Email Marketing Psychology: 7 Principles to Pique Customer Curiosity and Drive More Conversions

email marketing psychology with hands and rubik's cube

To get clicks, you gotta make your emails irresistible. The solution lies in email marketing psychology and its uses.

  • Nice email design — check! 
  • Compelling email copywriting — check! 
  • Email optimization — check!

If you have done everything correctly and still don’t see results from your email campaigns, it could be because you are not using email marketing psychology the right way.

Consumer psychology is one of the biggest factors that influence your email open rates and conversions. Especially color psychology in email marketing can affect up to 90% of initial impressions.

You must understand how each email aspect impacts the recipient’s decision-making, including factors that encourage engagement, different psychological triggers, and effective psychological tips behind email marketing. And then draw inspiration from real-world brand stories.



7 Psychological Principles Behind Email Marketing

The email reading time has significantly dropped from 13.4 seconds in 2018 to 9 seconds in 2022. Hundreds of emails clutter your customers’ inboxes daily, leading to email fatigue. Despite the challenge, you still have to ensure your emails are interesting enough for your audience. This is where psychology principles come into play.

Core Email Marketing Psychology Principles

Align your email campaigns with these 7 core principles to increase effectiveness and make more sales:

  1. Personalization: Customers want to feel valued and appreciated, and merely including their names in your emails won’t always help. Use advanced email personalization techniques, including dynamic content, to tailor your emails according to customer preferences. This way, your customers will respond positively to your email campaigns.
  2. Reciprocity: People have a natural tendency to return the favor — when you offer an engaging e-book, customers are likely to give you their email address in exchange. You can also use discounts, email coupons, exclusive content, or free resources to trigger a sense of obligation.
  3. Urgency or scarcity: Users often take immediate action when the time is limited. Email campaigns with countdown timers, limited-time offers, and low-stock reminders perform better. 
  4. Authority: Individuals are more likely to follow trusted industry experts and authorities. Showcasing industry awards, expertise, or certifications can increase the chances of customers taking action inside your email.
  5. Social proof: Most people are influenced by the actions of others. When your email campaigns exhibit testimonials, customer reviews, and user-generated content, customers are more likely to buy your products or services.
  6. Emotional appeal: Customers usually make decisions based on how they feel about your product or service. Emotional triggers in your email copywriting are a great way to increase trust and foster a long-term relationship.
  7. Cognitive load: People prefer bite-sized content over a more complex email structure. Breaking your content into blocks with white space and using proper email fonts can make your email campaigns more effective.

Effective email marketing involves a combination of these psychological triggers tailored to your specific brand goals. To understand what works best for your audience, you must know the motivating factors that encourage engagement.


Psychology of Email Marketing: Factors That Influence Audience Engagement

Audience engagement in email marketing is influenced by various factors, such as:

Psychological Factor Psychological Impact Application
Relevance People engage with content that’s more personal and relevantSegment your email list based on customer demographics, behavior, and past purchase
Curiosity Audience open emails based on subject lines, preview text, or the sender detailsCraft intriguing subject lines and preview text. Use questions, cliff-hangers, or teasers to spark curiosity
Trust and credibility People are more likely to engage with brands they trustBuild trust through consistent email sending schedule, sender name, and brand logo
Emotional connectionEmotional narrative urges users to think and increase the chances of participationConnect with your audience on a personal level and include positive language about your brand
Timing and frequency Timing affects customer attention and receptivity, and frequency can impact your brand perceptionFind an optimal send time and maintain a balanced sending schedule to avoid overwhelming customers
ExclusivityPeople are drawn to exclusive content and offersHighlight exclusive offers, early access, or limited-time promotions to increase conversions
GamificationGames and challenges tap into the human mind to achieve more rewardsUse quizzes, contests, or other interactive content to enhance creativity
Psychological factors that influence audience behavior

Including these factors will help you create email campaigns that resonate with your audience and increase engagement. However, creating effective email campaigns involves understanding the different elements of your email campaign and how they persuade your customers. 


Email Elements That Modify Customers’ Decision-making

If you have noticed different email open rates and conversions for the same email campaign, it could be because of differing elements and email content.

Maybe you’ve changed the images recently, or added a different color to your CTA buttons, which altered your customers’ thinking and approach. For example, a business changed its CTA button color from green to red, resulting in a 21% increase in conversions

Email elements such as:

  • Colors, 
  • Design, 
  • CTA placement,
  • Copywriting

are vital in influencing customers’ decisions.


