My Last ClickZ Column Had a Typo


My last ClickZ column had a typo. At least, that’s what a colleague put in the subject line of the email he sent me. After staring at the unopened message for what seemed like an eternity, I decided to be brave and see how bad an error I made.

The email read, “Ha! I knew that would get you to open this email faster than if I just would’ve said ’hi.’ I guess these old tricks still drive response, even for ’experts.’”

Heaving a big sigh of relief, I realized my colleague was right; sometimes, mistakes lead to great responses in email marketing programs. Some have done so well, they’ve morphed into realized marketing tactics. A few of my favorite disasters-turned-successes are below (names masked to protect the innocent). And, yes, they’re all true.

The Auto Company and the Holiday Message

After the holidays, a friend at an email marketing technology company conducted a demo for an auto giant. Part of the demo showed how easy it is to edit HTML copy within the interface.

My friend demonstrated this by showing a newsletter he built for his family and friends called “What I Did Over the Holidays.” It was the type of newsletter you typically receive in holiday cards from friends, filled with photos of his kids and more.

As my friend concluded the demo, the prospect asked to demo the technology to his boss. My friend left the login information with him thinking nothing could go wrong.

During the demo, the prospect uploaded the entire auto database as a test. Then, he accidentally sent the “What I Did for the Holidays” message to his entire database, with the auto dealer’s name in the sender field.

The result: The newsletter had an open rate of more than 50 percent, and produced double the typical site traffic. The next email also had an extremely high open rate, too. People were actually anticipating what the next email would contain.

Today’s use: This client has adopted the “holiday” newsletter. Every year, a personal email message goes out as part of the relationship marketing program to give recipients that “sincere” feel. And every year, this email and the one immediately following still drive the highest opens and site traffic.

Insurance Giant Sends a “WTF” Note to Nonresponders

An insurance company was implementing some business rules, which would automatically send a message to members who haven’t opened an email in the last six months. The email was intended to be a nicely branded message, reminding people of the opt-in messages’ value.

The technical team tested the automation using a pretty blunt subject line: “WTF! Don’t you like our emails?” The body copy was left blank. Testing went well. A beautifully designed email was loaded into the system but named similarly to the test email. The test email was sent to the mailing list in error (and halted after only 10,000 were delivered).


The result: 25 percent of nonresponders opened this email. More important, over 500 replies came back actually stating why recipients didn’t find the email messages valuable or worth reading. The comments were candid and hit home in many cases.

Today’s use: This client broadened its request for feedback (using less-direct subject lines). It used the comments to redesign its entire email program to accommodate readers. The email program now generates a significant revenue contribution.

Bank CEO Sends Fashion Video to All Employees

A large bank’s CEO uses rich media as an internal email communication vehicle. Once a month, a 15-30 second video teaser of his company update is emailed to all employees. This widely read email has been a favorite for employees, who enjoy the ability to see the news in their inboxes.

During some layoffs one month, a disgruntled video employee was let go. He turned over the CEO’s latest video stream URL to the team and went home. When he got home, he logged on to the company’s FTP (define) site and switched the CEO’s video with video of a fashion-show catwalk. That morning, the email went out with the headline, “New company direction — CEO comments” under the video box (now showing the fashion show).

The result: Within 15 minutes, the stream was redirected to the right footage, but the viral impact was phenomenal and helped provide a much needed break in a tense environment.

We frontline email marketers are very aware that almost no campaign drives along without hitting a few bumps in the road. Isn’t it nice to know in some cases, these bumps make us better marketers? If you have a disaster-turned-success, send it to me. I’d love to hear about it.

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