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Yes, I’m writing about Christmas emails in February. No, I haven’t gone mad.

Something along the line looks as though it has, however. Earlier this month, our North American VP Ryan Phelan commented on the sad puppy-dog eyes elicited in his household after a mixed email experience from I’m afraid that I’m about to embark on a similar tale of woe, this time from the perspective of a cat owner on the other side of the Atlantic.

As my friends and colleagues are no doubt tired of hearing, I am the doting owner of a two-year-old Cornish Rex cat. Her name is Rio (and, yes, she dances on the sand). Like all good cat owners, I have taken out an insurance policy to cover Rio’s various misadventures, and I hasten to add that my customer experience with Petplan has so far been a very satisfactory one. Today’s email from them, however, stands as a lesson for us all in the value of automating intelligently…

Rio hanging out with a cactus and feeling twice as prickly.

What’s new, pussycat?

Petplan don’t email me all that much, and when they do it’s usually event-specific, for instance offering tips to minimize pet stress around Bonfire Night fireworks. The below email is quite typical in that it calls both me and my pet out by name, and has presumably segmented me into a cat-specific automation program (no dogs, degus, or bearded dragons in sight).

It’s not a bad email, although with my marketing hat on I can already identify a few points for improvement: hypertext is a bit tricky when accessing an email on mobile, for instance, and the hero image depicting a child is a) over-familiar from previous communications and b) not particularly relevant when addressing the adult who’s paying the insurance bills. There’s plenty of good content, although this is all rendered entirely useless by one screaming error: it’s a Christmas email, and I received it in February.

I’m not in the market for cat-related Christmas presents, I’m not in need of a cat-sitter as I head home for the holidays, and, whilst I’d love to win a luxury getaway worth £500, the competition in question has long since closed.

It’s a shame, as Petplan’s communications with me are only quarterly, and this email would have been a great opportunity to engage me (and plenty of other customers besides) had it only been launched at the correct time.

It’s a bit mean of me to pick out Petplan specifically for this, as marketing automation slip-ups are not uncommon. Unfortunately for the brands in question, their subscribers and followers are often quick off the mark to point out these errors with relish, whether they be a mis-timed Tweet or an awkward “Hi [INSERT NAME HERE]”. At best this is embarrassing; at worst, a PR disaster.

Marketing automation is a wonderful tool. When done well, it can boost engagement, help visualize customer journeys, and maximize efficiency within marketing teams. Crucially, however, an automated journey is only ever as good as the content and the people behind it, and is still susceptible to human error (as the above example shows only too well). Don’t wash your hands of a campaign once you’ve clicked ‘schedule’, keep an eye on changing events which may affect the relevancy of your content, and always, always, triple-check your work before you send it.