Using Customer Psychology for Effective Email Marketing

customer psychology

As marketers, we often get sidetracked with the latest bells and whistles of marketing technology, and completely forget all about things such as customer psychology as well as basic marketing and sales principles.

So today, we decided to take a step back and get back to the basics of marketing, or rather the consumer psychology that drives all effective marketing. What follows are 8 principles of consumer psychology that you can put into immediate use starting today.

Utilize the power of reciprocity

Humans have an inbuilt drive to “return the favor”. When someone does something for them, they feel “incomplete” if they don’t pay it back in some way. 

The best way to utilize this aspect of human psychology is to bombard your subscribers with value. Whether that is with free e-books, tutorials, great articles or even just making their purchasing experience smoother. 

Ideally, you want the subscriber to think “Woah, this person is giving me so much, and they haven’t even asked for anything in return”. Or even “Wow, all the free stuff this person is sending me is better than even most stuff I had to pay for”. 

That isn’t to say you can’t ask people for anything in return. In fact, you’re not a good marketer if you don’t ask them to take any action. But more on that in the next point.

Take it easy, make small requests at first

If there’s one thing that screams “amateur” in email marketing, it’s when you see someone trying to get too much from subscribers too soon in the customer journey.

The one thing that has always worked, and this is part of general psychology as well, is getting people accustomed to things by starting out with smaller requests. 

If you get people to consistently say yes to smaller things that you ask for, you are essentially training them to say yes to your requests. Eventually, you can make larger requests and they’ll comply with them, out of a habituated sense of saying yes to your requests.

customer psychology

When it comes to email marketing, the way you want to utilize this is by striving to get people to consistently take smaller actions early-on in the journey. For example, if something like “buy my product” is a bigger request“, then “check out this short super valuable free video” would be a smaller request.

Take advantage of the mere-exposure effect

This one is “weird” to people who haven’t studied psychology because it doesn’t make sense at first glance.

What psychologists have found is that we tend to grow a fondness for things and people the more we get exposed to them. And this is basically due to the fact that we’ve become “familiar” with them.

What this means in terms of email marketing is that the more people see your emails, the more they will come to like you and trust you. And that’s just from the exposure effect itself, not considering all the other things you do in order to build trust.

It is in fact the consistency of exposure that builds a relationship in and of itself. And notice that word I used there “consistency”. This is the keyword when it comes to email marketing.

You really want to work on establishing consistency in your email sending patterns so that you can achieve this effect. 

Now obviously, if you send too many emails to people, that can annoy them. However, we rarely see that. Most people send too few and too infrequently, and not enough emails to establish a connection. 

Or what’s even worse they have “sending spurts” where they send a ton of emails in a short amount of time, then nothing for months on end, then they decide to bombard the list again when they get “excited” about selling something new.

In either case, the solution is to get your sending frequency right and achieve at least some pattern of consistency. Make people familiar with you, without bombarding them with emails.

Make sure to “frame” everything that you do

This one is going to get a bit “high-level”, but only for a sec so bear with me. The first thing you have to understand is the concept of “framing” in general psychology. 

This refers to the phenomenon where the human brain makes decisions about things depending on how they are presented. 

Put another way, you can influence and even “guide” what people decide about you, your business, and your products by choosing the “frame” in which you present the information.

Another way of saying this is that you want to decide for the reader “in which light” they should view the information that you are presenting.

customer psychology

Let’s say that you have a service where you pride yourself on the customer support that people get. In fact, you built your service in such a way that people get more out of your product precisely because you have better support, education, and documentation. You prioritize quality of support and documentation over number of features.

You know that if customers are comparing your service to competitors and base the comparison on the “number of features”, they will miss out. Why? Because they don’t get that your competitor offers more “undocumented features” for the same price.

This means that those features are less than useful, since there is no training or support to utilize them anyway. And this means the customer will actually get less for their money if they go to one of your competitors instead of choosing your service.

Well, this is where “framing” comes into play. You want to make it your goal to frame your service in such a way that you set the tone and guide how people go about comparing your product. You purposefully set out to make it so your product is compared in terms of “ROI” and not “number of features per dollar”.

It’s a tough concept to “get” initially, but once you get it, you will want to “frame” everything you ever write in your emails. Every offer, every piece of information, and every action. You want to set the parameters and guide how people respond to the information you present.

Don’t be afraid to take advantage of exclusivity and scarcity

This is one of those things that many marketers feel “bad” about using because it feels “tacky”. Sales deadlines, limited spots, one-time discounts – isn’t everyone doing it? Won’t the potential customer just feel annoyed when you use such a “tacky” tactic?

Well, you’d be surprised. Despite the fact that these techniques have been used billions of times and customers have “fallen” for them so many times, they seem to work just as well the 100th time as the 1st time a customer encounters them.

