Four Hall of Fame Email Marketing Lessons from Barry Sanders

Posted by Scott Cohen On February 9, 2011 in story time I 0 Comments

If you know anything about me, it’s that I’m nuts about sports. Football, in particular, is pretty much always on in my house in the fall.

This past Thanksgiving, I was watching the Lions/Patriots game and started reminiscing about the Lions games I grew up watching. Specifically, one Lions player I grew up watching (and mostly fearing as a opposing fan): Barry Sanders.

For those of you who know football, you know who Sanders is: A Hall of Fame running back who, to this day, displayed moves on the football field I haven’t seen from anyone else. Beyond that, his performance and demeanor on the field of play provide four important lessons for email marketers.

1. Provide the Steak and the Sizzle

What most people remember about Barry Sanders were his incredible moves to avoid being tackled (the phrases “He broke his ankles” and “Deked him out of his shoes” were used a lot by announcers). And why not? He was a human highlight reel, providing the “sizzle” every time he touched the football.

But the truth is Sanders was coolly efficient as well. Here are his rushing stats:

  • Yards rushed: 15,269 (10,000 yards can be HOF-worthy)
  • Yards per carry: 5.0 (anything over 4.0 ypc is considered good in the NFL)
  • Rushing touchdowns: 99 (109 TDs total, ranking 15th in NFL history)

Considering Sanders played for 10 years, he averaged 1,500 yards and nearly 10 touchdowns PER YEAR in his career. So he provided the appropriate steak with his spectacular sizzle.

As email marketers, we need to find that balance Sanders exhibited on the field: a balance between solid and enticing creative and the performance metrics that move the needle. After all, at the end of the day, you can dance all you want, but if you aren’t gaining yards, you won’t be in the league for very long. (How’s that for an analogy?)

2. Anticipation is the Big Difference

Any Barry Sanders fans out there remember how you felt every time he touched the football? That collective gasp? Like all of the air going out of the stadium at the same time. And air only came back if you could get him on the ground prior to the end zone. (Read: Opponents and opposing fans exhaling when Sanders was finally corralled.)

Every touch meant magic could happen. In fact, people expected something magical with every carry and every catch. Even as an opposing fan, you simultaneously feared Sanders and yet kind of wanted to see the breakout play. Sanders was that special.

How can you make your email marketing have that kind of impact? How can you get your subscribers to essentially salivate with anticipation over your next newsletter or coupon offer?

There was something about Barry Sanders that his fans could connect with. That connection, combined with his killer performance, created this anticipation.

How can you connect with your email subscribers at a deeper level?

3. Be Patient – Things Aren’t Always Pretty

Barry Sanders was both notorious for his moves as well as his penchant for being “stuffed” by run defenses until he finally broke “the big one.” He’d get a yard or two here, three or four yards there, and then boom – 35-yard run. Opposing defenses and fans knew it was coming, and they just hoped they could get the Lions’ offense off the field before the big hit came.

In email, you aren’t always going to get the “big one” either. Often, progress happens a few steps at a time, and it takes a season’s worth of work to see just how far you’ve come. So, be patient. Celebrate minor wins. And focus on an end goal.

4. Respect the Game

In our “Look at Me” era of sports, Barry Sanders had 99 opportunities to show off after he scored a touchdown. And 99 times, he simply handed the ball back to the referee and ran to the sideline. Why? Because he knew it was his job to score, not his job to show off. The words “Act like you’ve been there before” came out constantly. The bottom line: He respected the game.

Respecting your subscriber is like handing the ball to the ref after you score. Getting to your subscribers’ inbox is not about you. It’s about providing value for your subscribers. And, as I wrote in “The Three Rs of Email Marketing,” you should never treat your subscribers like you’re doing them any favors. Don’t be in their faces. And don’t overstay your welcome.

Respect. It’s all about respect.

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