The first email, shown below, was sent out at 7AM this morning.
Farmers head of marketing Dean Cook said the eDM was only sent to a segment of Farmers’ Club Card database.
This means Farmers may have only selected those relevant to Mother's Day gifts, such as no one older than a certain age, or mostly female customers.
Titled “Your Mum sent us her wish list”, the email’s wording understandably struck a sore spot for those who no longer have a mother.
Several customers took to Farmers’ Facebook page to voice their complaints, which included:
“Really "Farmers" sending an email out to say "a message from your mother" Do you guys not realized that some of our mothers are not here on earth anymore. Very poor email advertising. Shame on you. Mothers Day is hard enough without a Mum being around.”
“Sending out Mother's Day emails tagged "Your Mum sent us her wishlist" is pretty insensitive marketing. How many people, including myself, have lost their mothers? There are a million other ways the email could have been worded. Mother's Day is hard enough when your Mum is no longer there, and we're bombarded with advertising. It is needlessly hurtful.”
Farmers sent a follow-up email two hours later apologising for any offence caused.
“In hindsight we recognise we should not have made such a statement. We acknowledge we need to give more thought and empathy when we are communicating with our valued Farmers customer community,” it said.
Cook said the subject line was conceived in the marketing department, but it made an error.
"It was clearly not the intention of anyone in the marketing department to cause offence, but much more care and attention needs to be taken when thinking about subject lines and content of emails. The subject line was not appropriate," Cook says.
He said customers had thanked the company for acting quickly and admitting it had made a mistake via its follow-up apology email.
A customer on its Facebook page praised Farmers for its swift action, saying: “Thanks for the thoughtful follow up apology email Farmers. It shows great customer awareness to recognise and address the situation immediately. We're all human with different life experiences and we make mistakes, so these things happen, the really important part is to then understand, empathize and apologize. Your handling of this shows why you're an NZ institution, keep being awesome.”
Hotfoot account director Fiona Kerr warned of the being “fast and loose” in retail marketing in a column for NZRetail.
“In one week, I received three eDMs from major brands with errors, all of which then sent corrective emails to atone for their errors. (Too little, too late Countdown, Selaks and Huffer via DressSmart). Yes, we’re all human, but should being reactive take precedence over creating and sending interesting, accurate and well-curated content?” she said.
However, it’s worth pointing out that the difference with Farmers’ email is the problem wasn’t a glaring typo or grammatical error.
It was the way it was worded that upset customers, and Cook acknowledged that kind of mistake may be easier to slip through the proofing stage.
He said it wasn't a mistake the company was planning on making again.
Kerr said the world thriving on the mass, quick consumption of information isn’t an excuse – retailers still need to take time to send emails that are meaningful, timely and accurate.
Here is her advice on how to avoid making a mistake with eDMs:
- Slow down and plan ahead
Like a Boy or Girl Scout, you need to plan and prepare. Have detailed plans prepared with approved information and activity so you aren’t working on the fly to create copy. You wouldn't go into a radio recording without a script, so why treat an email or a social media post differently?
- Curation is key
Yeah, you reacted first. Who cares? Have you created a communication that is interesting and entertaining for your audience? Instead of fast, chaotic, throw-it-all-at-the-wall marketing hoping something sticks, the focus should be on connecting with your customer and enhancing their experience with you.
- Process and procedure
It’s not sexy, but make sure you have solid checks and process in place. Sometimes this is as simple as getting someone else to proof your content.
- Marketing 101
Don’t spam your customers. They get enough dross from other brands, products and retailers. Be the brand or retailer that stops, thinks, collects and provides considered content, at a time when the consumer is likely to want to digest it. They’ll definitely open your email, or read your posts rather than your competitors. Why? Because it’s interesting. Not because it was first.
Managing partner of Draper Cormack Group and PR professional Lou Draper also talked about how to avoid Farmers' situation on LinkedIn:
Mistakes happen. Farmers have managed it well, they've apologised, acknowledged their mistake and contributed towards how they'll do better next time, but what could they have done to prevent it happening in the first place? And what can you do to make sure a similar thing doesn't happen to you?
Put your audience at the heart of your communications. Create personas for your customer segments. Get to know those personas inside and out and learn how to talk to them best. Peer review. Have a sign off process, 3 people deep. Mostly though, ask yourself the questions your comms is asking of your customers. Any hint of uneasiness and it's back to the drawing board.