The art of psychology in email marketing

First thing’s first; it’s important to understand how people engage with one another. There are two main ways of doing this: intellectually and emotionally.

Intellectually engaging with people is best described as when you’re able to present them with lots of information; allowing them to make an informed decision based on all the facts available.

Next there is emotionally engaging with people, this is when people’s emotional responses are used to allow their brains to make decisions easily. This is out default brain. Our brain defaults to this state as there are so many choices and decisions that it has to make all day, every day. It would simply be impossible for us to make a fully intellectually informed decision each time; our emotions give us a helping hand so that we can concentrate on more important things.

To put this into the context of email, imagine your inbox: there is so much information flowing around that there is no way we’d be able to digest everything, weigh up the pros and cons of each individual email and decide. Instead, a lot of our responses will be made by our emotions, where we will look at an email for less than a couple of seconds and decide whether to delete it or to continue reading.

The key to making sure that people engage emotionally upon receipt of your messages is not a simple one, but there are a few key areas below that you can look at.

Using AIDA as a principle

The AIDA marketing model is something that those of us who studied marketing at college or university probably remember all too well!

When applied to email it can be a really useful tool for understanding which parts of our emails are important to focus on.

Essentially, it describes a common list of events that may occur when a consumer engages with an brand message and the journey that they go through before fully engaging.

A – Get people’s attention! – Use your ‘from name’, subject line and the ‘pre-header’ text to get attention

I – Raise their interest by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits – pre-header text, headings, titles, images and videos

D – Convince them that they desire what you are offering them and that the product or service will satisfy their needs – use your subject line, images, videos and body of the email to achieve this

A – Lead them towards taking action! Links, buttons and icons arranged properly will allow people to act.

Also consider that there are some other key ingredients to emotional connections with recipients, such as authenticity, relevancy, transparency, personality and a sense of community. Without these it’ll be hard for your brand to stand out against everyone else.


Colour can change a mood or even a mindset. Research from Colourcom found that nearly 85% of consumers think that colour is one of the most important factors for choosing a product. However individual perception of colour can change according to a range of demographic factors.

The use of colour in digital marketing can also compel the audience to behave in a certain way. The colour of a call to action button can significantly increase the likelihood of action. Sometimes the reactions are not as you might expect as in this following test.

Which CTA do you think won this test?



Did you guess the green button?

Unfortunately you’d be wrong. (sorry!) The colour that achieved the most clicks was the red. Which goes against all intelligent thought. Green is not only the colour of go, it is also most well aligned with this brand’s colour pallet. Red is usually associated with danger and anger.

This is one of the best examples of why testing is so essential – and if you can go one further and test by segments and dynamically serve the colours to suit the individual, you could see some greater improvements.

The power of an image

People connect with images emotionally – if chosen well they can compel action or feeling where words just can’t. Also, according to researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology the human brain can compute an image in as little as 13 milliseconds.  It’s no wonder that the more visual social media sites has grown in popularity as a brand marketing tool.


According to Robert Cialdini there are 6 principles of influence. As well as using the right tone and speaking empathetically, following these principles are a great guide for how to use your written content to persuade others to take the next best action. During uncertain times these are ever more important.

  1. Reciprocity

This is the art of giving, before you ask for something in return. By doing so you enter into a relationship where the other feels compelled to return that generosity.

In the world of marketing this could be free samples, trials, content, games, or even try at home services. They don’t have to be continuous discounts that could end up harming the brand in the long term. To ensure this has the necessary impact, don’t ask for something in return immediately.

We have seen some great examples of this use of this during COVID-19, including this one from Pret.

  1. Scarcity

People what more of what they can’t have. Robert Cialdini describes four ways you can use scarcity:

  • A product or service is in short supply
  • A product is in high demand
  • Only available for a limited time
  • Articulate that they have a unique opportunity
  1. Authority

We use judgement as a method to determine whether we trust someone or a brand. These judgements are often made as an emotive reaction to something that is associated with authority, such as a membership to a trade body or even a celebrity endorsement. A new author may seek out a forward from a more established author to give credibility and trust.

  1. Consistency

In a study that Cialdini references in his book, researchers found that only a very small number of people were willing to put up an unattractive wooden board on their front lawn to support a Drive Safely campaign being conducted in their neighbourhood. However, in a neighbourhood next door, four times as many said they would be happy to erect the boards in their gardens.

So what made these homeowners act differently? They were of the similar demographic after all. The only difference was that ten days earlier, the second neighbourhood homeowners were asked to place a small postcard in the front window of their homes to support the same campaign. This small act was the first initial commitment that led to a much bigger change.

A great way to use consistency in email marketing is through a welcome series. A few years ago a large supermarket chain developed a hugely successful welcome series that nudged the user to make several orders with reduced bills. They knew that after purchasing from the brand at least 3-5 times there was a higher likelihood of that segment becoming regular and loyal customers.

  1. Liking

As humans we will conduct business with brands or sales people that we like. We like people or brands who are similar to us, who have the same values or those who have a similar goals. Your tone and language you use should mirror that of your target audiences. And if you have a varied set of customer segments – think about serving these through dynamic content.

Articulating that the causes you support, or the values that you have, are built into your business, can go a huge way towards making your brand more likeable.

  1. Social Norm

In uncertainty, people will look to others for further validation into how they should behave. Many brands will use social proof – reviews and recommendations to persuade others to make purchases or take action. However sometimes just changing a few words can compel the audience more positively. This is well told in the story of the Hotel Towels.

A few years ago the US Environmental Protection Agency launched a campaign to reduce hotel water consumption. One of the tactics was to encourage guests to reuse their towels when they could. They tested two versions of signs placed in hotel bathrooms. One set listed the benefits to the environment and users were urged to show respect for nature and help save the environment.  The other focused on social norms, encouraging users to follow 75% of fellow guests in reusing towels.

The social norms notices won hands down, with a significantly higher proportion of people reusing their towels.

As we have described throughout there are many ways in which you can use psychology to entice your email marketing audience to take action. However, it is essential to caveat this with the importance of testing. Not all will influence your audience in the same way, different segments may respond in different ways.

Then the question becomes how do you easily deliver upon these multiple nuances as a busy marketer? Investing in the right personalisation technology is essential. This will allow you to apply your learning to campaigns and communications at scale, so that you can deliver not only the right product to the right person at the right time, but also the right message that will help influence their decision.


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