In other cases, identical emails were sent twice. And in one awe-inspiring case, a blank email was sent -- and then resent the next day STILL BLANK.

Coding and image problems also made the list. I saw duplicated images in a Circuit City email, faulty personalization coding in a Crutchfield email and a squished nav bar in an Eddie Bauer email. There was also a coding error in a TigerDirect email that wiped out the bottom portion of the email, including TigerDirect's address and the unsubscribe information. So the error resulted in the email not being CAN-SPAM-compliant.

And to be a total nitpick, I also pointed out a variety of spelling and grammar errors that were made. The one that killed me this year was when Home Depot said they had "Live Tree's." My eyes started bleeding!

But I digress. While mistakes are pretty much inevitable, there are some processes that you can put into place to minimize them and to respond appropriately when they occur. Some tips:

1. Develop a pre-flight checklist and follow it every time.

2. One word: Spell-check.

3. View a test send in accounts from all the major email clients, or use a rendering tool to ensure consistent rendering across platforms.

4. If you make a mistake in an image, simply correct the source file.

5. Don't resend emails that contain minor mistakes. Only resend those where the mistake has significantly impaired the message.

6. If the error is significant, see if you can halt the send. You may be able to stop your entire list from receiving the erroneous email.

7. Develop a protocol for your apology emails, so you can respond quickly when serious mistakes happen.

Let me end by saying that the best feedback I got on last year's Oopsy Hall of Fame was from a marketer who said, "I feel so much better after seeing the mistakes that other marketers made. They make my mess-ups seem not nearly so bad." I hope that's how all of you feel after reading this.

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