Sorry seems to be an incredibly easy word to say when you need an email to be read

This piece originally started as a merciless piss take of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s video apology to Australia, after they tried to sneak their dogs into the country. However, it has since emerged that Johnny Depp is actually a sizeable piece of human trash and so therefore he has no place here; plus it seems quite grim to gayly take the piss out of something so trivial when the people concerned are involved in something so very not trivial.

All of which leaves me having to do quite an awkward pivot into what I actually want to talk about.

What I actually want to talk about is ‘Sorry’ emails, because insincere apologies aren’t just the forte of the aforementioned piece of human trash; email marketers have long been wheeling out the Sorry email as a way of unlocking inboxes and boosting open rates.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the kind of email that I’m referring to. If you’re currently in a campaign that’s promoting an upcoming business event, you will definitely have received a ‘Sorry’ email. If you’ve signed up to a mailing list to receive special offers and discount codes, you will have received a ‘Sorry’ email. Link doesn’t work, video doesn’t play, trouble redeeming discount – you know the drill.

You know that they’re not actually saying sorry, don’t you? Of course you do. What they’re actually saying it “LOOK AT ME REMEMBER ME GIVE ME ATTENTION”.*

The reason that we fall for the ‘Sorry’ email every single time is because we like the thought of others fucking up. At the very least, we’re intrigued by it; other people’s fuck ups are comforting and funny and we want to know about them, hence the email opening.

But before I provide you with two examples of the Sorry emails that I’ve received over the last few months, let me first share an example from my actual, embarrassing, sorry-laden life, as I once had to write my own ‘Sorry’ email.

Of course, mine was incredibly sincere.

I won’t go into the details but a minor (re: major) excel error meant that a few (re: think it was about 1,980…) newsletters that I was in charge of got delivered to totally made up, non-existent addresses; north east towns with south west postcodes, that kind of thing. No biggie. After sitting in the toilet crying for about two hours I wrote a charming email notifying our customers that due to a ‘database error’ they would be receiving their newsletter a few days late this month. The open rate was something ridiculous, like 84%, meaning that people who usually ignored our emails (emails that they payed for, emails that they were supposed to see as valuable) opened an email that started with ‘I’m sorry’. I have no official stats on this, but I’d hazard a guess that more people read said newsletter that month too; my Sorry email had jogged their memory, and reminded them to look out for it in the post.

Here are just two examples of the Sorry emails that I’ve received in the last few months:

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 16.21.11
Gemporia is possibly my 14th favourite thing in the whole world, because it enables me to buy rings that look like they’re from boutique jewellers in New York, when of course they are not. I’m not actually sure where they’re from, but that’s not important – what is important is the timing of their ‘Sorry’ email.

I hadn’t experienced any problems buying stuff from their website, and I’m assuming they knew that, but sending this email the weekend before Christmas meant that a load of past customers who had totally forgotten about them had their memories jogged about 3 minutes before they resigned themselves to bidding £762 for a signed Ab Fab print for their mum so they’d have something, anything, to give her for Christmas. It’s clear, it’s to the point and it prioritises the offer – making any subsequent shopping really easy.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 16.24.11

This is a weird ‘Sorry’ email because here Starbucks are apologising for welcoming me to their loyalty scheme twice. I understand that sending a ‘Welcome!’ email to loyal customers is embarrassing and so the whole Sorry email could’ve worked perfectly, but sloppy copy let them down here; everything is so unclear.

Also, I never actually received their double welcome. Never claimed my free bakery item, either.

My advice for writing a ‘Sorry’ email, whether it’s sincere or not:

If you’re looking to give your list a timely reminder to spend money with you then do just that, make it timely. Fire out your ‘Sorry’ email shortly before a holiday, pay day or whenever your customers are usually up for spending. Alternatively, fire it out when it’s totally dead (not that that ever happens…) – what’ve you got to lose?

Check your facts
You’ll want to really get a grip on who you’re sending this to, which might involve cleaning up or segmenting your data. Whilst everyone likes being apologised to, there’s no point sending your Sorry email to people who have never interacted with you in anyway whatsoever – it will just make you look stupid.

Don’t be creepy
You can pretty much stretch this piece of advice across your whole life, but when it comes to writing the copy for a ‘Sorry’ email; don’t be creepy, don’t be smarmy, don’t take the piss.

So, sorry really isn’t that hard to say after all.

Unless you can’t officially say it because a whopping great super injunction means that you haven’t officially done anything wrong, of course.

*This approach can occasionally work for dating, FYI.


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