There’s an old saying in direct marketing-old as in pre-Internet old-that if you want to know what’s working for a competitor, look for what they do repeatedly.

Direct mail is so expensive to produce and deliver that any company repeatedly sending bad catalogs or direct-response letters will be out of business soon enough.

The same holds true for television, radio and magazine advertising.

This concept is one reason why so-called swipe files-files of other people’s creative work to use as inspiration-are still popular among many direct marketers.

It’s been said there are no original ideas in direct marketing, you just forget who you stole them from.

Not only is there nothing wrong with mimicking what works for competitors, if you don’t imitate competitors’ successful campaigns and creative approaches, you’re missing the opportunity to legitimately benefit from the efforts of others without having to put the work into it they did.

Enter email. Should you strive to find out what works for competitors in an effort to profit from their successful campaigns@f2 Absolutely.

But you can’t do it the way direct marketers have historically done it. As anyone reading this knows, unlike direct mail, email is so cheap you can send some pretty bad messaging and still make money.

You can sign up for competitors’ email programs, but that won’t tell you if what hits your inbox is working for them or not. What’s more, when using the competitive email-signup technique, there’s no way to know how much segmenting your competitor is doing or what part of the segmenting program you’re in.

One company that can shed invaluable insight on competitors’ email behavior is email intelligence company eDataSource.

My work as an email technology consultant puts me in contact with a lot of vendors. eDataSource is the real deal.

The company’s Competitive Tracker tool offers a search tool of thousands of campaigns using insights from actual consumer inboxes. Not only can you get comprehensive insight into everything competitors send, you can know what recipients are responding to and what they’re not.

This way, you get to steal only the ideas that work!

eDataSource also offers a tool called Inbox Tracker.

Inbox Tracker allows you to monitor fluctuations in inbox placement by email campaign or IP address. The tool tells you if your messages were delivered to the inbox or spam folder, or not delivered at all, so you can react immediately to any fluctuation in delivery rates.

In the hyper-competitive world of email marketing, getting an edge over rival brands is imperative. I can vouch for eDataSource as one way to get that edge.