What Two NFL Coaches Can Teach You About Email Marketing

Email inspiration is everywhere, even in the Super Bowl.

As a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan, I was excited to see the team go for its sixth NFL championship. But I also was impressed by Coach Jim Harbaugh's bold personnel move in the middle of the regular season, which illustrated one of my perennial pieces of advice for email marketers: "If it ain't broke, then break it."

Gambling for Greater Gain

The 49ers were already leading their division when Harbaugh made backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick his starting QB, even after Alex Smith recovered from a concussion that kept him out of two games.

Smith was having his best season, at or near the top in many quarterback statistical categories. So why mess with success?

Harbaugh said little in public except that he would go with the "hot hand." But he clearly believed Kaepernick had special skills -- running and superior arm strength -- that could propel the team into champions.



Jim's brother John, the Baltimore Ravens' coach, also gambled by firing his offensive coordinator with only three games left in the regular season. The change eventually enabled quarterback Joe Flacco and his offense to get white-hot in the playoffs.

Changing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators well into the season are risky moves, but ones that each coach believed could pay off with the big prize.

Making the Good Better and the Better Great

Your mission is the same as the Harbaugh brothers': Do what's necessary not just to meet but also to exceed your business goals, even if it means changing a game plan that's working pretty well.

Whether in sports or business, true leaders understand that you have to take your game to a higher level to beat the competition. Sticking to the status quo today could get you left behind tomorrow.

Below are five potentially bold moves that could propel your email-marketing program from good to great:

1. Change your goals and metrics: If your email team and resources aren't where they should be, perhaps you’re underreporting how email contributes to the top and bottom lines. Or, you measure success with process instead of output metrics.

Consider running hold-out tests to prove how email drives increased sales in-store, online and via direct mail. Also, reporting on profits from email might make management see email in a new, more positive light.

2. Change the team: If you're the boss, take a hard look at your team. Do your players have the skills, expertise and drive to rethink current strategies and come up with game-changing plans that could take your program to greater heights?

If you're the email-marketing manager, consider making the case to report to another department head to gain the respect, resources and management support you desperately need.

3. Change vendors: Does your email technology vendor lack features, integrations or services you need to grow? Yes, a more sophisticated solution could cost more, but your gamble could pay off with higher revenue.

4. Change your mindset: Have you given up battling with your CMO, IT head or merchandising VP over simple approaches that could increase results? If you believe in a new approach or process, then build a realistic case, and ask to test it.

If successful test results don't get you the resources and approvals you need, it's probably time to look for a new coach or team.

5. Change your program approach: You've doubled your frequency, added free shipping offers and a discount to most messages and jazzed up your subject lines with cool symbols.

All fine; but perhaps you'd get further if you were to add another dozen messages to your automated programs that could contribute an additional 20%, 30% or 40% of email revenue on top of your core broadcast program.

Will Your Bold Move Pay Off?

You might think Jim Harbaugh lost his gamble on Kaepernick because the Ravens won, 34-31. But had he not switched QBs, the score probably wouldn't have been that close or the game as exciting. The 49ers might not even have made it to New Orleans.

More importantly, both teams are positioned now for better on-field performances next season and beyond.

It's time to take your email program off autopilot and ask yourself, "What bold move could propel us to crush our numbers and the competition?

Have you or a client taken a big risk in your email program? Please share your bold moves in the comments.

No risk, no reward. Until next time, take it up a notch (or two)!

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