Why (and how) you should be spying on your competitors’ marketing emails

You know what they say, all is fair in love and email marketing. Are you taking advantage of your competitor's email strategies to improve your business?
Spy on your Competitor's Marketing Emails

Devising a sustainable email marketing strategy that continually drives sales and gets you a high ROI each quarter isn’t easy. Constant testing, amending, tweaking and freshening-up is necessary to ensure your emails continue to delight your email subscribers.

On the other hand, it’s super-easy to allow your strategy to get stale. The inconvenient truth about email marketing is that what worked last year or even last month won’t necessarily yield similar results today.

And it can be discouraging when you’re making all the right moves – regularly adding new subscribers to your database, consistently contacting your subscribers, testing subject lines, copy and CTAs and generally striving to stay on top of your email strategy ­­– yet you can’t seem to capture the same magic you once had.

Something is rotten in the state of Emailstrategyville: population you, and it really stinks.

What can you do to make your email strategy smell like roses again?

Keep your subscribers close, but your competitors closer

Most people would say that, aside from the invocation of the word “strategy”, comparing email marketing strategy to military strategy is like comparing apples to bowling balls, and they’d be correct in making that assertion.

However, if you can suspend your disbelief for a moment and pretend that as email marketers, we’re actually super tough but also stoic, kick-ass, military generals, there’s actually some pretty legitimate wisdom that can be applied to what we do:

Keep your friends close but your enemies closer

There is some debate as to who should be credited with this quote. Some say it’s Sun Tzu, some say it’s Machiavelli, some say it’s Al Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, in The Godfather II.

Regardless of who said it, the philosophy behind this quote is that if you can get to know who you’re up against, and understand how they think, you can easily defeat them. Similarly, if you can observe the actions your competitors are taking to sell products to an audience that is akin to the one your marketing to, you can defeat your competitors.

This militaristic approach to email marketing can actually do wonders for ensuring that your strategy remains fresh and allow you to capitalize on ideas that you’ve yet to try on your own audience.

Applying this strategy

For this analogy, your “enemies” are your competitors or any other businesses in your area (or online) that offer products and/or services that are similar to what you’re selling.

Here’s how to keep your competitors really, really close:

  1. Pick 3 or 4 competitors to “spy on”. Try to choose competitors who have a business that is similar in size to yours. The more comparable to your business they are, the better.
  2. Create 3 or 4 email addresses. If possible, use different web browsers or different IP addresses but use the same email client (like Gmail) for each.
  3. Subscribe all of the phony email addresses to each of your competitors’ email lists. We know – it’s painful. But it’s a necessary evil if you want to improve your strategy. Be sure to create separate folders for each of your competitors’ marketing emails.

What to watch for

Once you’ve done this, you can start accruing different observations based on the marketing emails you receive from your competitors and identify common trends:

  1. Testing. The reason you’ve created multiple email addresses is to track whether or not your competitors are A/B testing their emails (hopefully, at least one of your email addresses will receive an alternate version of a particular campaign). If they are – what are they testing? Have you run any similar tests in the past?
  2. Offers. Keep track of offers that your competitors seem to send out frequently. These are the offers that work best for them. They may also work for your business.
  3. Subject Lines and Body Copy. Keep a separate spreadsheet for each competitor’s subject lines and body copy. If you begin to notice any patterns, you can probably extrapolate verbiage that seems to pay-off for them in the realm of conversions.
  4. Time, day of week, and frequency. Finally, keep a detailed record of when and how often your competitors are sending marketing emails.

This is among the most low-down, dirty, sneaky and underhanded schemes I’ve ever heard of…and I love it.

You know what they say, all is fair in love and email marketing.

But seriously, if you think that major brands aren’t constantly researching their competitors and even expounding on one another’s ideas on a near constant basis, you’re not paying attention.

Another important point to emphasize is the fact that merely ripping-off ideas isn’t the endgame here – the idea is to start noticing trends that may also be concurrent within your own audience based on the actions of your competitors.

You may be able to utilize certain concepts within the context of your brand voice, but the bottom line is that simply stealing copy or design isn’t going to prove to be fruitful for you.

The idea behind this practice is not one rooted in cheating or malice – it’s rooted in becoming a competitive and worthy adversary who has a game plan and, yes, a strategy, to ensure that their email marketing efforts remain effective.

So, try this on for size if you find that you’re email marketing campaigns are getting a less-than-desirable response from your subscribers lately. You may have missed something that your competitors didn’t. And who knows – your competitors may already be watching you.

Improve your email marketing campaigns today with the help of our talented email strategists. Contact us or give us a call at 800.926.2451 for more information!

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