How to Handle Email Marketing Mistakes Like a Pro

Mistakes happen – we’re all human.

The digital environment isn’t exempt from the occasional error, either. You’ve probably seen a misspelling, a broken link, or the wrong subject line from time to time.

With Statista data showing there are more than 281 billion emails sent per day worldwide, it’s not too surprising that there’s an occasional error or mistake in your inbox – sometimes even from big brands.

So while those mistakes are embarrassing (and stressful, if you were the sender), the good news is that with a plan in place, you can handle email marketing mistakes like a pro!

Let’s look at how you can develop a strategy around potential email marketing mistakes in your contacts’ inboxes and examine a few instances of past faux-pas from different brands, too.

Get out in front

The first thing to remember when you notice a mistake is that you need to remain calm and address the problem as soon as possible.

Getting out in front of the issue with a timely response shows that you’re in control of the situation and working to provide a solution.

Your first step will likely be to draft up a correction email acknowledging the issue.

Do this thoughtfully.

Some brands simply go with a subject line that addresses the mistake right up front by putting an all-caps word like ‘CORRECTION’ or even an ‘Oops’ in their follow-up email subject line, or they spotlight the ‘oops’ language front and center within the message body.

A few subject lines that we would recommend:

  • Oops! Here’s a special offer for our mess-up.
  • CORRECTION: [insert original subject line]
  • Sorry about that. Let us make it up to you…

Tradesy took this approach in one of their correction emails:

Well done, don’t you think?

What you don’t want to do is to cross your fingers and hope no one notices. Because someone will – it’s Murphy’s Law.

Pair that with the fact that data shows the average person checks their email 15 times per day, and it’s pretty unlikely you’ll skate by with your error going unnoticed.

Nice try.

Instead, address the issue and start taking steps to resolve it (like Moosejaw did in this ‘DUH’ email after an error with their email sign up process):

The offer presented in this example brings us to our next recommendation: Including a special offer for contacts to make up for the mistake.

Make up for the error

The next piece of the clean-up puzzle you’ll want to consider is how you’ll make up for the mistake, as this is an opportunity to restore the trust you’ve worked hard to earn from your email contacts.

Ask yourself:

  • Is there some small token you can offer in exchange for the mix-up?
  • What would be most valuable to your email contacts? (Free shipping? $XX off their next purchase?)
  • Does an offer or coupon make sense in this scenario?

Including a discount or offer to apologize can actually be an opportunity to drive sales, in spite of the mess-up.

With a compelling offer referenced in your subject line, you can drive clicks to your website (and even some sales.)  

99Designs offered their email contacts $10 off as part of their email apology:

Regardless of the offer you decide to include with your acknowledgement of the mistake, remember to take responsibility, whether the issue was yours or not.

No one likes excuses, and it’s a poor reflection of your brand if you push the blame off on someone else.

Take the high road instead and don’t sweat it. And even though it might sting a little to say, “Oops, my bad!”, doing so will pay off in the big picture.

Method also did this well within their apology email:

But what about if your issue was a bit more serious?

Glad you asked…

Include a personal touch

If you’re dealing with a more serious issue (like a data breach or a mass message sent to the wrong customer group), you may want to take a more formal approach with your email copy and add a personal touch to your follow-up.

These instances often call for a bit more finesse.

Attaching a real name to the message and apology (like the CEO or marketing person, for example), adds a human element and feels more sincere than a quick ‘oops’ response.

In your message, be sure to reiterate your company’s mission and values and explain that the error was a one-time issue – and that it’s not a true reflection of your brand.

Keep the tone formal to show that you’re taking the matter seriously.

Shutterfly did a nice job executing this strategy:

By attaching a person within your organization to your apology email, contacts with questions or concerns also have a point of contact for follow-up.

Be sure that the person you choose has some bandwidth to field questions for a few days after you hit send on this email to ensure proper follow-up while you work to resolve the issue. The last thing you want is more angry contacts.

Here’s another example, this time from Outbrain, of what this looks like in action. Notice the tone and sign-off from the company’s Marketing Director:

Make them laugh

When appropriate, you can also consider using some humor to lighten to mood around your marketing mistake.

This might make sense for minor issues like a spelling slip-up or a double-send – but is probably not ideal for more serious issues.

If you decide to go this route, just remember to keep the tone consistent with your brand voice – don’t be too outrageous. Keep the writing voice in line with how you usually sound to your audience.

For example: You wouldn’t want to go with an over-the-top comedic ‘sorry’ email if you typically keep things professional and polished in your other emails to customers. This would make it seem like you’re not taking the issue seriously – and can be a red flag around the reliability of your brand.

Fab, a decor company, did this well by playing up the funny side of their mistake in their follow-up ‘oops’ email:

A lighthearted tone and a spotlight on your brand’s sense of humor are a nice way to remind customers that behind your brand are real humans (who make mistakes occasionally.)

Reedsy also did a great job of playing up the humor with copy and images around an email mishap:


Both of these brands had room to play up their brand personality, but remember: It’s not always for everyone.

Go slow, check for mistakes

Two wrong emails in a row is far worse than one.

The last thing to remember as you work on your follow-up email after a mistake is to go slow, to take your time, and to triple-check for any mistakes. You don’t want to send another hasty email with mistakes and issues that frustrate your email contacts.

So before you hit send, be sure to review the message thoroughly – and in some cases, you may even consider hiring/assigning an editor or proofreader for this purpose.

Having a designated second set of eyes on your emails can help catch future errors and prevent additional issues from happening – a wise investment.

If nothing else, be sure to use free checker tools like Grammarly that can help catch mistakes that are missed by spell check and tools like Litmus that let you preview your emails in different email clients (to ensure they’re displaying correctly.)

Don’t let email marketing mistakes get you down

If (or, when, maybe we should say) a mistake happens, try not to overreact. After all, you’ve read this post – so now you have a plan. Don’t sweat it.

Even the biggest email error or tech flub can be resolved with the right steps taken post-mistake. As long as you’re not sweeping your mess-up under the digital rug, you can be honest with your contacts and get back on the right page.

They know you’re human. It’s not the end of the world.

When an email marketing mistake happens, just remember:

  • Get out in front of the issue, don’t hope no one notices
  • Make up for the error with a discount or offer
  • Be sincere, attach a personal element when needed
  • Use humor when appropriate, but don’t go overboard
  • Triple check before you hit send and use tools to catch errors

Need a tool that can help avoid email marketing mistakes in the first place?

At Sendlane, we offer built-in ways to check your emails for errors before you hit send! So you can always be sure your email marketing content is in tip top shape.

With a free 14 day trial of Sendlane, you can start getting more out of your email efforts and leveraging smart tools to simplify your marketing efforts from start to finish.

Caitlin Hutchinson

Caitlin Hutchinson

Social Media & Community Manager at Sendlane
A native of San Diego, California, Caitlin has a passion for developing creative and engaging marketing content. She is primarily responsible for overseeing the development, execution and delivery of digital content across all of Sendlane’s channels as well as maintaining an online presence of Sendlane's team culture. She has enjoyed being a part of a powerhouse team where she has had the opportunity to wear a variety of hats and take her knowledge and creativity to the next level. When not focusing on increasing Sendlane's online presence you'll find Caitlin playing music on her guitar or piano and spending time with her Husband and their rescue dog, Piper.
Caitlin Hutchinson