Color Psychology in Email Marketing

Colors can positively or negatively influence human behavior and also increase brand recognition. Brands that have solid colors in their logo are more memorable. For example, the red and white of Coca-Cola, the blue of Pepsi, or the bright white of Apple. 

Here’s a quick overview of how colors impact customer decision-making and perception:

ColorPsychological Impact Application
Blue Associated with trust, professionalism, and calmnessBlue is often used in corporate and financial industries to increase trust and credibility
RedEvokes excitement, urgency, and passion Useful for CTAs such as limited-time offers. Red color can also grab attention and stimulate action
Green Linked to nature, growth, and wealthSuitable for environment-friendly or health-related products
Yellow Ideal for promoting positivity and grabbing attentionUsed for highlighting important information or promotions
PurpleAssociated with luxury, creativity, and sophistication Effective for promoting high-end products or creating exclusivity around your products or services
Black Associated with powerOften used by luxury brands because it can add power and elegance to products
White Symbolizes purity, cleanliness, and simplicity Creates a clean and minimalist look and can enhance other colors
Color psychology in email marketing 

Choosing a color depends on how you want people to perceive your brand. If your brand is more playful and quirky, choose trendy colors. Similarly, if your brand portrays elegance and luxury, go for dark, solid colors. 


Visual Appeal and Design Psychology

A well-designed email is a blend of visual appeal and functional design that aligns with your brand attributes. 

Email design best practices to improve email metrics:

  • Establish a visual hierarchy starting with the most important block and gradually moving to the least important.
  • Use images that tell a story and incite a reaction from your audience.
  • Use lots of whitespace to increase scannability and reduce clutter.
  • Design emails to be accessible to a wide range of audiences.
  • Provide a better user experience by grouping similar content together.
  • Create minimalistic designs that are easy on the eyes.
  • Bold typography where necessary.
  • Use interactive elements like hover effects, animated GIFs, or embedded videos.
  • Be updated with the current email design trends to create resonating messages.

Even though you may not have design experience, various tools help you create great emails in minutes. 


Placing Your Call-to-action Buttons The Right Way

Your CTA placement says so much about your email campaign metric performance. 

A CTA that encourages people to open and interact with your emails has the following traits:

  • Action-oriented: Your CTA must tell people what they must do next. For example, a good CTA is “Download the email marketing guide,” and a bad one is “Click here.”
  • Clear and concise: A good CTA is clear and readable. If you must add bigger phrases in your CTA, try splitting them into two or three CTAs, if applicable. 
  • Visually appealing: Bold CTA buttons gain more attention and reaction. Use solid colors against readable font styles to increase the effectiveness of these buttons.
  • Relevant to email content: The CTA buttons should be appropriate and connect to the content. Including the benefits of clicking on CTA is a good way to incite a reaction from the recipient.
  • Placed in a prominent location: The CTAs must be placed in a strategic location that is easy to view and click on. A good place is usually below the email header or right beneath the email content.
  • Mobile-optimized: The way your CTA appears across mobiles determines its effectiveness. Optimize your CTA buttons or links to display properly across different devices.
  • Creates urgency: Using phrases like “Act now” or “Get it before the 10th” helps increase customer engagement. Additionally, use bold colors and stylish fonts to enhance the look and feel of CTAs.

Knowing the audience’s focal movement can help you place your CTA in strategic locations. For example, customers usually read texts in a ‘Z’ pattern. This means placing your CTA nearer to the top left or bottom right will make it easier for customers to view and click on it.


Email Copywriting: How Do You Move Your Audience to Take the Desired Action?

Your email copy can make people leave your email or take the desired action. It starts with your subject line, creating the first impression with your customer. Compelling email copy is a direct channel to capture audience attention and build lasting relationships.

