5 True Stories of Email Marketing Nightmares

Lisa Toner
Lisa Toner



email-nightmareThis post originally appeared on The Agency Post. To read more content like this, subscribe to The Agency Post.

We’ve all been there. You craft a marketing email, complete with clever wording and amazing benefits for the specific buyer persona, and you’re seriously impressed with yourself.

So your mind starts to wander ... you think about all the leads you’re going to generate and how you’re going to spend your bonus. But suddenly, a paralyzing fear washes over your entire body.

“No, NO! Did I … did I really just hit send on that!!! HOW DO I STOP IT?!”

But it’s too late. You have to make the call. Should you hold your head high and admit fault? Or do you run for the hills?

The following five marketing agencies have made catastrophic email mistakes that almost cost them their clients. But they’ve taken the high road, admitted fault, and are here to share their stories so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

1) The Mystery of the Multiplying Emails

"With great intentions of making life easier for one of our clients, we set up a lead nurture email workflow for their new web leads. However, we did this without asking if that was how their sales process worked -- a hazardous mistake. We simply assumed this was something that they’d want. As you can probably guess, this was absolutely not what the client wanted and they almost fired us immediately -- a gruesome end. As it turned out, the client’s process was to follow up personally with each lead, and between getting our nurture emails and the client’s personal emails, these leads were getting very confused. It sent the client into a fit of rage with us, and we were terrified we were going to lose their business. Thankfully, we were able to talk them around by begging for mercy."  

How to Avoid This Nightmare

One word: smarketing. If we knew that our client’s sales process was to follow up with leads personally and right away, we could have planned his lead nurturing campaigns better. Now we always connect with the client’s sales team first to understand its process, and we get approval on any emails that go out with their signature on it. Lesson learned!

Kelly Kranz, OverGo Studio

2) Can You Hear the Music?

"As the Inbound Manager at Increnta, I was sending our most important customer an email with the annual report. I decided to include a YouTube video to make the email a little more fun. And boy, did it! The video I included featured my favorite guilty pleasure song, ‘La Macarena,’ on repeat.

"I soon realized I had just sent the ridiculous video to the customer. My heart started racing immediately, my hands started getting all clammy, and I could feel the sweat trickling down my forehead. I thought ‘Dear God! We’re going to lose our biggest account!’

"While writing a letter of apology, the most important email of my life arrived in my inbox. It was the customer, congratulating me on the campaign and adding that ‘La Macarena’ was his favorite song. My sigh of relief was audible from three streets away!

How to Avoid This Nightmare

"Always check your emails before hitting send if you don´t want your dreams to become nightmares. Remember that messages via email can easily be misinterpreted, and you never know how someone might react. Important communications should always be made in person or via telephone if possible to avoid this kind of mishap."

– Roberto Moragon, INCRENTA

3) Prospect Profiling Prevents Project Paralysis

"Back in the olden days of our agency, we were approached by a high profile client to undertake some SEO work. The client kindly sent us some reports from his current agency with a list of some of the issues he was having. We spent hours crafting the perfect proposal, referencing all the issues the client faced, how bad the current situation was, and how a new strategy was desperately needed. However, due to whatever wickedness was at play that day, our emails got mixed up ... and we accidentally sent it directly to the client’s current agency. It felt like Halloween had come early! No email retraction was going to save us from this mess! It was like a vampire had come along and sucked the life out of us."

How to Avoid this Nightmare

"Five years on from this unfortunate error, not only do we make sure we never mix up email addresses, but we also take care to profile each prospect carefully to stop any potential horror stories. We discuss level of inbound knowledge, size of team, buy-in from the board, parties who will be involved, growth plans for the company, if the client is detail- or big-picture oriented, and most importantly, if there anyone we should not contact."

– Guy Levine, Return on Digital

4) Is That You, Laura?

"In the early days of setting up a customer re-engagement email a couple of years ago, we had somewhat of a mishap. It could have been a complete freaking nightmare had it not been for how cool the customer remained, even as some interesting and sinister responses to our unfortunate mistake poured in. Here's what happened.

"We'd gone through all of the work defining a key persona for our client. We’ll call her Laura, OK? Well, as I was copywriting the re-engagement email, I was considering exactly what matters to Laura, how would she be thinking about things, how would this offer be best received by her.

"As I was thinking about all these things, I wrote ‘Hi Laura’ at the top of the email, fully intending to replace it with first name personalization later. And yes, I sent it! I called more than 2,500 people Laura. To this day, I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

"There were a fair few good-humored replies along the lines of “I’m only Laura on the weekend.” And, of course, there were some that were not so good-humored. I still have nightmares about it. (And for a while, I think my wife thought I was having an affair as I groaned 'no Laura, no Laura' in my sleep)."

How to Avoid This Nightmare

"Of course, it's obvious but oh-so-easy to overlook if you are rushing at deadlines, and ultimately, cutting corners. Never, ever send anything without proofing properly, ever. Today, we always ensure we have a second person in the agency check the work of a colleague before anything is sent out, and I’m delighted to say, nothing like that has ever happened again … has it, Laura?"

Jeremy Knight, Equinet Media

5) He Who Shall Not be Named

"I’ll tell you a story that left me quaking in my boots, a story that haunts me to this day. We’ve all made mistakes when it comes to dabbling in a little bit of HTML or CSS to add personalization or a favorite color. Oh, I wish it had been a meaningless string of code that I sent! Instead, I sent a ghastly, unpersonalized email for a client that unfortunately referred to everyone as 'Hey, First Name.' Needless to say, the client was pretty unhappy with that result. I was sure that was going to be the day I met a grisly end!"

How to Avoid This Nightmare

"This mistake can be avoided by not only having someone look over your emails, but also having them sent to you as a test as if you are a contact in your system."

Laura Hogan, OverGo Studio

Mistakes can happen to anyone. The best we can hope for is to learn as many the easy way, rather than the hard way.

We asked more than 20 marketing agencies across the world what their biggest mistakes were and how others can avoid making them. You can read all 22 horror stories by downloading our ebook here.

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