No matter how hard we try to craft the right message for an audience, marketing mistakes happen. Transform disgruntled customers into advocates with these tips.

Marketing mess-ups don’t have to be fatal. It is possible to turn a marketing faux pas, like a typo, product issue or poor messaging, into a genuine opportunity to connect with your target audience.

This isn’t to say you should invite a marketing disaster, but your customers are looking for companies that are genuine and quick to find solutions. They are also savvy, so if you attempt to cover up a mistake and hope it goes away things can become far worse. Instead of trying to ignore the problem, recognise it and use the opportunity to gain customer trust. This can resolve the situation with a happier ending – a sale or a loyal advocate for your brand.

Here are some of the most common marketing faux pas and how companies can not only work through them, but gain respect along the way.

Typos and errors

Ever received an email that starts with ‘Dear [FIRSTNAME]’? Or worse, ‘Dear Billy’, even though your name’s not Billy? Who hasn’t? Customers know you send emails out to many people, but this sort of personalisation fail highlights a lack of personal relationships.

The sort of deep knowledge a customer expects a brand to have of them goes well beyond inserting their name into the subject line – and in this case it’s failed.

In the scheme of things, using the wrong name is a small error – the sort of thing that doesn’t send existing customers running out the door in droves, but could see your EDMs fail to achieve their goals.

At the other end of the spectrum, if a customer contacts you about an error on their account, whether it’s their name or other personal information, they obviously find the mistake very important. In this case, communicate how badly the company feels for this error – a touch of humility goes a long way.

How to fix it

An apology for a mistake needs to include:

  • A summary of the issue and sincere apology

  • A statement of the quality that the company aims for

  • An explanation of the error

  • What is being done to fix it

  • Personal contact information of the employee handling the issue in case the customer has more questions they want answered directly

While the length of your apology will depend on the error, it’s important that it gets the point across succinctly. Make sure to send it as soon as possible. Customers will appreciate your speedy reply and apology.

In order to remedy a problem, do what it takes to make it right. This might mean letting a customer keep a wrong product as well as sending the right one, or giving them an exclusive coupon code or gift card.

Going above just apologising is what makes the interaction memorable for the customer. Any company can say, ‘We’re sorry’. But it takes a great company to say, ‘We’re sorry, and here’s what we’re doing to fix it’.

Insensitive messaging

A marketing message may be taken in a way that wasn’t intended, and a simple social media post can go wrong if there aren’t enough checks in place to catch sensitive issues.

Huggies experienced this and rebounded positively. In 2012 the brand experienced a backlash after releasing a commercial called ‘Dad Test’ – it was perceived as portraying fathers in a negative light. After consumer complaints, Huggies altered the campaign, issued an apology on its Facebook page and met with fathers at its Dad 2.0 Summit.

This last part – going above and beyond to find out what people really want – saw Huggies turn the ship around. They didn’t just apologise, they transformed an angry crowd into an adoring public. A year later, Huggies made international news with its ‘Dad’s Pregnant Too’ campaign. The advertising featured men and their pregnant partners wearing specially designed belts that let the men feel when their babies moved.

It was estimated that the campaign reached 180 million online readers. It became a trending topic on Twitter, earned almost three million shares on Facebook and had more than five million organic views on YouTube. Huggies saw a 264% increase in site visits. Nappy sales grew by 13% and the company regained leadership in the newborn segment.

How to fix it

Huggies turned its mistake around by listening, and by making a show of listening sincerely. Its efforts to fix the problem surpassed ‘let’s do enough to stop the negative attention’ and moved into ‘let’s talk with people about what they really want, and give them that’.

No matter how big or small a problem appears internally, what matters most is how the customers felt.

In order to fix insensitive messaging, first remove the product or advertisement and apologise. We spoke a few years back about how to handle complaints or negative comments on social media, and that advice is still highly relevant.

Many companies also send a donation to a related organisation, and talk about that as part of an apology. But to ensure the donation isn’t seen as being made just to quiet complaints, that apology needs to be sincere and heartfelt. The donation needs to be coupled with an expression of a genuine belief in the charity’s work.

And, while an apology for the mistake on the company’s blog and/or social media can show customers that the company has learned that its actions were wrong, outlining processes that ensure similar mistakes won’t happen again go a long way to restore customer faith.

The first step of avoiding marketing faux pas is using your deep knowledge of your customers – what do they want to hear from you, and what do they really not want to hear from you?

To find out how to provide customers with the unique, extraordinary experiences they deserve from the customer journey, take our Any Journey Seven-Day Challenge.

Over seven days, it will present you with emails, ads, mobile messages, recommendations and more that the customer of your choice would see during a well-planned, targeted and personalised marketing journey.