Digital Marketing fails (and how to save them)


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Toddlers covered in paint

Have you ever sent out an email or blog post after editing, revising, testing, and revising once again, only to notice the most obvious and taunting error staring you right in the face the moment you press send? It happens to the best of us. Even with an experienced editing team, sometimes things just slip through, and although we are all human, that doesn’t excuse us when we send out “Dear {Name}” to a few thousand loyal subscribers.

If this happens, you’ve got two options:

  1. Hide under your desk for a second before you completely lose it, while trying to convince yourself to get up and start thinking again before the backlash comes.
  2. Hold off on panicking and grab everyone on your marketing team for a quick “how do we fix this” powwow and go, go, go!

We definitely don’t recommend option 1, so let’s skip it and take a look at some common digital marketing fails and how to recover from them so that next time your stomach drops with the realization of your mistake you’ll have a plan of action to fall back on.

When personalization becomes impersonal

You are absolutely racking your brain on how you could have sent a mass email with such a rookie error in it. But pull yourself together and put yourself in your audience’s shoes for a moment. As a loyal subscriber, they don’t want to feel like just another name in your CRM. Therefore, a great option would be to tell them that they aren’t. It’s time to apologize with grace.

Send out a second email, but make sure to follow a few rules:

  • This time address them correctly. Ensure your lists are up-to-date and accurate.
  • Write honestly and sincerely
  • Keep the message light
  • Use a plain email format – don’t use your recovery email to show off
  • Get the timing right – don’t let valuable hours pass by before you show your subscribers that they really do matter to you

Getting your audience all wrong

At MarTech Europe, eBay’s Senior Director of Marketing, James Moore, shared a story about an automation error. This came about from an email sent by eBay with ‘items that may be of interest’. As a jewelry vendor, its recipient may have expected to receive an email with material useful for practicing her craft, but instead she was delivered an email full of men’s underwear. Why? One day out of the many eBay was browsed from her account, her husband got online and did some shopping of his own.

This is a tricky error. James immediately recognized the need to fix the automation process so that users’ typical searches are not overridden by unhabitual queries. You will never be able to control user behavior and hence may always have imperfect data sets. You can, however, fine tune your marketing automation so that the most representative data is used to target your audience better. Adding a simple question at the bottom of each mail such as “Is this relevant to you?” linked to a short questionnaire will bring in valuable feedback and help you to identify problems and prevent errors like the one mentioned in the future. It also gives you the chance to communicate to your audience that you value their opinion and want to deliver them the most relevant content.

Unfortunate Display Ad Placement

Aflac display ad placed on a duck fear page

Image from eConsultancy

Unfortunate ad placement have your brand under fire? Some of the most innocent and generic keywords can get inappropriately paired with articles that make your brand seem insensitive or offensive. This is obviously not intentional by any means, but it only takes one screenshot going viral before you’ve realized the fault in your display advertisement placement.

This situation is a bit more complicated. As marketers we have the power to control our campaign message, but even with the strictest placement guidelines in place, we can’t always control the content on host sites. So what’s the first thing you should do to rectify this situation? Get into your adserver and block your ad from being delivered to that site (at least for the time being) until you can either replace the ad with a different, non-offensive one or ensure the content has been eliminated.

It’s vital that your team is constantly aware of where their ads are showing up the most and that they know those sites well in order to optimize targeting. A daily or weekly table with a breakdown of placements should be reviewed regularly in order to make an effort to not end up on lists such as  Ten horrifying display ad placements.

Social Media Wars

Social networks give just about everyone with access to the internet a voice to say whatever they please. This means that no matter how neutral or non controversial you aim to be, you can be targeted and pulled into a social media war by a dissatisfied customer or audience member. However, as a digital marketer it is not in your best interest to add fuel to the flame. Choose your battles carefully and your wording as well if you get pulled into a sticky social situation.

Before you act, consider whether your response should be public or private, apologetic or just understanding. Carefully think through the situation. You always want to acknowledge the situation and ensure that your followers’ or audience’s voice has been heard. By simply acknowledging their concern you may create the opportunity to turn this negative experience into a positive one.

Own it

Rather than hanging your head low when your marketing report rolls around, own up to the error and make sure it is communicated. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn, but it’s important that everyone viewing the report understands that the anomalies in behavior of your KPIs are due to errors and aren’t reflective of the trend. Comment on your KPIs; clear notes will make sure your readers aren’t deceived by the oddly behaving indicators and below average forecasts. By highlighting your mistakes, your team will be able to interpret the implications of simple errors and make better decisions for future actions.  

We’d love to hear your story! Have any of these embarrassing marketing mistakes happened to you? How did you resolve them?

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Holly McKendry

Sweetspot Marketing Director. Wakeboarder & travel enthusiast. Communication Studies graduate of Texas State University, San Marcos.

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