What does a Chinese general who lived 2500 years ago and modern advertising icon have in common, and what does it mean for your email marketing strategy? It means that your email inbox has become a warzone, and it’s high time for you to stop fighting fair. But fair is a confusing word that clouds your reality, and I’ll clear that up for you.
This post is #1 of the 5-part series on Sun Tzu’s Art of War principles applied to email marketing. If you read, ingrain and start applying these principles, you will run more effective email marketing campaigns.
The first principle is to
Stop playing fair
“According as circunstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.” - 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 fairness misunderstanding
When you hear the word fair, you immediately think about fair play, hitting below the belt, or the new-age favorite - equality.
After all, we were taught to play fair since we were little children. And it does make sense.
Kantian Fairness tendency is one of Charlie Munger’s mental models, which refers to the pursuit of perfect fairness which causes a lot of terrible problems.
What we don’t realize, however, is that what may be unfair to an individual could be perfectly fair to the bigger whole. (the so-called law of the higher good).
I believe fairness has a lot to do with conformity, disguised as “fighting for the higher good”. It’s far safer to follow the rules than bend or violate them. You play it safe and proclaim yourself as a do-gooder.
Playing fair =
"It is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative. The fatal issue is that logic always gets you to exactly the same place as your competitors" - Rory Sutherland
Conventional wisdom and what works are two different things. When you rely on templates, and “proven” methods and only follow best practices, you’re playing it safe. You don’t want to risk it for a biscuit. You fear your idea will not work or will get laughed out of the (zoom) room.
Well, that’s definitely possible. But what’s even more probable is that following usual tactics will give you the typical results. Which, in the game of email marketing, is typically a tiny number.
A quick leason from systems theory.
• Simple (cause and effect are clear)
• Complicated (muddled but exist)
• Complex (only knowable after the fact)
• Chaotic (well, who the hell knows)
Simple systems have best practices. Complicated systems have good practices. Complex systems have emergent. Email marketing is not a simple system. As such, there are no best practices. In the best-case scenario, there are only good ones. But, where does the line tell us when something's fair or unfair?
Playing Inside &
"Some rules can be bent, others broken" - Morpheus
What are the email rules?
How do we know which ones can be bent which broken? Playing fair means playing by the rules, by the rulebook. Miriam-Webster’s dictionary has a wonderful term for it:
But ask yourself in the context of email:
• What are those rules, really?
• Who sets them?
• Who guards/enforces them?
• What are the worst possible consequences of either bending or breaking them?
• Who is my competition … my opponent?
I want you to do some thinking on your own, but I shall not be so cruel and give you a hint. The two most important actors in this game are
a) Your potential client
b) Email provider
What works with them, and is allowed by them, is the only thing that should concern you. Your enemy is not your competition but a limited attention span.
"Creativity may be the last unfair advantage we are legally allowed to have over the competition"
- Bill Bernbach
Translated into plain speak, if you want to gain a legal advantage, get your creative juices flowing - that’s your best bet. I can share dozens of ideas with you on what an unfair fight in the email inbox may look like.
• Change the playing field
• Exit the inbox
• Get close-n-personal
• Images, graphics, GIFs, videos
• Intentional misspelling
• Weird greetings and sign-offs
• Remove certain elements all-together
• Whacky formatting
Do not get married to these ideas. They can work, but you're not being creative when you take and use them. Steal, don’t copy. Take what’s useful; discard what’s not. Flex your creative muscle and figure out a way to gain an unfair advantage... (oh, you may already have it.)
Finally, come back to us and report your findings to inspire each other moving forward.
Sutherland R. Alchemy The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense
April 26, 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.