Copywriting Principles That Guide User Behavior

  1. Understand your audience: Develop an understanding of your audience’s needs, motivations, and pain points. Tailoring your email copy to solve their problems increases engagement.
  2. Create a strong opening: Use a hook to open your emails. For example, “You wouldn’t believe this happened to us.” You can also use storytelling tactics to create hype around your brand.
  3. Establish empathy: Talk to your readers as if they are your friends, and address their challenges. This will help deepen the bond and increase credibility. 
  4. Highlight benefits: Mention your product features, but ensure you give more weightage to your product benefits. Doing this will help recipients learn more about your offer and how it can solve their problems.
  5. Use persuasive language: Certain words can trigger an emotional response in your audience and urge them to act. You can also use copywriting formulas to attract and engage your audience.
  6. Create urgency: Tell your recipients what they would miss out on the offer if they don’t act immediately. For example, “Buy before the sale ends at 6 pm” is more effective than “Buy now.”
  7. Tell compelling stories: Narrate real-life incidents or lessons you have learned from running your business. Customers are more inclined to stay with a brand that spreads positivity and provides value.
  8. Be transparent: Promote transparency in your emails — be clear about your terms and conditions, offers, and return policies. 
  9. Use power words: Power words help the audience differentiate between compelling and mediocre content. Use power words in moderation to enhance your email quality.
  10. End with a strong CTA: Drive your readers toward a goal; guide them to the next step.

Effective email copywriting is an iterative process that requires you to continually analyze your results, A/B test, and get regular customer feedback. 

While these are basic guidelines for producing clickable emails and making more sales, remember that the psychological triggers can vary with each email marketing campaign. 


Psychological Triggers for Different Email Marketing Campaigns

Psychological triggers are stimuli or cues that influence human behavior, emotions, and decision-making by tapping into emotional and social psychology. Most often, your customers are unaware of these triggers in your email campaigns. When used properly, these triggers help incite specific responses from audiences, transforming them from lead to loyal customers.

Email Campaign Type Psychological TriggerAction to take
Welcome emailsReciprocity Offer a welcome discount, free resources, or exclusive content as a gesture for subscribers’ engagement
Promotional emailsScarcity/urgencyHighlight limited-time offers, exclusive content, or flash sales to encourage immediate action
Abandoned cart email campaignLoss aversionRemind customers about the items they might lose if no action is taken
Re-engagement emailsNostalgiaUse content that taps into past positive experiences and remind them about the value they once found in your brand
Educational/informational emailsCuriosityUse compelling headlines, pose intriguing questions, and provide resources to increase knowledge and curiosity
Event/webinar emailsFear of missing out (FOMO)Emphasize the exclusivity and limited access to events or webinars
Survey or feedback emailsSense of contributionHelp recipients make a meaningful contribution by highlighting that their opinions matter
Product recommendation email campaignPersonalization Show customers that you care about their preferences by sending them relevant and personalized offers and products
Psychological triggers for different email campaigns

Think about the nature of your email campaigns and audience type before using a psychological trigger. Tailor your approach based on the emotions and motivations you want to evoke with people, and then use the emotional triggers to keep your email subscribers engaged.

A Trigger to Attract the Audience

If you’re building an audience, you’ll need a good lead magnet to get them to sign up for your list. We have a solution — a course that will teach you everything you need to know and give you the taste of crafting successful triggers even before you launch a campaign!

Download our FREE Lead Magnet Short Course — this strategic handbook will guide you through marketing principles to get higher opens and up to 756% more clicks on your lead magnets, as we at Campaign Refinery have experienced. You’re welcome! 


What Are Emotional Triggers?

Emotional triggers are situations that evoke an emotion or a response from people. These emotions can be positive or negative and shape our thoughts, behavior, and decision-making process.

For example, some people buy products out of excitement, while others may make impulsive purchases. But in all these scenarios, people make decisions because of how they feel.

7 Emotional Triggers to Use in Your Email Marketing

Using these emotional triggers will help you connect better and evoke a response from your audience:

  1. Belonging: Your customers are more likely to stay long-term when they feel they are a part of your brand. Including words like “We,” “together,” or “Join us” can improve the chances of participation.
  2. Hope: People come to you because they have a problem. When you focus on solving their pain points, customers naturally sway towards your brand. Mention a pain point in your subject line and provide solutions in your email content. For example, “Don’t know how to drive qualified leads? Learn with this marketing guide.”
  3. Fear: This emotional trigger can almost cause people to panic and act immediately. Back up your claims with facts and offer your product or service as a solution. For example, “11 million people suffer some form of illness; don’t be one of them. Check your health now.”
  4. Lust: Lust can refer to craving or a sudden urge to own something. You can use trigger words such as “Own your favorite T-shirts now” or 10% off on your dream vacation.”
  5. Greed: Most customers would want to purchase products even though they already own them. You can tap into this intense desire by making them feel they are getting more value for the price. For example, “Get 3 tops for the price of 1.”
  6. Vanity: People love being praised and valued. Use this opportunity to tell your customers that they deserve everything they are looking for.
  7. Guilt: Guilt urges humans to rectify their mistakes. When you tell customers what they have been doing wrong, they are more likely to correct it. For example, “You could lose 15% of your email revenue if you don’t automate it now.”

