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Ethical email strategy in 3 acts - as told by Ted Lasso

Updated: Apr 30

Alright, folks, this piece will contain spoilers. So unless you’re like me, and spoilers are your second favorite thing (after pasta and anything potatoes), stop reading now. Get back here after you binge-watch the whole 3 seasons, and thank me later.

Still here? Cool.

Ted Lasso is without a doubt one of the best TV shows to have been produced in the 21st century so far (scores like 89% on rotten tomatoes and 8.8/10 on IMDB don’t lie!).

This heartwarming show presented viewers with stories about forgiveness, self-belief, growth, and teamwork.

But also stories about the importance of strategy, testing quickly, and tweaking even quicker. So a week ago, when it came to its sad-but-satisfying end, I couldn’t help but think of the overall arc of AFC Richmond, the made-up British soccer team that the show had followed, and (you guessed it) ethical email strategy.

Season 1: The audit, or: Ted meets the team

A fish out of water, Ted Lasso is a US football coach who knows nothing about UK football, and because of it, he's intentionally flown over the pond by the newly-divorced and newly-appointed, vengeful owner of the team.

Her goal is to ruin the club from within, a “final parting gift” to her cheating ex-husband who used to own that club and which was, according to her, “the only thing he ever truly loved”.

But with his endless optimism and ability to see people for who they really are, and perhaps for his lack of knowledge, Lasso arrives on the field on his very first day with no expectations and no prejudices. He’s simply there to observe.

What he sees is a broken team with a clear but destructive division between the loud, cocky star (and his followers), and the old-and-wise captain who’s tired of the BS but can barely play anymore (and his followers).

That hierarchy determines the course of each game - sporadic, unorganized attacks that result in not much, if at all, and a defense that doesn't exist. Any wins are almost a coincidence, a result of that cocky star taking over and doing all the heavy lifting himself (and bragging about it later endlessly, of course).

One thing is clear: if the team can't learn to work together as one unit, they’ll keep stomping on each others’ toes (quite literally), and won’t reach their shared goal - winning games.

Lasso learns the inner dynamic and approaches it both on an individual level, as well as a team level. He isn't trying to make big waves or rock any boats - he's there to bring the best out of each and every single player.

But that dynamic, as well as bringing in a new coach who must learn the game while coaching and still hadn’t earned everyone’s respect, ends up with the team being relegated at the end of season 1.

In the world of ethical email marketing, the very first step for every new client I onboard is a thorough audit. I ask many questions and poke around systems to understand the business objectives, what has been done up until now, and what are the key issues to address and ensure quick wins and build for the long term.

I also dive deep into business strategy, marketing strategy as a whole, and email strategy in particular - to understand the hierarchies and priorities, and who (or what) is dictating the tone.

It’s very common for me to see evergreen flows that aren’t automated or triggered properly, and are, in fact, “stepping on each others’ toes”.

I've also seen broadcast emails that are the definition of “shooting in the dark” - if an email makes revenue, it’s almost a coincidence, not a result of strategic efforts. And in such accounts, it’s also very easy for me to see what’s missing and come up with strategies to help generate more revenue - both in the short and the long term.

Season 2: Initial diagnosis, or: Out with the old, in with the new (and hopeful)

After being relegated from the premier league at the end of season 1, Lasso and his fellow coaches have every intention of bringing the team back to it.

The new season opens with a tragedy, which forces Lasso to introduce a new player to the team - this time, in the form of a sports psychotherapist who helps the players with their challenges (and get rid of the yips).

We also see that the two main stars of the team venture to other adventures (quitting professional football altogether and getting cast on a dating reality show), and the team is now led by a new captain.

But this new order also brings its own challenges.

And despite the team having a completely new (and somewhat healthier) dynamic, the topic of teamwork takes somewhat of a back seat this season.

Instead, we, the viewers, get much more up close and personal with the individual players - their backgrounds and upbringing, their dating and love lives, and their current struggles (mostly with mental health).

Helping the individuals that make up the team that is AFC Richmond is key to making everything run like a well-oiled 11-player machine.

