In a world of 269 billion emails, email automation is both an enabler and a gift. Would that many emails be possible without it? Probably not. At least not unless you and several of your team members spent the entirety of your workdays filling out to, from, and subject fields. But does it help your marketing efforts? It certainly does. That’s why 91 percent of the most successful users say automation is essential to the success of their work.

Better yet, it’s relatively easy to get on board with email automation. Software is becoming increasingly user-friendly, even for the technically unsavvy. And once you get the hang of it, it can be tempting to set up several automated flows, turn the sequence on, sit back, and watch the leads roll in. Yet before you put your feet up, it’s important to remember that while yes, marketing automation can clear the way for better, more consistent conversation with your audiences, there are some times when people just don’t want to “talk.”

Here are four times you should hit the pause button on your email automation flow, step back, and send something different (or nothing at all) instead.

1. When Your Company Messed Up

A mistake can be as little as an errored merge field (resulting in something like Dear {{First%Name}}) or as big as a data breach. When your company has made a mistake or even been the victim of something like a hack, it’s important to take a moment away from business as usual.

Consumers today want transparency, so don’t sweep problems under the rug. Instead, pause your automated flow, and rethink your emails based on how critical the error was. For example, if you messed up a data field, forgot a link, or had a downed site, a simple “Oops, sorry about that” in your next communication could do the trick. You can even feel free to get a little clever with it, after all, messing up is very relatable.

If a larger issue occurs, such as in the case of a hack which will likely require posted next steps and contacts lists, send a heartfelt email from the leader of your company.

Do have a sense of humor when mistakes are small and forgivable.

2. When The Data Has Stagnated

One of the most valuable features of email automation is the analytics. Email platforms make it more possible than ever to know how your audience is reacting to what’s being sent. You can track an entire digital buyer journey in one platform from the first website visit to the first email open to the first purchase.

Many marketers keep an eye on their data for any big spikes or dips in engagement. But it’s just as critical to keep an eye out for stagnation. Don’t allow the ease of automation to settle you into the status quo. Test. Then test again, again, and again.

Segment and tailor emails to win back people who haven’t taken action.

3. When The Data Has Dipped

It’s a simple rule to follow but one so important it can’t be overstated — listen to your data. If you experience a decline in engagement, look at your automation flow and understand why.

If your emails have stayed the same, what outside of your flow is different? Did you change your product? Did you make edits to your email sign-up form or linked landing pages? Put on an investigator hat and follow the numbers. It might just be time for a refresh to your automated emails.
Don’t be afraid to shake things up.

4. When Tragedy Strikes

There are some moments when selling needs to be put aside for compassion. In the wake of natural disasters like Hurricanes, earthquakes or national tragedies, consider your audience and what they need during a time of stress.

If a large portion of your audience is affected by a tragic situation, turn off your email automation and serve instead of sell. But it’s important to walk a fine line. Sending an email that talks about how you’re donating to the cause? That’s selling yourself. Sending an email that offers ways you’re willing to help or even a list of useful links for victims? That’s serving. Even a simple email that says that your affected customers are in your thoughts is a nice way to acknowledge that life isn’t always about 20% off sales and funny taglines.

Don’t do what Epicurious did in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Email automation is a huge time saver, but if not monitored, it can also lend itself to some truly bad timing. The difference between a successful automation campaign and a disastrous one is your mindset. Avoid thinking of automation as “set and forget.” Instead, adopt a “set and get testing” mindset and you’ll stay on your toes when it comes to a range of potential pitfalls.

Taylor Burke

Taylor Burke


Taylor Burke is a contributor for, covering marketing and communications. When she’s not in front of her screen, you can find Taylor reading, cooking, running, or hanging with her dog—but rarely all four at once. Connect with her on LinkedIn.