December 21, 2015

My Favorite Mistake. And How to Make the Most of Yours.

My Favorite Mistake. And How to Make the Most of Yours.

When was the last time you said, “Ooops,” or “Oh, sh&*!” after hitting send? The last time you sent out a letter with a glaring error? Spelled someone’s name wrong? Made a promise you didn’t properly research? Ticked someone off with the way you worded something? Sent something to the wrong person?


If you wear a marketing hat long enough, you’re bound to make some marketing blunders. It happens to the best of us. The real question is: How did you handle it?


Early in my career I had a boss named Bonnie. She had a great sense of humor and I loved workdays with her because I loved laughing. As soon as she joined the company, she had a meeting with the marketing department, and she encouraged each of us to share our worst marketing blunder so we could all laugh about it. And I’m sure, so we would understand that she was human, and that we were safe with her.


Bonnie told the story of her worst blooper, and it has stayed with me for more than 25 years:


Bonnie and her husband owned a newspaper in a very small mountain town. It was a tight-knit community and news was often slow, so they did a lot of human-interest stories. There was a couple in town celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. Both of them were pushing 100 years of age, and folks in the town had thrown them a celebration. Local businesses had pitched in for food, drink and entertainment. And Bonnie and her husband printed a photo of the couple in the newspaper – front and center – with this caption (names have been changed to protect the guilty): James and Evelyn Jones celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. Evelyn wears a corsage provided by Smalltown Florist, Inc., and James wears a matching boutonniere in his butthole.


According to Bonnie, the unfortunate buttonhole error was not nearly as amusing as the letters and faxes they received from readers, asking about the exact procedures used for boutonniere placement.


So why do I bring this up? Other than to find a way to legitimately say butthole in a blog post? (I may be pushing 50, but I’m not all THAT mature.) I bring it up because I know the horrible sinking feeling of coming face-to-face with a communications error.


So once you’ve made an error, what should you do?


Apologize. Anyone who tells you that you shouldn’t apologize in public is guiding you to stack a second error on top of your first. I’ve worked for companies that refused to say they were sorry for fear of looking weak or being sued or being branded as wrong. Believe me, nothing makes you look weaker than hiding and denying in the wake of a legitimate error.


Say you’re sorry. And I don’t mean one of those half-apologies where you really say nothing. Like, “We regret that you feel this way,” or “Our intention was not to offend.”


Say, “We’re sorry.”


Or even better, say, “I’m sorry.”


Be honest about the fact that you’re sorry it happened. And then, say what you’ll do to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future. Don’t make excuses. Don’t put it off on someone else.


You have no idea how powerful this phrase can be: “I’m terribly sorry, Jim. That should never have happened. I’ve met with my team and we’re working on solutions now to make sure it never happens to a customer again.” BAM.


What’s Jim got to say now? Likely, he’ll say, “Thanks for saying that. I appreciate it.” And it will all be over. And if he doesn’t, you’ve done the right thing. And Jim was going to be a problem from the start.


I got the email below last week from a famous Internet guru. (Likely one you know and love, although I won’t mention any names.)

Hi Julia,

I called you by the wrong name in the email I sent you yesterday evening. It was a glitch in the system, and I am so sorry for any confusion.

Rest assured I won’t keep calling you Kyle!



Maintain your sense of humor. I like to tell my clients that there’s no such thing as a marketing emergency. And I believe that. Lives are not at stake here. And it’s important that we not take ourselves too seriously. Everyone makes mistakes. And those around us need to know that we can laugh them off and move on. I’m not suggesting we be cavalier about serious things. Only that we stop and truly analyze the gravity of the error, and be willing, somehow, to embrace the humorous side.


Communicate the truth. Sometimes errors present themselves in the form of mistruths. These mistruths might cost a customer time or energy. Or the error might give the wrong financial impression. Maybe we publish a wrong date or time. We post a price that’s incorrect. We communicate a quantity that’s too large or a make a commitment we can’t keep.


If this happens to you, take pains – even if it means great pains – to retract the mistruth and communicate the truth. This will likely save you heartache, and may also save you dollars (if folks try to hold you to a price you didn’t intend to print).


When you communicate the truth, do it truthfully. “We want to inform you that the $19 online course we promoted in our last email is actually $199. This was an unfortunate typo that we didn’t catch at proofreading. We’re sorry for any inconvenience and want to make sure you’re aware of the correct pricing for the course.”


It’s the inclination of all marketers – of all humans – to want to skip over the error. To hope that no one will notice. To avoid addressing it at all. This will likely pile a second mistake on top of the first mistake. When you notice an error that misleads, jump on it immediately.


Make amends. It’s not always necessary to make amends. But sometimes you might want to. Here’s an example:


When I launched my Unforgettable U course last October, I hosted a free webinar where I gave away free content, and then introduced the course at the end. I promised attendees that if they stayed until the end of the webinar – through my sales presentation – I’d give them a link to an additional juicy piece of content. As promised, my team and I sent out an email with a link that night. But the link was broken.


Several attendees sent me an email alerting me to the broken link. The next morning, we sent out another email. And THAT link was broken, too. It had worked fine in the test email, but not in the actual broadcast. The error had to do with a permissions issue in my CRM system that I neither knew about, nor understood. So I sent a third email.


The third time, the linked worked. And I included a 10% off coupon (worth either $50 or $200, depending on which course was selected) as way of apology. I was embarrassed. But I also wanted the attendees of the webinar to know that I appreciated them, and that it mattered to me that they were frustrated. Rather than backlash, I got a very warm and appreciative response.


Consider if there’s a way you can make amends, and if doing so will strengthen your clients’ trust in you or their relationships with you.


And here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you about errors and mistakes:


Take time to stop and fix the system. If your error occurs as a result of poor proofreading, then hire a proofreader. If it’s a systems error, get in touch with the systems operator and find out how to correct it. If your error is the work of an employee or a subcontractor, make sure that individual understands how to avoid the error next time. However you approach it, make sure you approach it. Because it’s this step that turns a mistake from a nightmare into a teaching moment.


So tell me, what’s your favorite mistake? If you dare, please share in the comments below.

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