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The Power of an “OOPS!” Email

Since confession is good for the soul, first admit that you have done it. What? I’m referring to sending out an email that wasn’t quite as ready to go as you thought it was when you tested it. Of course, the minute you send it out you immediately find out that your well-baked email actually wasn’t.

Any number of things may have happened. Here’s a few that come to my mind, would love to hear about some others that you’ve seen.

  • Your test salutation (Dear XXXX) doesn’t get replaced

  • The link is dead or some of them are

  • The link, or some of them, goes to the wrong offer or product

  • A very glaring typo that everyone missed

  • The ‘From’ name is incorrect

  • The reply-by date expired before your email even went out 

You get the idea….

Let it lay or do a replay?

So how do you handle it? That probably depends on a few factors. Your own desire for perfection; how visible is it internally - some teams just can’t abide an error even if it’s a minor one. As a general rule, how critical the error is to the performance of the email will most likely determine what you do next – a typo you’re likely to let go by but a dead link leaves you with a worthless communication. Like it or not, in that situation, it has to go out again.

Once you determine that you have to do a resend how you decide to handle it is where it gets interesting. You basically have 3 options:

  1. ERROR, WHAT ERROR – resend the email as quickly as you can with the offending material corrected but not acknowledged. This is likely to be used when you don’t have time to re-do it or you have an inexperienced team member who didn’t really think about how to handle it.

  2. MISTAKES WERE MADE – resend and include a short sentence in the body of the email explaining why you are sending the email again. Basically, in a matter of fact way you own up to the error and defuse confusion about the resend.

  3. SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS – proclaim it right there in the subject line “OOPS” the most visible place it can be and explain the error in the body of the email.

How have you handled your, not quite fully baked, email errors? I’m going to guess approaches 1 & 2 are most likely how you have handled it. I would argue that the “Shouting it From the Rooftops” is an approach you should seriously consider. My own recent experience has made me a true convert. Here’s what happened.

We worked with a client to send 20,000 of their email subscribers a product offer. It was a rush job and, as will often happen with a rush job, something was missed. In this case the “Dear First Name Last Name” went out as exactly that “Dear First Name Last Name”. Honestly, this is not an error that I would generally say warrants a resend but this client was particularly sensitive to being associated with any errors. So we did it. We corrected the error and re-sent it including in the Subject: OOPS….

How did it do? Phenomenally well. One of our best campaigns ever for this client, more than double any response we’ve seen to standard non-error emails.


Why does OOPS work?  

I don’t have any scientific evidence for why this email works but I do have a couple of theories. It boils down to curiosity and compassion. We open an “OOPS” email for the same reason cars slow down to see an accident on the highway, the desire to know what it going on. In a crowded Inbox the “OOPS” immediately captures our interest. Once that interest is captured, we have to know what they did wrong. OK, that may explain the open rate but why then buy what is being sold? Obviously, the prospect has to be interested in what we’re offering that gets them 85% of the way there; the desire to help out the person who made the mistake and who they imagine must have gotten into trouble for it is the remaining 15%. That’s my theory. Do you have another?

Don’t be the email that cried wolf.

Are other marketers seeing the results I saw? It’s hard to know because it’s not an email campaign per se. It’s more like making lemonade out of lemons -- though I do suspect there is one online retailer that has built this into their email program as their OOPS emails are quite abundant. I’m not advocating doing that, too many OOPS is likely to lose its effectiveness and you are likely to start being viewed as being incompetent or disingenuous by people who must trust you. But, clearly, there are take-aways from the OOPs email that you should consider testing.

  • Best email practices say use concrete subject headers so people don’t have to guess what’s in the email. OOPS says, use a subject header that captures their interest. You can do this by asking a question or proposing a solution.

  • Commercial emails are well, commercial. OOPS says, let me see your humanity. It’s an old sales truism that people ultimately buy from people, perhaps that’s true for your email prospects, as well.

  • Standard email says you can’t send an email more than once in a short period of time. OOPS says, you can and sometimes you should. Perhaps if you have a flash sale going or about to run out of inventory a 2nd email may be both warranted and welcome.