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Failed email campaigns
Mehdi HussenOct 18, 2023 2:47:52 AM14 min read

What Email Marketers Can Learn from Failed Campaigns

Did it happen to you that your email campaign backfired despite spending time and effort ideating, designing, and personalizing it?

Email marketing failures are not in our hands. Marketers fall in hot waters not because they did not put in effort but probably because the timing or the content was not curated properly.

There are ample reasons email marketing campaigns can fail, but the worst are the ones that happen because the team was unaware. The stakes with email marketing are very high because emails continue to rule the chart as one of the top communication channels. Secondly, email marketing (holistically) is more affordable than paid social advertisements, giving almost $36 per dollar invested.

It sounds great until a mistake happens. The internet is sometimes not forgiving, meaning the error's consequence multiplies in a flash. Some errors are genuine, and brands have always stepped forward to rectify them, but some are bluntly ignorant and hard to forget.

As a marketer, what we can do is learn from the past. Mistakes can be a step back, but all we can do is move forward. Yes, the burden of the mistake can be heavy, but learning from email marketing failures is the only way forward.

In this article, we will talk about the main reasons why email marketing campaigns may fail and what to learn from such failures.

Let's get started.

Table of Contents

Top reasons why email marketing campaigns fail

There are many reasons why your email marketing campaign is failing to hit the mark. Some errors often happen without even knowing about it. Here are the top such errors that can hamper your email marketing efforts.

1. Sending out bulk emails

Quality over quantity — this golden rule applies to email marketing, too. Sending out every newsletter to every user is almost like spamming, especially when a user receives an email irrelevant to their buying intent or preferences. If you want your email marketing to work, sending out emails that align with user intent and preferences is the first priority.

Secondly, sending out emails at intervals is always a healthy practice rather than overdoing emails in an attempt to stay in the limelight. If you send out unnecessary emails, your users will mark you spam. Going forward, inbox providers like Gmail will automatically put emails from your domain into the spam folder. Game over.

2. Not cleaning email lists

Your email campaign can fail if your email lists contain email IDs that are invalid or incorrect. Such emails will create a high bounce rate for your campaign, marking it as a failure when you look at the bigger picture. Cleaning and maintaining your email lists is essential for your email marketing campaigns.

Another reason to do this is to continue doing email marketing safely. When most of your campaigns have high bounce rates, your domain will automatically come under the radar of inbox provider solutions.

For instance, PetLab Co.’s CEO and co-founder Chris Masanto says, “In my experience, neglecting to clean your email lists can lead to disaster. Outdated or inaccurate email addresses result in high bounce rates, which can damage your sender reputation and cause your emails to land in spam folders. You must target the right audience and avoid emailing disengaged or uninterested recipients. This will only result in low open and click-through rates, negatively impacting your campaign's overall effectiveness.”

“Cleaning your email lists regularly by removing inactive or invalid addresses ensures that your email campaigns reach a relevant and engaged audience, increasing the chances of success and maintaining a positive sender reputation.”

3. Using spammy subject lines

Subject lines are the first thing that your recipient will see. Using spammy words or phrases can instantly put your email into the spam folder or trigger the recipient to mark it spam or delete it without opening it.

For instance, to give a personal touch, if you are using spam trigger words like Dear … it is automatically marked as spam. Other spammy subject lines include Earn $$ extra cash with us, You’ve won $$, claim it for free, etc. Such subject lines will trigger users to mark your emails as spam, eventually unsubscribing (and probably reporting as spam).

4. Not segmenting users

Segmentation is like the backbone of your email campaign. This helps you create tailored marketing campaigns and use emails to nurture and convert users. If you are not segmenting, you are missing the whole point of doing email marketing campaigns.

Without user segmentation, there is no scope for personalization and email engagements. And this directly impacts the email campaign performance. Needless to say, sending emails blindly to everyone without segmenting them is the quickest way of failing.

5. Not following up

Let’s say you have a clean email database segmented based on behavior and preferences. You sent a great email marketing campaign that showed good engagement metrics. But after that, you don’t follow up at all.

Despite the good metrics of the first campaign, it is still a failure because you did not follow up and continue the conversation and engagement. Your users don’t know what to do next because you did not get back to them. So, on a bigger scale, this is how a good email marketing campaign goes downhill, leaving users unattended and in the dark.

6. Sending irrelevant content

No one likes to read content that is not remotely related to their interests. Creating content based on user profiles, behavior, and needs is important to keep email communications and engagement going. If you send out irrelevant content, your users will snap out instantly by unsubscribing. And a high unsubscription rate is a direct marker of a failed campaign.

