The Art of War of the Inbox

Adapting Sun Tzu's Art of War to Email Marketing

Principles endure; formulas don’t. If there is a formula, it’s not creative. – Bill Bernbach

The Art of War of the Inbox

Are you feeling reactive – rather than proactive – when running your email marketing campaigns?
Did tactics that used to work miracles now fail publicly and miserably? Have your pivots to different strategies have a stupidly short shelf-life?
When marketing wisdom fails us, we need to look at other disciplines, such as war. I don’t believe it is an accident that marketing efforts are called “campaigns,” mirroring language used for millennia. Military science emphasizes the use of intelligence (head) over brute force (muscles) and teaches us how to win battles with the least amount of death effort.

In this 5-part series, I’ve distilled battle-tested principles that my team at B2B Bandits has learned the hard way over 13 years and 21,000 email campaigns and examined them through the lens of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

If you thoughtfully consider and apply them, you can start planning and executing your email campaigns like a savvy general instead of a reactive marketer. You won’t find any plug-n-play templates, glittery objects, or empty promises. Instead, we’ll equip you for email battle with hard-earned, violently practical advice.

The inspiration

Sun Tzu was a military general, strategist, and philosopher who waged war in China over 2,000 years ago. His collected wisdom, The Art of War, outlined 13 principles refined in decades of advising leaders, diplomats, politicians, and generals toward victory.


Nearly all of Sun Tzu’s principles apply to email marketing, except perhaps Attack by Fire, which has a heavy Game of Thrones vibe. ;^)
Now, charge into this series – keep your head up, eyes open, and weapon at the ready.
DISCLAIMER: When you dig into the principles, you’ll likely prefer one principle and dismiss the others. Don’t. The great strategists in war and marketing use ‘battle-tested’ principles to challenge their thinking and overcome potentially campaign-killing tendencies. In that spirit, I invite you to challenge my thinking about email, victory, and defeat.

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