The Art of War Of the inbox

Principle #5 Know Your Enemy
19 min to read
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When you hear the words ‘enemy’ or ‘competitor’, your brain immediately jumps to the agency that’s outranking yours on Clutch, the store that’s outbidding yours on Facebook ads, or the person/group you hate the most.

At the first thought of them, you start yelling at the screen - *IF ONLY These Mo’fos didn’t exist.
When you planned your last email campaign, you looked at their email copy, sequence, design, offer, and compared it to yours.

If you are more sophisticated, you probably ‘borrowed’ some ideas and tactics from them. The problem, however, is that you ONLY think about all the businesses ahead of yours, in your chosen category - your DIRECT competitors.

Here’s where email marketing strays a bit from wartime strategies. In war, your enemy is clear; it’s the big evil tribe across the field.
In the digital marketing space and in the business space in general, whether it's B2B or e-commerce, your competitors might not be your real competitors.

It’s fuzzy. It’s woozy; it’s whizzy. It’s fugazi. (as Matthew McConaughey would say)

You think the enemy is clear. You think you got the villain. You got the bad guy… but let’s break things down and see whether you truly Know Your Enemy - which is the 5th & last principle in our series
The fifth principle is to
Know Your Enemy
“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself” - Sun Tzu
These principles are not plug-n-play templates but rather tools in your arsenal that stir you away from tactics that do NOT work and into the mode of thinking that will help you generate an infinite amount of tactics that DO work.

If the circunstances are not favorable, don’t engage. It’s like Poker or betting; only place a bet if the odds are in your favor. He did not mention that you can both wait for & pick the right circumstances or create an unfair advantage yourself.
The myth
of competition
"Corporate strategy is rooted in military strategy and thus overly focused on competing" - @category pirates
What if I said that when you treat the business game as a cutthroat competition and assume that your competitor is your enemy, you’ve just fallen for a giant ideology trick that’s been pounded into your skull since kindergarten.
You would either say that I’m crazy or that you don’t think this way at all.
In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel points out how war metaphors have invaded everyday business language. For example:
We use headhunters to build up a sales force that will enable us to take a captive market and make a killing.

And he further concludes that:
It’s competition, not business, that is like war: allegedly necessary, supposedly valiant, but ultimately destructive.
But let’s go back a step, and define the concept of competition first.
from Wikipedia: Competition is a rivalry where two or more parties strive for a common goal that cannot be shared: where one's gain is the other's loss.

In other words, competition is a Zero-Sum Game. I win. You lose. There’s no win-win scenario.
Now, don’t get me wrong, advertising is most of the time a zero-sum game.
Business, however, is much different. We are not slicing the same pie into smaller and smaller pieces. It’s a constant process of baking and cutting. Growing the market and your share of it in tandem.

As such, the more niche market you are in, the more likely you should look outside the box as to who your competitor truly is. So, if your enemy is not your direct competitor, what/who is it?
The zero-sum
battle for attention
You are what you pay attention to.

We are all limited by time & energy. We all have 24 hours in a day, limiting the number of things we can pay attention to - at least consciously. (Yes, Capn’ Obvious). Your goal is to get a reply, click, sales, or other reaction from your prospect/customer. Action requires attention, and attention is a limited resource.

Depending on where you get your information, it’s estimated that we are exposed to 5,000 - 10,000 advertisements per day. And these are only ads we are talking about. In reality, there are hundreds of other thieves of attention in your and your prospects’ life.

With all of the above in mind, it

The opposition

Imagine if we switch the word ‘enemy,’ which is the war-time equivalent of ‘opponent’, or ‘competitor’, for a term that better encapsulates this concept.

The opposing force.

1) Other senders
Who you are really competing against in the inbox is not just your competitors’ emails but… all the emails they receive on a daily basis.
Some of them include transactional emails, receipts, newsletters, and calendar confirmations.
Thus, rather than get bogged down by your competitors’ messaging, think of the distinct categories of emails your target customer receives on a daily/weekly basis, and see if you can use that knowledge to your advantage.

