The Art of War of the Inbox

Picking a fight in the Inbox & Out-thinking your competition

Principles endure; formulas don't. If there is a formula, it's not creative. - Bill Bernbach
Read all principles

Dear marketer,

There’s a war in the email inbox, and you’re getting the crap beat out of you.

Your moves are reactive rather than proactive - tactics that used to work wonders now deliver minimal results. New ones that pop up work for a couple of weeks and become outdated almost instantly.

It’s time to go back to the basics.

The foundations lie underneath successful email campaigns. And if there ever was a person that could teach us about the art of war of the Inbox - it’s Sun Tzu - the ancient Chinese general.

Sun Tzu emphasizes the use of intelligence(head) over brute force(muscles) and teaches us how to win battles the smart way - with the least amount of effort or resources.


In this article series, I’ll share the five distilled and battle-tested principles that my team of marketers & I have learned the hard way over the past 13 years and 20,000 email campaigns.

If you read, study and apply them, you’ll run your future campaigns like a GENERAL instead of a marketer, which is how you’ll get people to hand you over their hard-earned money.

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.

Are you ready to become one of the bandits?

The inspiration

Sun Tzu was a military strategist and a philosopher who lived approx. Two thousand five hundred years ago and is commonly thought of as the author of Art of War. (There are some disputes about that)

His book outlined 13 principles to help advise leaders, diplomats, politicians, and generals to win more by losing less.

Some, if not most, of these principles are not very applicable to email marketing or digital marketing in general.

For instance, in one of the principles, he talks about attacking by fire:

In order to carry out an attack, we must have means available. The material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness.

It's pretty tough to translate it into a 21st-century marketing environment.

However, if you distill his book down to the very core principles, in our case, five of them, and filter them through the modern lens, you can gain insights that no marketing book will teach you.

The art of blending

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” - Sun Tzu


When you dig into the principles, you’ll have a tendency to prefer one over the others. You might even fall in love with one and dismiss the others.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but keep in mind that the winning generals/strategists are not one-trick ponies. Their thinking toolkit is full of principles, which they mix n’ mash as they please, depending on the situation.

The truly great Generals in history used ALL of these principles— not just one. That’s the art of strategy - blending these principles and creating unique connections.

Without any further ado, I invite you to dig your teeth into these principles.


Good luck, sailor!

Are you in?