Email automation can be a powerful tool for businesses, allowing you to reach more customers and prospects with relevant, timely messaging. However, without the right strategy and execution, your email automation efforts can easily go awry. From incorrect personalization to messages sent at the wrong time, small mistakes can lead to big problems like lost revenue, damaged customer relationships, and compliance issues.
We’ll explore some of the most common email automation fails businesses make, look at real-world examples, and provide tips to help you avoid making the same errors with your own email campaigns. With the right knowledge, you can leverage automation while also ensuring your emails are engaging, effective, and error-free.
Sending Too Many Emails
One of the easiest ways to upset subscribers is to bombard them with a constant barrage of emails. When you automate campaigns without considering frequency and volume, it’s simple to end up sending too many messages. This overwhelms recipients and leads many to unsubscribe or mark their emails as spam.
Brands often make the mistake of getting automation tool happy and blasting out endless streams of emails without considering subscriber preferences. For example, when online shoe retailer Shoe Dazzle launched an automated email program, they began sending members up to 20 emails per week—way too much for the average subscriber. As complaints rolled in, they ended up needing to pause the program and re-evaluate their strategy.
How to Avoid It: Carefully evaluate subscriber expectations and preferences before launching automated programs. Send a maximum of 2-3 emails per week, gauging feedback to ensure you aren’t exceeding subscriber limits. Segment your lists based on user preferences and behavior, tailoring the frequency accordingly. Include easy unsubscribe links in each email as well.
Getting the Timing Wrong
Even if your email content itself is flawless, sending it at the wrong time can tank open and click-through rates. Late night or early morning messages may be missed, while middle of the workday emails could be marked as distracting or unimportant.
For example, an ecommerce company might automate a cart abandonment email to go out 2 hours after a shopper leaves their site. However, sending it in the middle of the night means most shoppers will never see the message. Even worse, an email sent at say, 1am, may convey the impression that the company doesn’t care about providing good service.
Pro tip: Automated emails should complement natural consumer habits and routines, not compete with them.
How to Avoid It: Study user behavior on your site, social channels, and previous campaign engagement to determine optimal timing. Test different days of the week and times of day to see which performs best. While automation tech can schedule emails for you, the most successful timing will depend on your subscribers and industry.
Getting Names Wrong
Personalizing emails with the recipient’s first name makes your messages more relevant, increasing open rates by an average of 26%. However, if you get names wrong, it achieves the opposite effect—destroying trust and engagement.
Getting names wrong happens more often than you might think. Whether it’s a typo, inaccurate data, or failure to update changes, the smallest error can lead to sending “Hi Barbara”, to Barbara who goes by Bob. This small blunder signals that you don’t really know your recipients or care enough to get their names right.
For example, an automated birthday email or special offer that inaccurately addresses customers will almost certainly lead to frustration and complaints rather than goodwill.
How to Avoid It: Double check name data before launching campaigns and implement a process to continually verify and update your information. Give subscribers opportunities to correct or update info to ensure you address them properly in automated communications. Consider adding a name checking function to confirmation emails, or periodically send out a name verification email.
Honoring user preferences is a must for successful email automation. If a recipient unsubscribes, their request should be processed immediately and they should be excluded from future mailings. Sounds simple enough, but some brands completely fail at this aspect of automation.
For example, meal kit company Blue Apron landed in hot water when unsubscribe requests were ignored by their automated platform. Subscribers continued receiving weekly menus and offers, even after requesting to be removed from the mailing list. This disregard for user choice damaged the brand’s reputation.
How to Avoid It: First, make sure you have a clear one-click unsubscribe process on all automated emails. Next, integrate your automation platform with your CRM to ensure removal requests are instantly reflected and respected across channels. Lastly, monitor unsubscribe reports to optimize sending frequency, content, and segmentation strategies over time.
Relying on One-Size-Fits All Messaging
The benefit of automation is the ability to customize content for each subscriber. After all, the emails you send a first-time shopper checking out your online store should differ from what you send a frequent VIP customer. Failing to tailor messages comes across as lazy, irrelevant, and frankly, a waste of the recipients’ time.
For example, clothing e-retailer Stitch Fix found themselves in hot water when customers noticed the styling suggestions in automated emails didn’t take into account individual style profiles or past purchase data. Recipients called out the lack of personalization, saying the generic content showed the brand didn’t care.
How to Avoid It: Build segments in your email database using behavioral, demographic, and past campaign data. Develop customized automations with dynamic content for each segment. Pull in individual preferences and data like past purchases to shape relevant suggestions for each subscriber. Treat each recipient as an individual by leveraging what you know about them.
Automating Without a Strategy
Many brands fail by tackling email automation tactically without an integrated strategy. They automate every campaign possible without considering how each program fits into the overall picture. This fragmented approach means missed opportunities for engagement and sales.
For example, automating cart abandonment emails without having an onboarding series in place to educate subscribers means lower re-engagement rates. Important contextual messaging is missing. Similarly, launching an automated promotional series without understanding typical sales cycles leads to offers being sent at the wrong times.
How to Avoid It: Map out an end-to-end automation strategy aligned to customer lifecycle and behaviors. Look at the customer journey, identifying key moments when automation can add value. Determine how automated programs will work together, not just individually. Build in segmented onboarding flows to set the foundation for later messaging. Time promotions and offers based on known cycles and previous behaviors.
Focusing on Volume Over Quality
Another common failure is prioritizing the number of emails sent over creating quality content. This typically happens when marketers become so focused on tech capabilities that they forget about writing compelling messages.
The consequences are obvious. Irrelevant, poorly written emails perform poorly. For example, hypothetical subject lines like “New Products in Stock!” or “You Have Rewards Points” are vague and impersonal, leading to disinterest. Even worse, some brands automate emails with no copy at all—just empty templates waiting to be filled.