Good and relevant email content can nurture users and convert them into happy customers. Irrelevant content will do the exact opposite. Sent out emails on board exams to learning professionals? Well, now you know why that email campaign failed.

These are a few general mistakes that you MUST avoid at any cost. You can also take these as a checklist for every email campaign you design. However, there are graver mistakes that are beyond rectification.

What email marketers can learn from failed campaigns?

Every mistake is a learning lesson, even if the mistake was not yours to blame. Here’s what you can learn from email marketing campaigns that made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

1. Choose the right time for your email campaign

Timing is not always about picking the right clock time or time zone. It is also about knowing when to send what.

Example: Airbnb’s Floating above water during a Hurricane

What was the email about: Airbnb incepted a beautifully designed email campaign and ad that showed serene floating hotels offering a wholesome experience.

What went wrong: While the idea was really great, Airbnb’s timing for the email campaign backfired. This ill-fated email was sent out when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. Most places were flooded with lives endangered, countless homeless, and havoc wrecked everywhere.

At such a time, Airbnb’s ‘Floating homes, waterfall slides, and more’ promoting water-themed stay options came across as insensitive and outrageous. Infact, one subhead even read - Stay above waters!

Lesson learned: When creating an email campaign, being aware and inclusive of global events and issues is important. Natural calamities are not under our control, but pausing or pivoting a scheduled campaign is. Being prompt in taking due action so that your email campaign is not launched at the wrong time is very important.

The Airbnb campaign was not publicly condemned, but those in the affected areas called it a blazing mistake.

Another lesson to learn from Airbnb is how the brand handled this mishap. Airbnb released an official statement to Quartz to apologize for the bad timing. Unlike other brands, Airbnb has incorporated disaster support in their brand, often helping affected people connect with emergency workers and local hosts who offer homes for free.

Incorporating a strong social responsibility in your brand can lessen the impact of such slip-offs.

2. Always send a test email internally first

Human errors like spelling errors or errors in use cases happen. But when you forget to place the link to your CTA, your coupon codes don’t work, you send out broken links, or you forget to add the attachment to your email, it can be a little embarrassing. Not to mention, such errors can impact your overall CTR metrics.

Example: CycleSurgery sends a follow-up email to fix broken link issues in emails

What was the email about: Cycle Surgery sent a campaign containing broken links.

What went wrong: The campaign was beautifully designed, but the link in the email was broken. This may look like a minor issue, but it can go out of hand if not taken care of promptly. The campaign was sent with links that were either dead or non-existent.

So, if any user were interested in exploring the products featured in the campaign, they would reach a dead-end. And this isn't very good for any email campaign that triggers engagement and nurturing. Broken links can happen due to spelling errors or because the page you mentioned in the email isn't live yet. It can also result from firewall activation on the user's system.

Lesson learned: The problem with the Cyber Surgery email campaign was no one realized that the links were broken before the campaign was sent. Consequently, the brand quickly and promptly followed up with another campaign for those users who had clicked on the broken links in the previous campaign.

It is very important to send test emails internally and thoroughly check them. Sending test emails internally can help you fix missing CTA issues, broken link problems, spacing issues, spelling errors, personalization problems, and any other errors you might have missed in the first go. Having more than two eyes to review the campaign before it reaches your users is always better.

3. Avoid sending the wrong email versions

It is a common practice to create more than one version of an email, especially when you plan to send out emails based on a particular event outcome.

Example: Cal Bears Shop sent out the wrong version of the email

What was the email about: The Cal Bears Shop sent a celebration email supporting the winning team.

What went wrong: The email was great until the assumed winning team lost the game. Cal Bears Shop sent the wrong email version because it was sent out prematurely before the final results were out. Sadly, the other team returned, winning 49 to 45, putting Cal Bears Shop in a false position.

Lesson learned: It is important to pay attention to the version of an email going out. If your versions depend on the outcome of an event or a game, it is always better to wait for the event to come to a full halt and then send out the applicable email.

Cal Bears Shop sent discount codes celebrating a win too early, putting the brand in a false place and users confused if the discounts were valid since the winning team lost. The brand later apologized for this goof-up and mentioned that the discounts were still valid. This is another reason you shouldn't jump the gun before it's time.

4. Test and hyper-test personalization

Email marketers spend much time personalizing the email content. Almost 74% of consumers agree that personalized emails have higher open and read rates.

