5 psychological studies to stick email in your headSo you follow the right blogs.  You have taken all the email marketing advice that you could possibly chew.  Still, the only link that is being clicked in your campaigns is the unsubscribe link.  The thing is, all the technical and creative advice in the world is useless without an understanding of basic psychology.  There are psychological studies that not only help you understand human behaviour, but can help you create an email that will prompt your customers to take action.

Here are my favourite 5 studies to help your marketing efforts resonate with your subscribers list.

1: Illogical Reasoning

Did your parents ever use the phrase, “because I said so, that’s why”?

As a kid, that was all the reasoning you needed to tidy that room, or wash those dishes.  Thinking about it now, there is no logic to it at all.  It isn’t a reason, at least not one that we would buy into had we time to think about what was being said.  But that is the beauty of one simple disyllabic word; “because”.

Ellen Langer, of Harvard University, found out the power of “because”.  She described her experiment in the widely revered paper The Mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action.   Langer had people cut in a line of people waiting to use a copier on Harvard Campus.  The subjects were armed with one of three sentences:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5 pages.  May I use the xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5 pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5 pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Bearing in mind, they were all in line because they had to make copies, the second sentence is redundant.  However, the results may surprise you.

  1. 60% of people complied with the first sentence.
  2. 93% of people complied because the subject had “to make copies”.
  3.  94% of people complied because the subject “was in a rush”.

Just adding a “because”, regardless of how compelling the reasoning was, resulted in significantly more compliance.  Langer hypothesised that people demonstrate automatic behaviour, or “mindlessness” when hearing the word because.

How we can use this in email marketing

Whilst it is definitely not a good idea just to litter your emails with the word “because”, providing your subscriber with a reason to perform your specific CTA could improve your results.  Give your readership a good reason to click that link or join your webinar.  Psychological studies like this demonstrate how simple it is to connect to human behaviour, and are easily applicable to your marketing efforts.

2. Too Much of a Good Thing

We have all heard that cliché before haven’t we?  These days it is a throwaway idiom that is probably used every day in general conversation.  But there is a psychological study that would lend the sentiment a little credence.   Furthermore, it is something that is also very useful for email marketing.

Thanks to their experiment, Iyengar and Lepper wrote the journal article: When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?   Both parties set up a jam display each in a market, and tested them against each other.

  1. The first display had 24 flavours of jam
  2. The second display had 6 flavours of jam
  3. Both displays gave out samples with $1 coupons for the product

The results were rather interesting.  Whilst the first display attract far more interest than the second, there were far more sales generated at the second display.  This psychological study demonstrated an incredible 27% increase in sales when giving the customers fewer choices.

How to use this in email marketing

The most practical application of this study is simple.  Limit the choices you are sending to your customers.  You are more likely to generate sales if you send three of your products, than you would if you sent a full product catalogue.  Make the customers decisions easier for them by limiting the amount of products you are trying to sell them.  A smaller campaign would be 27% more effective than a long catalogue list.

3. Reciprocity

In 1974, sociologist Phillip Kunz mailed out 600 Christmas cards to randomly selected people.  In this he included a photograph of him and his family.  He knew exactly none of these people, and yet he still received nearly 200 responses.  None of these people knew they were part of an experiment, and none of them had previously encountered Phillip Kunz.  This is all due to the Norm of Reciprocity, as detailed by Kendra Cherry.

It works on a very simple premise.  If someone does something for you, you feel obliged to do something in return.  As Cherry points out, such behaviour has a “few obvious benefits”.  Survival of the species for instance.  We ensure that other people have help when it is needed, in turn we would receive the same assistance.

How to use this in email marketing

You can use this principle to increase your email subscribers by giving away something for free.  Create an infographic, or downloadable content that has high value to the customer, give it to them.  In return, they will feel obliged to join your mailing list, or pay it forward in some meaningful way.  Psychological studies such as this rely upon our innate natures as human beings.

4. Scarcity

According to their paper Effects of Supply and Demand on Ratings of Object Value, social-psychologists Worchel, Lee and Adewole asked subjects to “rate the value and attractiveness of cookies”.  They were shown two jars.  Both jars, in the first instance, contained 10 cookies.  However, from one jar, eight cookies were removed and subjects were asked to choose between the two jars again.

Weirdly, and the results I did find surprising, the participants chose the jar with two cookies more often.  It seemed that the scarcity of the cookies had somehow made them more desirable.  If you impose a limit on the amount of cookies, or perhaps the time to benefit from an offer, then you ultimately make the offer and product more attractive.

How to use this in email marketing

There are many ways to apply the theories of scarcity into your marketing.  You could limit the amount of spaces left on that online course you are running.   Demonstrate that you are low on stock.  You can run a “24 hours left on this discount” offer, with a countdown timer included.   If you impose a limit on the product that you are offering then you are making it more desirable, and increasing its value.

5. Price Anchoring

I know something about you.  I know, that you have absolutely no idea how much most things are worth.   You know, it isn’t a problem.  I know pretty much nothing about valuing anything.  At least not in monetary terms.  So, what do I need to make sure I am not being ripped off?  I need a frame of reference.

For instance, if I am looking for an engagement ring, I look on a website and see the sort of thing I want to buy.  I now have a frame of reference.  This ring cost somewhere in the region of £500.  That is the price that would be anchored in my mind when I continue looking for that perfect ring.  This is often what people do when searching for vehicles, or any irregular purchase.

How to use this in email marketing

You can use price anchoring if your product is competitive, and you can list every single feature before mentioning the price.  Add more and more value to your product.  If your price is competitive, other similar products will look pale in comparison to yours.

Wrapping up the Psychological Studies

The good thing about these psychological studies, is that you don’t have to be Derren Brown, Sigmund Freud or Sherlock Holmes to work them out.  The application of these techniques is simple.  The scholarly articles may be verbose and eloquent, by the premises aren’t difficult to translate.  And, these aren’t the only psychological studies you can use.  Recently, our own Alex Lyon wrote about effective frequency, for instance.

Have a look at some of these human behavioural studies and see whether or not you can apply them to your marketing efforts.  I have always enjoyed reading psychological articles, and learning about the human condition.  If you have any other theories or studies that would be interesting to look at, and useful for other email marketers, please leave the links in the comments.