How to Avoid It: Assign skilled copywriters to develop automation content tailored to each audience and scenario. Develop emotionally intelligent copy that speaks directly to subscribers with relevant information. Subject lines should be specific, personalized, and intriguing based on the intended segment. Never automate hollow templates and always prioritize meaningful messaging.
Lack of Testing & Optimization
The most successful brands continually test and optimize their automations to improve engagement. On the other hand, neglecting to monitor performance and refine campaigns means low growth potential and wasted budgets.
Without ongoing testing, you miss the opportunity to try different segments, content, designs, timing, and more to determine what resonates best. For example, you may discover that promoting seasonal offers on Monday mornings boosts click-throughs by 15%. Or that product tutorials sent mid-week perform better for newer subscribers compared to weekends. But if you “set and forget” your automations, you miss out on these valuable insights.
How to Avoid It: Make a commitment to continually test and optimize automated programs. A/B test major components like subject lines, content, and timing to guide refinements. Review campaign performance reports regularly, adjusting based on opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and conversions. Monitor audience behaviors and preferences to identify emerging trends that warrant changes. Be willing to kill low-performing automations to maximize overall impact.
Not Considering Compliance & Privacy
With automation capabilities expanding rapidly, it’s easy to get wrapped up in possibilities without considering compliance. However, failing to abide by anti-spam, privacy, and data protection laws can land your brand in legal hot water, regardless of intent.
For example, a UK university was recently fined over $150,000 for violating anti-spam laws. Through automated communications, they illegally obtained student email addresses to send unsolicited marketing messages. Intentional or not, the oversight was costly.
How to Avoid It: Build compliance into your automation process from the start. Review anti-spam, privacy, and data protection laws in the countries where you operate. Obtain opt-in consent before adding contacts to your database. Allow recipients to easily opt-out at any time. Develop a process for responding to requests like do not mail. Routinely purge your lists of inactive contacts. Work with your IT team to ensure your email setup aligns with laws and best practices.
Failing to Monitor for Errors
Even if you follow all the tips outlined so far, mistakes can still happen. Automated systems fail, data inputs get corrupted, integrations break down, and technical errors occur. That’s why monitoring campaigns in real-time to catch issues early is so important.
Unmonitored automations often mean that mistakes go undetected initially. For example, a major US retail chain faced backlash when a technical error led to hundreds of customers receiving passwords and credit card information belonging to strangers. Failure to monitor the automated data transfers meant the problem wasn’t caught right away.
How to Avoid It: Set up real-time monitoring tools and alerts tuned to your automation systems. Develop processes for regularly auditing data inputs used in campaigns. Document issues and use them to improve integrations and error handling capabilities. Follow up on subscriber complaints quickly, reviewing them for potential systemic issues. Refine your quality assurance and troubleshooting approach continuously to minimize future errors.
Key Takeaways & Tips to Remember
Email automation missteps happen, but they don’t have to cripple your business. With the right strategy, rigorous planning, and ongoing optimization, you can leverage automation to take your email initiatives to the next level. Here are some key tips:
- Map out an integrated automation strategy aligned to the customer journey. Look at the big picture.
- Segment thoroughly, developing tailored content and automations for each audience.
- Test and refine continuously to improve performance. Assume there’s always room for improvement.
- Monitor in real-time to catch errors early. Have a risk mitigation plan in place.
- Respect subscriber preferences at every step. Make unsubscribing easy.
- Focus on creating quality, compelling content over volume. Prioritize personalization.
- Follow all compliance and privacy laws. Seek expert guidance to avoid missteps.
- Getsubscriber consent and be transparent. Clearly communicate automated programs.
By learning from other company’s mistakes, you gain the knowledge needed to make your automations engaging, effective, and error-free. Leverage the power of automation to build lasting relationships with each subscriber.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: What are some signs my email automation strategy may be failing?
A: Indicators of a failing or subpar automation strategy include high unsubscribe rates, spam complaints, low open/click rates, irrelevant content, and lack of conversions from automated campaigns. Still not seeing the results you expect over time despite adjustments can signal deeper issues.
Q: How often should I send marketing emails if I want to avoid annoying subscribers?
A: As a general rule, aim to send no more than 2-3 marketing emails per week to avoid overwhelming your subscribers. However, the ideal frequency depends on your industry and audience preferences. Test different frequencies, monitor complaints and unsubscribe rates, and adjust accordingly. Allow subscribers to set their own preferences as well.
Q: How much personalization and segmentation should I incorporate?
A: Personalization and segmentation should be central components of your strategy, not an afterthought. Leverage behavioral and known data to group contacts into 3-5 core segments to start. Develop targeted automations and dynamic content tailored to the needs of each segment. Continue refining your approach over time based on testing and performance.
Q: What compliance laws and regulations apply to email automation?
A: Key laws include CAN-SPAM Act, GDPR, Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (for the EU), and Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation. Requirements range from consent to unsubscribe options so involve your legal team to ensure complete compliance specific to your locale and subscribers.
Q: What tips do you have for writing effective marketing emails?
A: Some best practices include using concise, scannable copy; crafting relevant subject lines; making content exclusive when possible; segmenting and personalizing; using visuals to engage; conveying authenticity in your tone; and focusing on helping the recipient. Test different approaches and continuously optimize based on data.
Email automation opens new opportunities to engage customers in a personalized, relevant way. But without the proper strategy and execution, it also amplifies the potential for major mistakes. By learning from other company’s errors, documenting your processes, constantly optimizing, and keeping the customer experience at the core, you can maximize the value of automation. Utilize Klaviyo email marketing to seamlessly implement these tips and avoid common pitfalls, ensuring that your automated communications become an invaluable tool for strengthening customer relationships over time.