Email Marketing – An Exercise in Human Psychology

Email marketing is an exercise in human psychology. Marketing your product or business through email is similar to selling your product on people’s doorsteps. There are times when customers will accept your enticing invitation to purchase a product and there are times when they won’t. There are times when you might be thinking:

Is it the product?
Is it the creative?
Is it the sales pitch?
Is it the time of day?

The variants are endless, however by incorporating two simple principles of psychology into your email marketing you can dramatically impact the results.

Principle #1: Social Proof

Otherwise known as ‘Social Influence’, Social Proof is the phenomenon where people look to the behaviour of others when determining how to behave or when deciding on a course of action.

One prime example of a company leveraging social influence theory is Facebook. ‘Facebook Ads’ show potential buyers the number of friends who have ‘redeemed’ the offer or ‘liked’ the brand page. To the individual viewing the ad, they can see friends and family who have seen value in the offer and thus feel increased buyer confidence and their own purchased is validated by others.

This can be applied to email marketing in the following ways:

  • Incorporate positive comments about the product or service you are promoting. If there is a need or desire for what is being featured, reading another positive experience will push them towards that offer.
  • A customer testimonial can be worth its weight in gold, even if it is anonymous. It should reference some details about the reviewer and a description that relates to the target audience.
  • Highlighting the number of people who have taken you up on your offer, whether through buying your product, ‘liking’ your offer, or using your service.

These additions are easily achievable and can increase your response rate dramatically.



Principle #2: Conditioning

Conditioning psychology has to do with driving predictable behaviour. There are two distinct types; classical and operant.

Classical: dealing with involuntary actions—“I can’t keep from doing this or that”
Operant: dealing with voluntary actions—“I will think about this before I act”

Sending emails that are not relevant may be inadvertently employing classical conditioning. Customers judge an email on the value of it’s subject line – by distributing an email with an unappealing or uninteresting subject, your customers may immediately delete your emails without reading them. This can be avoided by tracking your customer’s behaviour through open rates, click through rates (CTR) and then using that data to be more selective in what you send to them.


Increase engagement with operant conditioning

  • You want your customers to anticipate receipt, include an element of content in your emails to drive this. For example, I will keep an eye out for my flybuys email as I want to know if I have enough points to redeem a reward.
  • Always include a personalised recommendation. Placing the recommendation in the header or footer as text rather than in the body of the message can make it more effective.
  • Use targeted communications and send them consistently at the same day and time. Whether you send weekly or monthly, be consistent and predictable. This will help to build trust with your customers.
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