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The art of the correction message

What to say when what you said wasn't what you meant to say

Here at Emma, we like to talk about how your email marketing strategy is a constantly evolving conversation with your customers and clients. And, as is the way of all conversations, it's likely that someone will eventually misspeak. When that someone is you, it can be a bad feeling – few things are more humbling than making a public mistake. Fortunately, the conversational nature of email is on your side, and you can correct yourself as soon as you realize your error. A prompt correction and apology lets you not only set something right but also to show a nice flicker of personality. If done with a touch of class and maybe even a little humor, an apology can even strengthen the bond between you and your subscribers.

Listen to your readers.

Since even the most careful vetting process can miss an error, it's comforting to know that your proofreaders aren't your last line of defense – your audience is. A great example of this popped up on our radar a few years ago. Nashville's Belcourt Theatre boasts a devoted audience of film buffs, so when the beloved movie house misidentified a showtime for one of their upcoming films, a diligent reader was happy to let them know. A strong communication channel with their audience meant that the Belcourt was able to promptly issue a correction message.

As a bonus, they turned a typographical error into an opportunity to show appreciation for their readers. What should you do if you find yourself in a similar position? The same thing you would do if you misspoke at a dinner party: Correct yourself, apologize for the error and give credit to anyone who may have helped you see it.

The RSVP name and email address you associate with your email marketing strategy isn't just there to let your readers know who they're hearing from – it's also there so they can get in touch with you. If your loyal readers spot a mistake in your email, an email reply is the handiest way for them to let you know about it, so use an active email address and keep a close eye on your inbox. 

Be apologetic. 

This really good email from Really Good Emails was the perfect combination of helpful and self-deprecating. Their users had been experiencing image loading issues that week, so the Really Good Emails team sent out an apology that explained the problem and let recipients know that it had been fixed. Plus, they cleverly catered their content to the topic at hand and highlighted examples of great "breaking the bad news" emails they had seen. 

Be prompt.

You'll probably see one of the highest spikes in activity in the two hours immediately after you send your campaign. The sooner you send a correction message, the more likely these early respondents are to connect with your correction rather than your error.

Be specific.

You don't always have to craft a completely new message to address a mistake – sometimes it's better to correct your original content and send it out again. If you send a revised version of your original message, be clear about the correction you're making, starting with the subject line. If your audience clearly sees "correction" there, they'll probably skip the first message and go directly to the follow-up. And in the introduction to your email, it's a good idea to specifically address the error, just in case some folks were puzzled by your earlier message.

In this example from Litmus, they called attention to their initial mistake with the subject line "Take 2: The Email Design Conference is back—twice." Their ESP had stripped out a section of the original email and made it look funny to their recipients on the first send, so the team simply fixed the error and re-sent the corrected version. 

Be accommodating.

If your error affected the audience's experience, you may want to take an extra step, like offering a special discount to your readers. When Fab.com accidentally sent out a test email that featured only an image of a cat looking into a mirror (which, understandably, puzzled their recipients), they quickly made up for the goof by sending out a clever email that apologized for "littering" their recipients' inboxes and offered a 10% discount to make up for it. We liked it so much we dedicated a whole blog post to it.

And a bonus: Uberflip recently sent an email to the wrong list, so they sent out a MacMail-style apology that featured this panda GIF:

And really, who could stay mad after watching that adorable guy? Well played, Uberflip. 

Remember, email is one of the most personal communication channels available to you, and if someone has invited you to share information with them regularly, they're likely to be forgiving of the occasional mistake. Careful proofing will keep your message consistent and your apologies rare, but everyone makes mistakes from time to time. (Hey, we've had to correct ourselves before, and email is kind of our thing.) A prompt correction and apology will go a long way toward showing your customers the human side of your business.