2) Other channels
Going back to the battle for attention, think of all the other channels/mediums/places where your customers/prospects get bombarded with advertisements. For example:
LinkedIn and Facebook feeds, billboards on the way home, text messages (SMS) and… you get the idea.
Think about your typical customer persona and dissect their daily routines and activities.
Ask yourself: Which mediums do they pay the most attention to? How ‘noisy’ are those mediums? Compare, evaluate & pick the most attractive.
You may find that email is not the best medium to reach that particular customer.

3) YOU
The biggest enemy of yours is actually *Drum roll**… You.
Your inertia and complacency. Your inner myopia and biases. Your emotions. Your desire for conformity and urge to follow the crowd
• If I look back on 20,000 campaigns and years and years of working with 1200 businesses, I have racked up a lot of failed campaigns. And when I look back at where these campaigns failed and hindsight being 20/20.
• Was it deliverability? Did I send something without running it through the mail-tester first? Should I have done a litmus check on it? Should I have rotated out a different design? Was the offer wrong? Was my list hygiene off?
• You think about all these different things. The vast majority of these mistakes, so the 80/20 rule here, were not driven by bad data. They weren't driven by unlucky timing. They were driven by my emotional state.
So, being mindful of how your own emotions take you out of good decision-making and pulling into lousy judgment is a big piece of the puzzle.
Bonus: When picking a fight may prove to be useful
When you stand against something/someone, it is way more powerful than standing FOR something(company values/code). Look at politics.

It’s what Democrats did with Trump. The problem is, they ONLY stand against Trump but do not stand FOR anything, which makes them a little untrustworthy. Still powerful, though.
Part of the story is the Disliking/Hating Tendency that Charlie Munger has written about.
As most apes & monkeys we are born with dislike and hate - as a result long history of man contains almost continuous war. In the present day the clever political arrangements of a man "channel" this tendency into non-lethal patterns including elections.
Nothing brings people together like having a common enemy. If you tell your people there's a threat, your people will rally behind you.
Look at evolution.

Threats helped us survive. Those who paid attention or even over-reacted survived and passed on the genes. We fear snakes, spiders & heights, however irrational it may seem in the present day.
In your marketing, messaging, or your personal/brand's voice, you need a villain. Create a villain, unite people, and separate yourself from the crowd.

The villain can be an enemy/competitor/group/set of ideas.
Most people & businesses are afraid of doing that because of peer pressure - what their community of peers will think of them, especially if they are close to them.

Be careful, though; you can act tribal all you want, as long as you define your tribe well. If you don’t feel comfortable throwing rocks at your enemies, you can at least acknowledge the universal need for revenge, then talk your group out of it.

The way out of tribalism is not non-tribalism. We, as humans, need to belong to a group. Otherwise, we stand alone, depressed, against the world.

Again, what I’m giving you is just a tool, like a bow and arrow. You can use it for good, or you can use it for evil. That's where virtue and morality come into play...but that's an entirely (huge at that) different topic.
The main takeaway from this principle is - that your first conclusion may not be the correct one.
You thought you had the enemy locked on your radar, but in reality, you got tricked by your mind, which likes to jump to conclusions quickly and proceeds to seek confirmatory evidence.

Now is your opportunity to sit down, think a little outside the box, and double-check that you’re barking at the right tree. (Which is something that most of your enemies won’t do)

To finish things off, I’ll leave you with a quote from another ancient Chinese figure - the creator of Daoism:
"In politics choose order. In business choose efficiency. In action choose opportunity. Do not compete. If you do this you’ll be irreproachable" - Lao Tzu
May 30, 2022
About The Author
Konrad is a proud grilled cheese enthusiast and content creator who loves to make videos on all things marketing and mindful productivity. When he’s not posting content to her youtube channel (Konrad) and an instagram account (@konrad) he’s usually finding a cool new hiking spot or trying out a new strategy.

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