One of my absolute favorite episodes of this season includes an iconic Ted Lasso motivational speech about the arc of popular RomComs:

“These next few months might be tricky, but that's just cause we're going through our dark forest. Fairy tales do not start, nor do they end in the dark forest […] But it will all work out. Now, it may not work out how you think it will, or how you hope it does, but believe me, it will all work out. Exactly as it's supposed to.”

And he’s right - the season ends with AFC Richmond winning just enough games to get back into the premier league, almost exactly how Lasso envisioned.

In the world of ethical email marketing, this is exactly when we set up new (or newly-revised) automated sequences, start sending ongoing broadcast emails/newsletters, and collect feedback and zero-party data to see if our initial hypothesis works for both the audience and the brand.

This “dark forest” part that Lasso mentions is a big part of it, especially when it comes to brands that have very limited data on their subscribers. It’s a learning curve for both sides of the equation, brand and audiences alike.

Testing out new hypotheses may not always work like clockwork, and more times than not, it introduces new challenges and unveils blind spots that require tending to. That part may not look exactly like we envision, or perform like we hope it will, but it’s an important part of the process - the main goal of this phase is to understand what new approaches resonate with the audience, and what the long-term strategy needs to look like.

Season 3: Strategy formulating, quick implementation and even quicker tweaking, or: The Richmond Way

Now back to the premier league, armed with the former captain as a part of the coaching staff, the now-significantly matured once-cocky footballer, and an overall uplifted team spirit, AFC Richmond starts its new season on a high.

… Which you can’t say about Lasso, the person. He’s torn between coaching the team and bringing the best out of them so they can become the best players (and people) they can and wanting to be with his family back in Kansas.

During a trip to Amsterdam for a “friendly match” (which the team loses), Lasso walks himself to a poorly-rated American diner. Under the influence of (what he thinks is) a psychedelic trip, with a mountain of onion rings (and his favorite BBQ sauce) on the side, he comes up with a whole new game strategy that would bring the team’s recent losing streak to an end.

He presents the strategy to the team right after getting back from that trip and announces that the team will play according to it on its very next game on Saturday. “That’s fucking mental”, the former-captain-now-coach spat out as he heard about it for the first time alongside with the players.

The strategy Lasso came up with wasn’t his, to begin with. It was invented decades earlier, and led multiple football teams to win numerous games. At its core, “total football”, the strategy, is all about constant, non-stop motion, and the flexibility of each player to lead moves or play defense if needed.

In Lasso’s own words, when the team practiced versatility, “You gotta constantly be asking yourself ‘What does this situation need right now?’”.

Mental it was, but on that next game, the team starts getting it and breaks its losing streak.

During the halfway break, the reporter who’s been following the team’s season catches Lasso in the wings. “It’s going to work”, he pleads to the American coach, “you haven’t changed tactics in a week. You’ve done this over 3 seasons. By slowly but surely building a club-wide culture of trust and support of thousands of indiscerptible moments, all leading to their inevitable conclusion - total football!”.

In the world of ethical email marketing, once we understand who the key players are in the business and what the overall dynamic is, it’s all about coming up with a strategy that carries the brand to victory. And even though we have a leading strategy in mind, constant testing, getting feedback, and readjusting according to that feedback is key.

Building a culture of open dialogue, trust and support for and with the audience is what brings in recurring, predictable revenue.

But this isn't the perfect analogy

Reviving or transforming your email program doesn't have to take 3 years until you see results. And it doesn't need to get royally bad before your email program starts showing signs of success. Far from it. Given the right circumstances and setting, you could start seeing results from changing your strategy within roughly 3 months.

The brands that come my way know that whatever they’ve been doing up until now, whichever strategies or so-called best practices they’ve been using so far - they haven’t generated the revenue they expected from their email marketing program.

Generally speaking, those blind spots or missing parts have to do with the lack of strategy, or having too many separate moving parts that don’t work well enough together. Instead, they overlap, creating confusion and frustration among subscribers on the way (and therefore, bring to a loss of trust in the brand and the inevitable loss of revenue).

When emailing your subscribers, you can shoot in the dark - or you can have a tactical, controlled process of testing and optimizing your campaigns and evergreen flows until you land on your brand’s winning strategy.

Wonder how your brand can get there? I’d love to help. Leave some details here.

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