Key Rules to Email Success (via Agent Gibbs From NCIS)

I am a big fan of the show NCIS. I love the cast, the story lines are fun, and they have a foundational set of rules in which they operate. Gibbs (the boss) has approximately 51 rules that are tossed around the show when the situation requires it and during a recent NCIS marathon, the theme of the rules really hit me. Many of them really do apply to email consulting, so I thought I would grab my five favorites and share them with all of you.

Gibbs’ Rule #3: Don’t Believe What You’re Told. Double-Check.

Verifying the information you are receiving (or sharing) is critical to your success with the email channel. Just because advice exists as a best practice doesn’t mean you should blindly follow it. Double-check the information you are receiving is sensible for your program and indicative of the trends and performance you may be seeing with your own program. Just because you can read it on the Internet doesn’t make it gospel. And just because it worked for one brand, one time, does not mean it will work for you.

The lesson here is to not blindly follow advice — you should always do your own research and feel comfortable with the decisions you make regarding your program.

Gibbs’ Rule #8: Never Take Anything for Granted.

Just because your email program is performing well today doesn’t mean you have the opportunity to take your eye off the prize. Many organizations take their email programs for granted assuming that they will continue to perform strongly even without further investment or optimization.

Be sure to continually measure and modify your programs for optimal success. Putting your email program on autopilot is never a good idea. Even your automated programs need some attention — don’t forget it.

Gibbs’ Rule #15: Always Work as a Team.

Internal challenges, budgets, and silos can make it difficult for some organizations to work together cohesively as a team, but driving the greatest successes across all of your marketing efforts (not just email) requires teamwork and coordination.

Don’t let office politics get in the way of driving optimal success for your email program. Seeking input and providing perspective to each other is growing in importance as the value of a single view of the customer continues to increase.

Gibbs’ Rule #18: It’s Better to Seek Forgiveness Than Ask Permission.


So this is a slippery slope (and you need to use good judgment here), but sometimes it is just better to do what you know is right and seek forgiveness later, otherwise it may never get done. This is a rule that I try to instill within the brands I have worked with over the years when approaching their email programs.

Here is where testing can be really helpful. If you choose a random, statistically viable, segment of your database to test with you have the opportunity to do what you want with the program and obtaining meaningful results to support (or disprove) your hypothesis. When you crash and burn (and if you are testing frequently, it will happen) you can beg for forgiveness, but hopefully all your testing successes will overshadow the need to plead.

Gibbs’ Rule #51: Sometimes – You’re Wrong!

This is a good rule for everyone to remember, in any situation. But as it relates to your email program it is absolutely relevant. Keep an open mind to ideas and suggestions that differ from what you believe you will work best. Yes, sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes others know better than you. Don’t handcuff the success of your program with your own prejudices and assumptions — refer to rule #15.

It’s true that Agent Gibbs has never sent an email marketing message — as a matter of fact he carries a flip phone still that he won’t get rid of – but his rules are pretty universal. When it comes to your email program, it is OK to trust your gut, but it can’t be the only thing that drives your channel strategy.

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