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Is HBO Max's Integration Test Email #1 Actually a Mistake?

To err is human. Everyone reading this who has never made a mistake, raise your hand. 


Last week, a fishy—not phishing—email hit the inbox of many HBO Max subscribers. Forever to be known simply as “Integration Test Email #1,” the message was clearly a goof. An accident. A momentary lapse in attention. 

A mistake. 

For email marketers across the globe, it evoked a collective sympathy. We’ve all hit that send on a not-so-ready email. But then something even more amazing happened. After HBO Max put the mistake on a nameless, faceless intern, non-marketers started sharing their blunders

From message-altering typos to costly discounts, thousands of people started a “Dear Intern” message on social media to own up to their own mistakes. What started as an amusing—well, at least amusing for us—gaffe ended up a widespread moment of human connection.

The Reality of Integration Test Email #1

Some have jumped on this slip as validation that the HBO Max customer experience is terrible. The app and confusion surrounding the service’s initial launch can be debated elsewhere. 

Here, we focus on marketing. And while on the surface Integration Test Email #1 seems like an undeniable mistake, the reality is not so cut-and-dried.

The Connection is Real

So, with lower stakes, what really is the point of marketing? You probably have a definition in your head, but there’s an argument to be made that it’s about making a connection. 

Consumers are human. Marketers are consumers. Marketers are human. We can’t forget this. Consumer expectations for a great experience with brands are at an all time high. They want to know the brands they love are led by humans that share their values. 

Authenticity is a term thrown around a lot these days. It has the ring of something with the potential to be…well…inauthentic, but there has been progress in brand’s being more open to sharing a peek behind the scenes, especially during the pandemic

Is there anything more authentic than a mistake? You saw the responses above. People love mistakes. This isn’t praise of schadenfreude either. It’s why people connect with Batman more than Superman. One is a deeply, deeply flawed character, while the other is often depicted as almost perfect. 

A mistake like Integration Test Email #1 reminds consumers that even a massive organization like HBO Max is subject to slip ups. It humanizes an otherwise somewhat-faceless brand. It fosters a connection even though we as the outside public don’t have a name or face to connect with.

The Stakes Are (Often) Low

In the grand scheme of things, Integration Test Email #1 is inconsequential for HBO Max’s brand. Content is king is a common phrase, and for a brand like HBO Max, content is everything. A good marketing email doesn’t make up for bad streaming content. 

For the majority of marketers, the blowback that comes from an Integration Test Email #1 is low and temporary. We’re a week out and the chatter has already died down substantially. 

Most marketers are promoting products that bring joy through a problem solved. A discounted ride. A movie premiere. The refrain you sometimes hear is “we’re not curing cancer.”

HBO Max is not curing cancer with their latest email. Their marketing efforts are geared towards bringing entertainment to the masses.

The Actual Experience

Integration Test Email #1 actually came at an interesting time. If you’ve followed Iterable’s content for a bit, you know we like doing research here. We are customer experience fanatics. 

As such, we are curious what brands are sending to new, active customers. For 2-3 weeks at a time, we sign up for new accounts, browse and favorite items, abandon carts, opt in to all channels of messaging, and more. We are as active as you can be in this time period. You can see we did this for the beauty industry, mobile marketing, and news media industry in the past. 

Well, we just so happen to have finished a three-week research period of HBO Max right before Integration Test Email #1. And you know what we found? A pretty engaging group of emails and messages—albeit lacking a bit on the personalization side of things. 

Below is a link to a Customer Experience Analysis of HBO Max featuring a list of the different actions we took in our research and some examples of particularly interesting messages we received during that time. 

The lowdown is this: 

HBO Max has beautifully-designed emails that provide good recommendations. They highlight underrepresented voices—like LGBTQ+ and Latinx content—in an authentic way. And they provide a cross-channel experience with push notifications and in-app messaging

Crucially missing is any reference to user behavior. We favorited multiple shows and watched a few others, but our actions were not reflected in recommendations. 

That human connection we talked about above is excellent on a macro level. Integration Test Email #1 shows that people are excited to have a community to rally around. But when marketing to customers, you want to foster a one-on-one connection. 

Personalization is still a human connection, but on the micro scale. When all is said and done, and the dust of Integration Test Email #1 has settled, HBO Max’s customer experience could actually learn a lot from the community-building and personalized response. Consumers want content that entertains, informs and connects. The question becomes how do brands give each consumer their own Integration Test Email #1-level connection?

See the full details of the HBO Max customer experience here in our Customer Experience Analysis.

CX Analysis

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