Over the past week I’ve read through a lot of the articles I’ve written here on the blog, looking for topics I haven’t yet covered or to see if I still agree with myself. What I found though had nothing to do with the topics themselves, and more to do with how I’ve been approaching them. Most of what I write here is critical, insistent, and even bossy. Stop doing this; fix that; put more resources into the other. Sorry I’ve been such a nag.

The reality I’ve failed to impart is that success in email isn’t just shoring up weaknesses. It’s also about finding what you’re good at and doing more of it. Albert Pujols does not bunt, 50 Cent will never try to rocket up the country charts, and Keanu Reaves is unlikely to try his hand opposite Steve Carell in a raucous summer comedy. Similarly, your emails are not going to achieve the results you want if they don’t take advantage of what you do well. So yeah, keep chipping away at the trouble spots in your email program, but play to your strengths as well.

Being good at something is great. But how do you find out what it is you’re good at?

1. Metrics: Your usual first choice for answers is metrics and analytics, and that’s true here as well. To determine a particular skill your organization has in email, it is particularly important to trend your metrics over 6 months or a year, to make sure you have a consistent picture of your strengths and are not acting on an outlier. The natural inclination is to look for competitive benchmarks to see which you’re exceeding, but benchmarks are not always reliable because they may reflect performance in circumstances very different than your own. Instead, approach your metrics more qualitatively. Which of your numbers are you the most proud of, or have steadily risen over the past year, or reflect an area you’ve been exceptionally focused? Which are you most likely to trot out at a marketing department meeting? When you review your analytics, which ones give you a sense of smug satisfaction? Some part of you already knows where your program excels; analyze yourself along with your metrics to find it.

2. Results: Much of what email is designed to do does not actually show up in your analytics. If your conferences fill or your website lights up whenever you send an email, you’re doing something right. Look at the messages that drive results and figure out the cause: an irresistible subject line, well-placed and appealing linked text, clarity and focus? I know email success is a team effort drawing from deliverability, strong open rates and solid click-throughs. But every team has a leader. Can you identify which part of your email program can take the lion’s share of credit for your results?

3. Qualitative feedback: Sometimes you’ll get an email from a subscriber that says “Really enjoyed this – who wrote it?” A brief note like that is no small thing, considering how many messages hit inboxes, and that – unlike Facebook posts or blogs – they’re not actually designed to solicit feedback. You get some of these and you know your content doesn’t just speak to people – it sings.

When setting your email strategy, or even writing a single message, knowing your strengths is as important as knowing your objectives. For the messages you send where results are of paramount importance, make sure you rely on the aspects of your program that have proven they drive your success.