3 Ts of an Apology Email: Target, Truth, and Template

  |  July 2, 2013   |  Comments

No one likes making mistakes, but you can give your team the tools to be prepared when their best laid plans go off the rails.

Subject line typos. Wrong promo code. Mailed the wrong list. Coding issues. You can try to avoid mistakes but eventually they will happen. While you can't anticipate when a mistake will occur, you can take steps now to be prepared. Yes, an ounce of preparation can calm the barrage of impending chaos that can occur when you have mis-mailed, but you will also need to save potentially lost sales, mitigate deliverability risks, decrease unsubscriptions, and calm your most loyal customers.

These 3 Ts will show you how to keep calm and save your promotions in these crisis situations.


Panic leads to bad decisions. "Remail the list with a correction" is one of the first thoughts many marketers will think when an error has been identified. This, however, can make a bad situation even worse. Stop the deployment of the mailing containing the error as quickly as possible. Then determine how you can isolate those who have been impacted. The optimal population could change based on timing, but the goal is to narrow your apology email audience to only those who were impacted. For example, if only a small population was sent the message before you stopped the deployment, target that subscriber set and do not include those who were not even mailed. If you mailed your entire list and some time has passed, target those who opened the email and were exposed to the error. Sending an apology to the entire list can confuse and frustrate your subscribers, though, ironically, I have seen apology emails do very well even when sent to subscribers who did not have an opportunity to see the original mistake. The curiosity factor can lead to some additional sales (especially if the apology contains a make-good offer), but you need to understand and balance the risks before apologizing to your entire audience.


Reminder: you are a human and so is your subscriber. Of course, you can send an email telling subscribers "Correction: Shorts are 10% off not 20% off this weekend" but that is rather mechanical. Some of the most effective apology emails break the fourth wall that separates brand and consumer and apologize using conversational, playful language. I've seen sad puppies paired with teary confessionals, subject lines that transition from totally promotional to "Oops…My Bad: Shorts are only 10% off." Clearly and quickly identifying the error will help decrease any subscriber confusion and the playful tone could mitigate frustrations like a decrease in a discount.

There is also value in being truthful about what went wrong. If a mailing intended for your Atlanta store went to your entire list, then you have a bit of explaining to do. You do not want your subscriber to question your capability of storing and using their personal information. In situations like this, explaining why they received a mis-targeted email could mitigate any concerns about their data.


Many marketers will simply remail with an apologetic subject line and the same email design. This may make sense to you since you are familiar with the email design and the mistake that has been made, but many of your subscribers could be oblivious to your subject lines and think they received duplicate emails. This can lead to increased unsubscriptions and potentially more spam complaints and delivery issues.

Create a flexible template containing your standard headers and footers and a section for text in between. You can use the copy area to explain how the mistake was made, the correction, and possibly a make-good offer if the potential impact of the mistake is severe. Having this template standing by will help you communicate the error more clearly without having to pull in emergency design resources. This template is also a great insurance policy heading into the busy holiday season.

No one likes making mistakes, but you can give your team the tools to be prepared when their best laid plans go off the rails. Taking these measures now will help you and your team to focus on a timely solution rather than the panic of the mistake.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Jim Davidson

As an expert in email, mobile, and social strategies, Jim brings 15 years of experience in online marketing, managing email and cross-channel programs for top retail clients. From strategic vision to implementation, Jim has led clients to successfully meet aggressive revenue and performance goals. As Bronto's head of research, he regularly publishes industry-focused white papers, research reports, and contributes to the Bronto Blog.

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