Bill Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of the National Football League. He’s been to 10 Super Bowls as either a head coach (7) or assistant (3), where his teams have accumulated an incredible 7-3 record. That’s an astounding 19.6% of all Super Bowls! Love him or hate him, he’s the best.
Luckily for email marketers, some of the same things that have made Bill Belichick great can guide your email program to new heights of success. While there may be hundreds of things an email marketer can take from Belichick (and the entire Patriots organization), for me it settles into seven main areas. These cornerstones separate winning from losing.
Why seven? One for every Super Bowl victory, of course!
- Laser focus on winning - The one thing that Belichick teams seem to do better than others is an incredible focus on winning. Sometimes they run the ball. Sometimes they throw the ball 60 times a game. They run a flexible defense that focuses on taking away the opposition's best player. They know that a focus on winning brings winning behavior. The trick is that you can’t just say “go win”. You have to define how.
The single biggest problem with email marketers is simple - they don’t know what winning looks like. Is it revenue? Brand engagement? Driving to retail? Open and click rates? Too many email marketers can answer the question “how do I know when my email program is winning?” By focusing on what winning email means to your company - and the process for how you’re going to get there - you can better focus on the things you need to do in order to be successful.
I’ve been at companies where the winning aspiration was simple - drive more ways to thrill customers and - in turn - drive revenue. Those sorts of organizations are FUN to work with. I’ve been in other were either the organization could not define winning or - worse - was ONLY focused on revenue as the win. Those sorts of organizations are awful to work with. If revenue is your only goal, it’s time to change your game plan.
Preparation - How do you have multiple offensive sets to attack a defense? How can you design a defense to take away what the opposing offense wants to do? It’s simple - you prepare and practice. The problem is, people sometimes hate to practice. It’s hard work.
For email marketers, your “practice” is testing. You continually have to be scanning the horizon for tips, tricks and technologies that can help build your winning mindset. For example, AI-based language tools like Phrasee didn’t exist five years ago. Do they work? Have you tested them, or are you relying on “industry experts” to tell you. Letting someone else do the testing work is, basically, skipping practice. You have to get in there and do it yourself so you can learn the ins and outs of why something works. Yes, it’s hard work. Tighten up your chinstrap and get to work.
I’ve been lucky enough to have successfully turned around a number of email programs. The easiest way - every single time - it to establish a robust testing process. In situations where I’ve failed to successfully turn a program around, this lack of commitment to testing was a huge factor - they simply would not test what they did not know. Which leads to...
Everyone is on the same page - One of the great things about Belichick's teams is their remarkable consistency. it comes from everyone in the building - from the coaches to the players, all being on the same page. If you want to freelance, you’re out. You may be a great individual contributor but the moment you deviate from the winning plan, you’re out.
Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to be an email marketer. It’s a humbling role. You’re not the quarterback...you’re more like the kicker. You have to be able to face continual favornlf but keep on moving. It’s hard. If people on your team aren’t pulling in the same direction, it’s time to trade them. If you fundamentally disagree with your boss about email’s role in the company, it may actually be time for YOU to leave.
I was once brought in to “turn around” an email program. (I put that in quotes because not only did the organization lack a winning aspiration and the willingness to prepare, it also lacked accurate measurement systems.) The single biggest mistake I made was not getting rid of the people who obviously did not want to get on the “new” train. If people are not down with the plan, remember the next step...
Take the emotion out of the decision-making - Lots of teams in the NFL are focused on winning, with the possible exception of the Cleveland Browns. So while focusing on winning is great, it’s not enough. Sometimes, you have to make tough decisions with employees, vendors and co-workers.
Too many times, teams (and companies) make decisions that are emotional rather than rational. They will hang onto a particular style of playing because it once worked somewhere else. They will not put the right players on their team to win. They will focus on interim items that look nice in a spreadsheet but don’t actually assist in achieving victory. Belichick doesn’t seem to suffer from these issues - he’s ruthless about getting good value from his players. If you’re not bringing value...you need to go.
