Why It's Time To 'Unthink' Email

I recently had the opportunity to hear artist and consultant Erik Wahl speak at Epsilon’s Client Symposium. An inspiring keynote, Wahl urged attendees to reawaken the beginner’s mind by unthinking our way to being more creative. 

Many think creativity is an inherent skill — we’re either born with it or we’re not. But as Wahl explained, that’s not the case. Every toddler considers herself an artist, so why do we lose that mentality over time? 

This conversation brought me back to the beginning of my email career more than 17 years ago. At that time, the email channel represented opportunity.  It was the beginning, and we all had minds full of creative ideas on how to leverage email.

As the channel evolved, best practices were established and benchmarks were set. Over time, one could argue that the more we learned, the more fear was instilled in us. One quote from Wahl that stood out applies here:  “Fear represents false evidence appearing real. We allow fears to paralyze the creative process.”



Deliverability issues, unsubscribes, typos, formatting mistakes are all fears we face as email marketers. As a result, we adapt our creative process to take these fears into account.  Instead of practicing creativity as it applies to email, we’ve become programmed to practice best practices and try to avoid failure by focusing on our fears.  

But as Wahl explained, “The art of excellence is couched in the science of reprogramming our mind for new and different ideas.” So how do we “unthink” email and get back to beginners’ mind? Consider these three ways:

Embrace failure.  As email marketers, we are programmed to measure success by open rates, click-through rates and purchase attribution. When an email campaign drives a higher percentage of unsubscribes, we think we've failed.

We need to embrace these moments as learning opportunities and start focusing on the positive outcomes. This focus is what will drive our creativity forward.

Don’t stop trying. Just because one thing you tried, one time, didn’t yield the outcome you anticipated, doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. Trying different variations of an idea can realize a positive result.

For example, many email marketers are testing emoji symbols in their subject lines. Perhaps you tried this once and didn’t find that it led to increased open rates. This doesn’t mean that emojis in your subject line should be abandoned. These little symbols could very well drive engagement. Try again with a different symbol and different content.   

Color outside the lines.  You don’t always have to play by the book -- sometime breaking the rules is exactly what you need to do to gain the attention you are looking for. Approaching your creative differently, looking at your audience from a new vantage point, or interacting in a way that you wouldn’t normally can all be good things. Just because someone says you have to always color the sky blue and the grass green, doesn’t make it so.

We often think that the more we know about a marketing channel, the more successful we’ll be. But it’s time we “unthink” email (we already know it’s an effective channel!) and focus on redefining fear and unleashing our creative minds.

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