This just goes to show how deeply ingrained scarcity is in the human psyche. It works at a very basic level that is very hard to override. And even professional marketers who use it themselves often will find that they just “have to” buy something if it’s running out.

Communicate your superiority visually

If there’s one thing that I consistently see under-utilized among email marketers – it would have to be visuals. 

And you know I can’t blame them too much. It’s easy to spend a lot of time perfecting your email writing skills and forget about everything else. Remember that there are other elements that fit inside of an email. That is elements other than the raw text itself.

The fact is that we as humans are visual creatures, and one of the most instant and straightforward ways to communicate your value is through the visual medium. You probably understand this in the context of the online world where salespeople dress to impress. 

In the context of email marketing, you can accomplish this by having high-quality visuals that demonstrate you are a high-level brand. 

customer psychology

Let’s take a very simple example to illustrate this point. Imagine that a newsletter uses cheap-looking and unprofessional graphics. Now imagine the same newsletter uses graphics that look professional. When people see the latter they think “that was definitely done by a well-paid professional”.

Whether you like it or not, people will associate the quality of the graphics to the quality of your brand. If you have polished high-quality custom graphics, people assume your products are also highly polished and of high-quality. Likewise, cheap graphics will make people assume that your products or services are of low quality as well.

Utilize social proof, in both ways

Another one of those deeply ingrained human drives. Our brains are wired to take “shortcuts” when we make decisions. And one of the main shortcuts is looking at what “others” have decided. 

It totally makes sense from an evolutionary perspective if you think about it. Why spend time figuring out if something is good when other people around you have already done the legwork? Just look at what the others in the community around you have chosen, and go with that.

Now, this is usually done with testimonials and stories from happy customers and loyal fans. And that’s definitely something you should be doing.

However, the second way to utilize social proof is even more powerful, yet few people even know about it. I refer to this second type as “embedded social proof”. 

This is where you embed the information about how happy customers are with you – inside of other content. 

Let’s say that you have a fitness newsletter, and you’re explaining something about a certain weight loss technique. As you’re explaining it, you can throw in something like “and I’ve tried this with most of the 1678 successful weight loss clients I’ve had over the years, so it’s field-tested and proven”

So you are sharing the information about having had 1678 successful weight loss projects, but you do so within the context of sharing useful information – in this case, a specific technique.

Give people a sense of control and ownership

Do you ever get a sense of overwhelm from all the information overload that surrounds us today? Don’t you wish you could somehow get some control over it?

Well, the same is true of your readers. They are also overwhelmed by a sense of information overload and would love it if they could get some control over it, somehow, in some way.

customer psychology

Well, the good news is that modern email automation allows you to do this by personalizing the reader experience. The closer you can get the experience to “perfectly personalized” the more of a sense of “control” the reader will feel.

In an ideal world, they would get exactly the right email with just the content they need at that given point in time, and at that point in their journey. 

Now, while perfect personalization isn’t possible, you can come pretty close to it. Just spend some time learning about automating your segmentation and personalization. Read more about that in our guide on using email automation to guide people across a perfectly personalized journey.

Make it easy for your readers to make decisions

Ideally, you don’t want to force your potential customer to think too much. This is for a similar reason as the previous point. Just as we feel lots of overwhelm due to too much information, many of us are also blocked by having too many choices which can cause “analysis paralysis”.

This is where you spend too much time deliberating which option to choose and end up nowhere fast. As a marketer, it is your job to make the decision process easy for your potential customers. It should be a “no-brainer”.

And aside from using the various tactics in this article and elsewhere, one main way to accomplish this is to focus on making it simple for people to take a certain action and not ask them to think too much in the process. 

Don’t be afraid to use the curiosity instinct to your advantage

Humans have a built-in drive to “gain completion” when it comes to certain types of information. This is often used and abused by novels and TV series to keep you coming back for more. For example, tv-series try to end each episode on a “cliff-hanger” where you just have to tune in next week to get a sense of “resolution”.

You can and you should take advantage of this both when you’re crafting your subject lines, and when you craft your calls to action that lead to more information.

When it comes to “more information” CTAs, you want to give just enough information to the reader that they feel incomplete unless they click on that CTA to get the “rest of the story”.

And as for subject lines, the same thing. You want the subject line to make people go “wait, what?” and open the email for a sense of resolution.

customer psychology

And yes, I know there are a lot of cheesy subject lines out there that rely on the curiosity instinct. So if you’ve ever seen a subject line like “OMG you won’t believe what just happened to me?!?!” and you cringed, you’re not alone.

That, however, is not a good reason to avoid curiosity inducing subject-lines altogether. You can do it in a professional way. And of course, as long as you use such lines sparingly, you’ll do just fine.

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