This story begins during World War II. The English were starting to bomb targets in Germany. Of course they wanted to quickly improve the armour of the planes. The planes that came back from their bomb runs were carefully inspected for damage.

Engineers analysed the bullet holes and made an overview of the parts that were hit the most. The planes were reinforced in those places before sending them on their next flight.

You can even imagine that such a strategy would work for your digital marketing. Seems a very smart thing to do, but was it? I’ll come back to that.

Reinforcing the right strategy

It is important to realize what you are basing your digital marketing on. I agree with Chris Bradley from McKinsey & Company. Focus on the building blocks and doing it in the right order loads the dice in favor of developing succesful strategies, .

(Source McKinsey&Company)

Evolve into better framing
A solid strategy that focuses on the core building blocks will avoid high dependency on luck, just good timing, or strokes of inspiration. As you can see there are different steps creating any email marketing plan. These building blocks are used to help companies make the right choices and bring to life an operational reality based on strategic insights. The last block: Evolve should provide feedback to the fist block and have influence on Framing: “Asking the right questions”. With that in mind, have another look at your email marketing strategy.

Flip your customer knowledge

Back to World War II. Abraham Wald also had a look at the same data, the bullet holes in the returning planes. He came to a very different conclusion: They should do exactly the opposite. Not reinforce where the bullet holes are, the really vulnerable spots are where they aren’t!

The engineers made a mistake and forgot they didn’t get to see all the planes, they only saw the ones that didn’t crash. A few bullets to the engine could be fatal, but nobody ever saw it, because those planes crashed and never returned.

Avoiding death by insight

We all need to gather the information (bullet holes) if we want to have any chance for continuous improvement of our email campaigns. But that information is purely the input. It still needs to be translated into insight before incorporating it into your email marketing strategy.

Ha! The savvy marketer will say, I know exactly what type of conversion optimization I should use. We set the right KPIs, we are customer centric and etc and all that. We’ve got digital marketing totally figured out.

  • We ask our customers what they want and then give it to them.
  • We look at the behaviour of visitors on our website and traffic.
  • We try to find and target people that look like our current customers.
  • We try to make our customers as happy as they can be every step of the way.
  • We know our own market pretty well too and we know how we are different from competitors.
  • We have built up experience and that helps us make quicker decisions.

Probably you can think of several other information sources just like these, that are totally logical and seem to steer you into the right direction. They seem to. But just like the the story of the bombers in the war, is there a piece missing?

Offering exactly the value they want

A few months ago I helped a charity with their email marketing program. The marketing manager was telling me that they did a survey asking what the donors would like to hear from them.

The volunteers answered “We would like to know what you are doing with our donations”. Great. Because the charity wanted to add more value to their email program, they started to put the information about their projects at the top of the emails and emphasized it. What happened? The email marketing engagement with the newsletter started to drop, they were seeing less opens and clicks. Also the additional donations per email (revenue) declined.

Stop staring at the bullet holes

Everybody’s initial reaction is to look at the bullet holes, the information that seems the right step. In the example, doing what seemed the logical thing didn’t lead to better results. It actually made things worse than before. There are still a lot of possible reasons for getting worse results. But imagine that they started out like that, without any reference data to compare.

Stop staring only at the bullet holes and make a habit of looking broader. The information that feeds your strategy determines what you will be reinforcing, so also including the information you don’t have and flip your customer knowledge. Review your email program, because in the end, it might be worth doing the exactly the opposite of what seemed like a good idea at first.