However, forgetting to implement the personalization part in your subject line brings down the campaign's impact single-handedly.

Example: Serenata Flowers missed testing the personalization

What was the email about: Serenata Flowers launched a campaign offering a bargain price on their Silent Whisper bouquets. However, the email missed the personalization token.

What went wrong: Serenata Flowers had crafted a deal that was sure to set the sales high, but unfortunately, they missed the personalization token. The brand mentioned later that their tag management broke, which resulted in the error.

The problem was that test emails don't contain the personalization tokens. So, it is impossible to detect such errors through internal test emails. It leads to dissatisfied customers. Since a simple test email can't detect such mishaps, it is essential to hyper-test your personalizations.

Lesson learned: Even though it is often a common error and, in most cases, is ignored, you should still take this seriously. It looks bad at first glance and can also bring down brand reputation.

Test your personalizations based on the email providers you are using. This is a critical step and must be a part of your email strategy. Another lesson to learn here is considering email automation tools. With email automation tools, you have a better chance of avoiding such errors. Also, if and when your users point out the error, respond quickly and take action. Also, email tagging can be a great way to boost engagement.

5. Implement proper segmentation

Incorrect segmentation can cost you your users, especially the confusion it can create. In a nutshell, poor customer segmentation is directly proportional to customer churns.

Example: Shutterfly sends a congratulatory message for their newborn to the entire user base

What was the email about: Shutterfly delivered a congratulatory message to the entire user base for their new baby. It shared the next steps of sending thank you cards in the same email.

What went wrong: The email was sent to an entire database that included new parents, parents who lost their child, and those who did not have a child. The email did not sit well with many users, especially those going through infertility or those who had children years back.

While a group of people did try to be more understanding of the brand in recognizing it as an honest mistake, Shutterfly's email campaign reeks of improper segmentation.

Lesson learned: Shutterfly's email campaign came under the radar because of the sensitivity attached to the subject. However, the learning lesson is to properly segment your audience and keep your email lists updated.

If you are not segmenting your users, your email campaigns will continue to fail, and before you know it, your brand will be in hot waters for its irrelevant content. This may have a serious effect on unsubscription rates and spam marking.

Similarly, when dealing with user data, it is important to validate the information you have occasionally. It helps avoid such blunders.

How to Avoid Email Marketing Blunders?

Email marketing failures can happen to anyone. But there are a few to-do’s to avoid these blunders.

1. Study your customers and know their marketing stage

Your customers continuously engage with your brand through emails and multiple digital channels like social media, websites, mobile, landing pages, ads, etc. Tie all user data to create a 360-degree user profile that clearly states the buying stage in which the user is.

Based on the current marketing stage, you further segment your users to tailor personalized messages that catalyze the user to the next stage. Additionally, consider incorporating positive review examples in your messaging to build trust and credibility, ultimately enhancing the user's journey through the sales funnel.

2. Proof-read your content multiple times

Spelling errors and grammatical errors show a bad taste in marketing. While juggling multiple things to get your campaign up and rolling, it is important to proofread your content multiple times so that no errors slip your eyes. It is even better if you can get your team to review the content.

3. Don’t overdo or underdo email marketing

There is no rule book about how many emails you should send and what number is less in email marketing. But there is a fine line between doing email marketing and undergoing or overdoing it. Overdoing would mean sending out emails every day on the same subject matter. It is more like forcing your content on your users. Undergoing would mean forgetting to follow up with your users. For instance, you send a request for a survey and never share the survey results with those who participated. Both are bad!

4. A/B test your campaigns

This is the best way to know how your email campaign will perform. Testing your email against a static variable, i.e., a fixed template, can help you understand which email version will most connect with your users. A/B testing includes testing CTA content, color schemes, images, content, subject lines, and any other element in your email. However, the catch is to know when to stop testing. You cannot keep doing A/B testing without a goal. So, have a fixed goal you want to achieve with your emails before you start testing.


Email marketing trends continue to evolve, but some errors are best avoided. Design emails that show your social awareness and respect for user intents and interests. As you develop your email marketing campaigns, take inputs from colleagues from other departments or someone outside your team for added perspectives. This is a good way to spot any misinterpretations or potential issues that may harm your brand's reputation.

Till then, happy emailing.

Make Your Email Marketing Profitable


Mehdi Hussen

Mehdi Hussen is the digital marketing manager at SalesHandy, a cold email outreach tool. He is passionate about driving organic growth & customer acquisition through data-driven content marketing.