The Art Of War Of The Inbox

Principle #2 - Vary Your Tactics

“In the midst of difficulties, we are always ready to seize an advantage; we may extricate ourselves from misfortune … the general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.”
– Sun Tzu-
There are two methods of fighting the email inbox war: as a marketer or as a general.
What ends up happening in any marketing battlefield, email marketing included, is that you look for a tactic that works – a ‘best practice’ in today’s parlance. Then you use that tactic over and over and over again until it’s no longer effective. Then you go hunting for another best practice.
Rinse and repeat as needed.
The emerging popularity of a tactic is what brought it to your attention in the first place. Your use of a best practice will further increase its popularity, decreasing its effectiveness and eventually leading to its death.
You can break this cycle by adopting the Art of War principle of “Vary Your Tactics”.

Mixing it up is no longer an option.

If you want to stand out in the inbox and catch your customer’s or prospect’s attention. If you’re going to get them to do something, share something, reply to something, or buy something. You have to mix it up.
Novelty grabs attention.

There’s some nerdy science – information theory    – behind this principle:

The two keywords to take away from this theory are signal & noise. Information theory states: that which is not surprising contains no information. And the very best sources of information have a very high signal-to-noise ratio
If you look at your email inbox, you’ll notice a lot of noise in the form of SPAM, cold emails, promotional emails, etc. That’s the noise.
But what signals do you look for when you scan your inbox for something relevant and valuable?
Our minds will consider two opposing things: is it familiar? And is it new?
On the one hand, you look for familiar names of co-workers, clients, or email newsletters you subscribe to. Those might get read.
On the other hand, you look for new messages that contrast the noise amidst an inbox. Those might get read.
This human urge to find the signal amongst the noise, the new among the familiar, the surprising amongst the predictable.
What happens to a predictable animal?

What happens to a predictable football team?

What happens to a predictable message?

It may work because it’s different.

The reason most of the marketing fails is that it blends in.

Famous ad man Dave Trott  says that of the billions spent annually on advertising & marketing in the U.K – 4% is remembered positively, 7% negatively, and 89% is neither noticed nor remembered.

The problem is not the 7% remembered negatively – it is the 89% of advertising & marketing that is ignored.
To help illustrate why here’s my fancy drawing (kidding):
Which one of the shapes caught your eye first?

The reason X catches your attention is likely your analogy instinct    which helped prehistoric humans stay alive by forcing us to identify anything out of place as potentially dangerous (or helpful).

The key concept here is INSTINCT.
Instinct is something we do automatically – without conscious thinking. The people who receive business emails will ignore/delete the message without a first or second thought.
Ask yourself – “What emails is my prospect used to seeing? What is NOT going to surprise them?”

Stop hammering the same tactic

Let’s briefly go through a typical best practice email sequence to illustrate this.
Email 1
Just some pitch
Follow-Up Email 2
Hey, did you get my last email?
Follow-Up Email 1
Hey, just following up on my last email.
Follow-Up Email 3
Did you get a chance to read my email yet?
Follow-Up Email 4
Oh man, I must’ve ruffled your feathers. I’m so sorry. Here’s my pitch again … and that coupon code you never asked for … and that scheduling link again.
This may seem like an extreme case, but I see countless B2B marketers falling into this trap of hammering the same tactic over and over again in their emails. And it’s killing their campaigns.
Varying your tactics should not be considered a ‘nice to have’ but a critical component of your campaign strategies.

How to vary your tactics

In his film, FIRST STRIKE, Jackie Chan fought off the bad guys with a ladder.

1) Set a pattern, then interrupt it

Let’s go through a few tactical variations you should consider deploying in your email campaigns.
Pattern interrupts can take countless forms. Here are a few of my favorites:
Campaign Pattern Interrupts.
● TONE: Send four educational emails, then break the pattern with a humorous promotional email.
● LENGTH: Send a 250-word promotional email, then a 250-word educational email, then a 250-word promotional email, and break the pattern with a 1,500-word heartfelt story.
● PACING: Send a weekly email for five consecutive weeks, then send nothing for three weeks, then start sending monthly.
● STYLE: Send text-only emails for the first month, break the pattern with a graphical HTML email, and switch back to text-only emails.
DO NOT USE IF … you don’t have the time/deliverability/relationship to set the pattern. No less than three emails would need to be noticed for any prospect or client to detect a pattern.


2) Change the gender of the sender

If your prospects/customers are accustomed to seeing an email from a male, switch to a female, and vice versa.
And if they are used to hearing from a company, switch to your office dog.
DO NOT USE IF … you do not have someone matching that name or gender (or species) on your team. Fabricating a person can backfire when campaigns gain traction.


3) Break out of the inbox

Consider breaking out of the email channel entirely. Instead of pushing your typical monthly ‘nurture’ newsletter, break the pattern with a snail-mailed printed newsletter.

Or you can message them via their social media channel of choice.

Or you can just pick up your phone, call them and say yo!


the new channel or medium is likely to be interpreted by your prospects as an invasion of privacy, e.g., texting when they have never given you their cell number, let alone permission to send to it.
Here are a few walk-away questions for you to ponder:

What new tactics can you deploy when running campaigns? Will the change attract or repel your prospects? How can you test it?

What would it look like to do the exact opposite of your biggest competitor?

And how would you vary it over time??

Let me know how ‘varying your tactics’ works out – or doesn’t – in your email campaigns.

Reference Link

The business world is Konrad’s playground for testing unconventional B2B marketing strategies, writing whacky copy, and sharing unique insights about the art of strategy & marketing. In his spare time, he uses his Quest For Questions podcast to question conventional wisdom, widely-held assumption, and deeply-rooted beliefs in order to figure out the capital T-Truth.

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