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The Marketer’s Guide to Navigating the Oh Sh*t Moments

I learned three things about Sarah Esterman at Iterable’s Activate 19 conference within her first 90 seconds on stage:

  • Her long-haired cat, Jazzy, gets an annual lion cut.
  • She once stabbed a knife clear through her own hand (on accident!).
  • She’s mellow AF in a marketing crisis.

The Director of Digital Marketing at Bumped has survived her fair share of marketing mishaps through the years, and in her (slightly sweary and gif-laden) session, “Your Guide to Navigating the Oh Sh*t Moments,” Sarah lays out incredibly thoughtful advice that would benefit any marketer in the digital space.

When Sarah asked the audience who’s survived a marketing snafu in the past, most of the audience raised their hands. And for the rest? 

“If you didn’t raise your hand, you will someday. That is not a threat—it’s a promise.”

Sarah shared a cringe-worthy list of mistakes she’s had to resolve through the years—from accidentally sending out test messages to dynamic content fails to sending emails with links to nowhere. You know, the stuff of marketers’ nightmares. 

So what’s a marketer to do? 

Don’t panic. You’ve got this. You’ve got Sarah’s step-by-step advice for oh sh*t moments:

1. Breathe

Literally. Slowing your breath actually has a calming effect. Take a moment for yourself so you feel less reactive.

2. Be Kind

Consider your words and tone. For instance, “How can we move forward?” is better than pointing out fault. In particular, avoid the word “should.”

And be kind to yourself too! Jot down something uplifting on a post-it note: “I’m not going to get fired for this.” “Everyone’s been there.” “My eyebrows look terrific this week.”

3. Know the Facts

Document what you know about the situation. This helps you remain rational.

4. Assess the Situation

Document the following:

  • What happened? Describe this in one or two succinct sentences.
  • Determine the number and percentage of affected customers.
  • Estimate the amount of lost revenue, if any.
  • How would your customer feel? Describe their perspective.
  • Identify the consequences. How will this affect acquisition, retention, and trust?

5. Take Action

Determine if a response is in order and in your customers’ best interest. Skip a response for minor mistakes.

Following your response, conduct a post-mortem (or as Sarah calls it, a learning review). Ask these questions and document the answers, while avoiding any “should’ves”:

  • How was the response received? And is it measurable in any way?
  • What went RIGHT? Who did a great job during the triage process? Celebrate that.
  • What went wrong or didn’t go as well?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • How will you prevent this from happening in the future?

6. Reflect With Perspective

These situations feel huge in the moment, but they’re not so big in the grand scheme of things.

Something Sarah noted that’s emerged as a trend is sending out apology emails for very minor (or, as I’ve observed, sometimes faked) mistakes. This is because apology emails tend to achieve high engagement.

But this is bad business. The motivation in these instances is to benefit the brand—not the recipient. And those are not situations that warrant action. Your customers’ best interests should always be your priority.

Recover From Your Next Oh Sh*t Moment

I’d advise any digital marketer out there to bookmark this session. And whenever you find yourself in the thick of a snafu, take 25 minutes to give it another listen before diving into triage mode.

Go through the motions of Sarah’s breathing exercise with her. Take her advice to heart. Have a giggle at the cat gifs! Her entire session is practically a meditation with her calm tone and words of affirmation.

Trust me—you’ll feel a lot better and ready to tackle any difficult task that’s ahead.

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