Admit Your Mistakes or Not?

No-one is a bigger fan than me of Marketing Sherpa: their content, newsletters and events are some of the best around. Furthermore, their emails and other outbound communications are always highly professional and reflective of a company whose reputation is one of trust, credibility, and authority.

So imagine my surprise when I received an email last week, a plain text email at that, with the subject line: “It’s Been One of Those Days …” The email continued:

Dear Readers,

Well, you know how some days are good and some days are not so great in a marketer’s life? Today is one of those “not so” days. … If you haven’t noticed, we are experiencing technical difficulties with the site. If you tried to send an email to someone at Sherpa, that probably didn’t go through either.

Please bear with us. We hope to have the problem fixed soon. If you have any urgent questions, please call our Customer Service team at … “

The email was signed by Marketing Sherpa’s corporate communications director. Now I admire this person’s candor and willingness to own up to a problem. But in her shoes, would I have sent this email? No I would not. Here’s why:

* the number of people who experienced problems on the Sherpa Website and were troubled by it was dwarfed by the many thousands of people who had no idea that such a problem occurred and now (thanks to this email) were made aware of it …

* the informal, almost casual, tone of the email (from the subject line onward) was completely contrary to the Marketing Sherpa brand.

Marketing Sherpa does a masterful job of portraying itself as a professional organization and an authority in its field. A plain text email with a subject line I might expect to get from a colleague after a particularly trying week is not supportive of that brand. Frankly, it makes the organization look mickey mouse.

Hey, eBay has server problems. Amazon has server problems. But you don’t see Jeff Bezos sending me an email telling me what an awful day he’s had.

In other words, I think the email did more harm than good.

What does this have to do with demand generation? Well, in online marketing, things can go wrong. Most of the time it’s nobody’s fault, but stuff happens. We’ve all been there.

A few months back, we were alerted to a faulty URL (not our fault, promise) in an email that was part of a client’s ongoing lead nurturing program. By the time it was detected, a few hundred prospects had received the errant email. The options were these:

A. send the prospects an apology and explanation and the correct URL
B. re-broadcast the original email with the correct URL (with no explanation)
C. do nothing

We lobbied with the client for Option C. Our argument was simply this: click rates being what they are, a few dozen prospects at best had experienced problems with the email. Most were blissfully unaware. If we simply re-broadcast the email, we’d not only annoy the recipients but it would look like the client had made an even bigger mistake by sending the same message twice. In other words, we’d do more harm than good. (And I should mention, these same prospects would receive subsequent emails in the series with no problem.) So we let it go.

Now clearly if you’re eBay or Amazon or Citibank or even the local grocery store that advertises Heinz Ketchup in the Sunday circular at the wrong price, you can’t just ignore mistakes. But the rest of us can. And should.

What do you think? Would you send the email that Marketing Sherpa did? Comments welcome.

3 thoughts on “Admit Your Mistakes or Not?

  1. Matt Heinz

    Definitely would not have sent the email. Way too many people unaffected.

    Zillow actually made this same mistake a couple days ago. The site was apparently down for a little less than 30 minutes, but that didn’t stop them from posting not one but three posts on their blog with updates and finally an “all clear”. Thanks to this “transparency” strategy, several thousand RSS feed readers of Zillow (including press, analysts, and I’m sure many more influencers) were essentially informed that Zillow had stability problems, when they likely wouldn’t have noticed at all otherwise…

  2. courtney benson

    Howard –
    Totally agree with you. It almost seems as if the person who sent the email did not confer with management. I just can’t imagine that Marketing Sherpa executives would do something this stupid.

  3. Cindy Kilgore

    I respect Marketing Sherpa’s willingness to own up to the issue much more than the “shh, maybe nobody noticed” approach. I’d have more respect for Amazon or some of the stock photo sites I use (or have stopped using) if they could let me know they are fixing the problem. I have completely stopped visiting some sites due to difficulties, but had I been aware of somebody DOING something about the problem, I might still be a customer.

    I also know that not everyone is like me, and maybe more people thought such a notification was a bad idea than good. You can’t please everyone, and if majority rules, there are definitely more people who had not noticed than who did. But who are the people who DID notice – regular customers and interested prospect? Just some food for thought.


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