In email marketing, you know this is happening when you hear lots of “I thinks” when talking about your email program - aka “I think that this works so that’s what we’re going to do.” If you’re not replacing “I think” with “I know”, you’re not getting sufficient value from your email program. If you’re leaning too hard on “I think”, you’re putting your emotions ahead of the facts.
I was lucky enough to figure out one key thing - nothing stops a charging “I think” marketer faster than empirical data. So my team and I would sit in a room, try to think of all the “I think” questions that people come up with, then test them. Sometimes the “I thinks” were right and we were able to capitalize early. Other times, we headed off a whole lot of headaches by saying “we tested that and it depressed sales by 11.5%.” (Oh yes, adding the decimal point is always good - it makes you look super-accurate.)
Continually push boundaries - Deflategate, Spygate, Eligible player gate...Belichick has so many gates that he might someday make a great landscaper.
While some people (mostly Jets, Colts and Ravens fans) will whine and cry “he’s a cheater,” most of Belichick's “cheats” have come from finding a weakness in the existing rules then exploiting that weakness (aka - Is This Guy or That Guy Eligible.) He’s not cheating as much as testing the boundaries of what is acceptable under the existing rules. It’s a strategy worth adopting in email marketing.
How many times have you heard “do that and you’ll end up in the SPAM BOX” or “everyone will unsubscribe!!!” then never actually tested your hypothesis? Your job as an email marketer is to continually test the boundaries of what’s possible. Change your send frequency. Use personalization. Expand the number of IPs you use, then segment them according to mailbox provider. Segment your customers and alter their messaging. Whenever you hear “prevailing wisdom”, run a test against it. It’s all part of your preparation.
A few years ago I was on a panel at a trade show. The other panelist (from an ESP) said “you have to roll inactives off your file so you don’t cause deliverability issues.” I had been looking at this very issue with my own data and saw just the opposite - there was no need to roll off people until they asked for it. It was a spirited debate, after which I was called several names. Because I had done the preparation, I didn’t really care to follow conventional wisdom. Plus, it helped cement my friendship with Dela Quist. Sort of like a two-point conversion!
Dedication - The amazing thing about Belichick is that the players keep changing but the team keeps winning. Even when Tom Brady was out this season, the team still finished 3-1. The reason? Belichick finds players who “fit” the winning aspirations of the team. He likes tough, flexible, smart players who love the game of football. They are dedicated to playing winning football.
On your email team, how many of the players LOVE email marketing? If your winning aspiration is building a connection with your brand, how many on your team have a branding background? How many of the players on your team secretly (or not so secretly) hate what you’re doing?
Every team is not for every person. As email marketers, choose players who best fit the “winning” aspiration of your program. Put good people in roles they can be successful in and success will come. Might it mean you need to change out some players? Sure. But - in the end - getting people who WANT to be on your team and who buy into what you’re doing will serve your program better than not doing so.
Find Motivation anywhere you can - One area where Belichick shines is in providing his team motivation from external sources. Winning aspirations, preparation and dedication are all seeds of success that are beautifully fertilized by someone who doubts that you can actually pull it off. As he said in the latest, most glorious Super Bowl ever “they counted us out about twenty times.”
Motivation can come from anywhere - from the search team that get all the money while email delivers ALL the profit. From the brand police who flip out when you want to send just one more (ridiculously profitable) email. From the social media pundits who claim that “email is dead (now give me your email budget).” I have lived through so many “email is dead” incantations that even the cats got scared.
Let’s face it, we all love a good enemy (which is why Kylo Ren - aka Emo Vader - was so WEAK!) Find the fuel and use it well.
Make these seven elements part of your email marketing program and you’ll achieve great success.
As for Belichick...there’s a good chance he’ll see you in next year’s Super Bowl!