Principle #4 Check Your Biasses

The Art Of War Of The Inbox

Principle #4 Check Your Biasses

I’m a biased and ignorant lil’ bastard. I read books, study human biases, and even have a copy of “Psychology of Human Misjudgement” by Charlie Munger laying around on my desk. Yet still, I continue to make irrational decisions.

I can’t tell you how many times it caused me to screw up my or clients’ email campaigns. (Hint: a ton)

Now I’m not the first to realize it and point it out. An ancient Chinese general gave us a clear warning 2000 years before I did:
He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.“ - Sun Tzu
Modern marketing translation would go something like this…

**Check yourself before you wreck yourself (and your campaign).

So, let’s dig into the **Principle #2 - Check your bi-asses**, and learn how we can check our ego & biases before we run our email campaigns.

A quick lesson from human nature

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. \- Richard Feynman
Why are we biased, and what are cognitive biases?

Cognitive biases, by definition, are:
Tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgments.
You think you’re rational, but this pesky evolution thingy did not make you a (keyword here) **fully** rational creature. You have got some irrational tendencies inside you that used to save your life, and now they screw up your email campaigns.

But now that I pointed this out to you, you can no longer blame ignorance for your stupid mistakes. (Haha!)

A wise man once said - **Awareness is curative**.

Let’s see if we can apply this lesson to email marketing.

Drive-by of most common  campaign-killing biases

If I were to run you through all the different biases that may be ruining your email campaigns, profits, or even life, we’d need a book, not a blog post.
(According to Rolf Dobelli (author of Art of Thinking Clearly), there’re roughly 100-120 of them)
In the war environment, the most common one would be overconfidence. Take Napoleon as an example, who, on the morning of the Battle of Waterloo, smugly assured his generals:
“I tell you, Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers, and we will settle this matter by lunchtime”.
It turns out that a little less arrogance might have changed the course of history.

Of course, the modern inbox is not a 19th-century battleground, so the stakes are not the same, but fortunately (or not), the human biases haven’t changed a bit.

Now let’s run through the four most relevant biases that reap the biggest harvest amongst marketing departments and email marketing agencies.

Survivorship bias

In technical terms:
The logical error of concentrating on the people or things that ‘survived’ some process and inadvertently overlooking those that did not because of their lack of visibility.
In plain English, it means that you survived a particular scenario and now think you will do it again.

In email marketing, an example could be uploading a non-opt-in list to Mailchimp or Klaivyo. Your account’s fine…for now :-)

Your past success means that you will **keep** succeeding.

You gained an edge over your competitors, which means you will maintain or further this advantage.

In your head, you are thinking,”*I GOT THE EDGE; I’m SPECIAL. I AM THE CHOSEN ONE*

`Insert NEO - I'm the chosen one`

Pardon my French, but Fuck no. The most likely scenario is that you got lucky (or the person you’re taking advice from did.)

The second most likely scenario is that you had something to do with the success but completely missed what caused it.

Oh, and beware of following 1-hit-wonders - just because they struck a home run, doesn’t mean they know the recipe for effective swinging.*

**Useful question**: Looking back at your prior successful email campaigns, when did you get away with a bad strategy? When did you have a solid strategy, but a single bad result made you dismiss it?

Projection Bias

There are various definitions of this bias, but at its core, it makes us predict a future outcome based on our present emotional state.

In your head, it probably goes something like this:

*Maaan, my customers are going to love this. I should probably double my supplies because the demand will be so high.

Optimism is necessary in business, marketing & life, but… don’t overdo it. Don’t project your emotional state on your potential customer. Inject some rationality into the mix, and make a rational-optimist soup.

Or in other words, check your optimism before you wreck yourself.

Useful questions: *What’s the best, worst & middle case scenario? How likely are each of them to happen?

Endowment bias & Sunk-cost fallacy

I am now coming to you with a bias & fallacy - a double-whammy. It’s a dangerous duo, these two. Beware!

Endowment makes you overvalue what you already have i.e. price your product/service higher than market value, just because you have created it.

You’re thinking along the lines of: “I got it; therefore, it’s worth helluva money.”

Now, if we connect it with the Sunk-cost fallacy (which you probably heard of):

“A cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.”

The result: You keep banging your head against the wall, but you won’t stop slamming because the hole’s already pretty damn deep.

**Useful question:** *What does my customer consider valuable? *What’s the gap between what I charge and the value I bring?

Overcoming bi-asses

There are several ‘tactics’ you can use or develop to keep your irrational side in check, so just to get your juices flowing, I will share my top 3 ideas for overcoming them in email marketing.


1) Believe data from a/b tests - both unexpected failure & success.

Data is critical, but it needs to be statistically significant (often, it isn’t).
(This statistical significance calculator by Neil Patel might prove a valuable tool in your arsenal.)

But more importantly, pay close attention and dissect unexpected failures & successes of your campaigns. That’s your most valuable source of information.

**The unexpected part means that there’s an incongruity between what your assumptions and reality.** Dig into that.

Ask yourself: *Am I clinging to a certain subject line, email copy, or list, despite data indicating that it’s not working? Am I doing it just because I thought it would work or fell in love with my idea?


2) Believe subscriber ‘behavior’

If your existing or prospective clients are telling you something, believe them. Whether you’re looking at stats or reading email replies, believe it. Even if it seems irrational, it is the capital T - Truth.

Of course, sometimes you need to ignore the *majority in favor of a small minority who your product/service is for.  It’s up to you to evaluate that.


3) Read this article every time you’re about to send out a new campaign

This one is self-explanatory. Bookmark it and add it to your campaign sending checklist (if you have one). wink wink

Grounding yourself in reality

Truth––more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality––is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes. - Ray Dalio
Whether we look at Marcus Aurelius, who wrote at length about piercing through immediate perceptions in his book Meditations, or we listen to a wise businessman like Ray Dalio. Then, one thing is clear: our mind plays tricks on us, and it’s up to each of us to not let ourselves get fooled.

The main takeaway here is this:

We can’t eliminate our biases and ignorance, but we can continue to check ourselves - especially when it comes to high-stakes decisions.

Next time you run a campaign, ask yourself:

*What don’t I see?* *What am I missing here?*
What is data telling me?
How do I know I’m right?
*Who can I triangulate with that’s willing to disagree with me?

Until next time,
- [Art of Thinking Clearly](
- [Psychology of Human Misjudgment](

The art of war of the inbox

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