Psychological and emotional triggers together form the basis for psychological theories that elevate customer curiosity and engagement.


5 Psychological Techniques/Theories to Persuade Your Readers

The art of persuasion involves changing people’s beliefs about something. Here’s a brief overview of influential theories to maximize customer interests.

1. Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Cognitive dissonance theory is when people believe in one thing but act completely opposite to it. Or they could believe in two contradictory things and are forced to make a linear decision. 

The presence of different ‘cognitions’ creates a feeling of discomfort and tells our minds to change their behavior immediately, and people bring these beliefs in alignment in three ways:

  1. Change one or both cognitions,
  2. Adding new cognitions,
  3. Altering the importance of these cognitions.

Cognitive resonance theory can be beneficial in email marketing when used correctly. Use these ideas and techniques to put this theory into practice:

AspectStrategyBest Practice
Highlight inconsistenciesIdentify gaps in the recipient’s current behavior and your desired outcomeIf they looked at a product but haven’t purchased it, send reminders to let them know what they are missing
Encourage small commitmentsStart with small, easy to accomplish commitmentsEncourage users to commit to small actions like signing up for newsletters or downloading a resource
Showcase consistent brand valuesEmphasize brand values that align with recipient’s beliefsHighlight shared values and beliefs 
Use post-purchase rationalizationEncourage positive post-purchase experiencesAfter purchase, follow up with emails to let customers know they have made the right decision
Cognitive dissonance theory strategies

The key to using cognitive dissonance theory in email marketing is to guide users to resolve their inconsistencies and align their beliefs. Practice transparency and ethical models to increase trust and credibility in your brand. Take a look at the example below.

Grove Collaborative Email
Grove Collaborative Abandoned Cart Email

Grove Collaborative uses cognitive dissonance theory to tell customers that they need to complete the purchase to finish the action they started. When combined with powerful email copy, this theory can move your audiences to take the desired action because they want to increase their satisfaction levels.

2. The Zeigarnik Effect

Studies have discovered that people remember unfinished tasks better than completed ones. Zeigarnik’s theory can be used in email marketing to increase curiosity and make people finish a task. For example, let’s assume your subject line reads like this:

“Discover the importance of email marketing with these….”

This is a classic example of the Zeigarnik effect, where our minds are wired to find out the missing parts of the sentence. This practice piques customer curiosity, boosting open rates and click-through rates.

Here’s an example of the Zeigarnik effect in practice:

The Streamable Best Deals Email
Subject line: The Best Deals: 87% Off Hulu, 67% Off Paramount+…

Streamable cleverly uses ellipses (…) to capture the audience’s attention. When your recipients don’t know the next item on the list, their minds immediately push them to explore the option. This can increase curiosity and make them quickly open your emails.

3. Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Also called ‘frequency illusion’ or ‘recency bias’, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is a cognitive bias in which a person learns something new and seemingly encounters that information everywhere.

For example, if you read about ”Email marketing principles” and your friend suddenly talks about the new email marketing platform they have been using. 

The Baader-Meinhof theory relies on selective attention — you only focus on what you feel is important. Secondly, confirmation bias is when you constantly hear or see the same thing, your brain tells you that the concept has gained popularity and is worthy of your attention.

Influencing Readers’ Actions Using the Baader-Meinhof Effect

Here are a few ideas to implement this theory in email marketing:

  1. Repetitive marketing: When you repeat your product value and how it will help solve your customers’ challenges, they are more prone to believe it. Start with a strong subject line, compelling images, and memorable email copy to introduce your customers to your products or services. Then, find multiple mediums to convey the same message — social media marketing, paid ads, or influencer marketing.
  2. Implement social proof: Baader-Meinhof’s theory suggests that people who don’t know how to act or think will imitate or look for guidance from others. In email marketing, social proof can play a vital role in convincing hesitant customers to buy your products. For example, “4 out 5 users report increased heart health with this product.”
  3. Create confirmation bias: When you provide evidence that your products are purer, work better, or cost less, your customers are more likely to choose your brand over others. Start by sending introductory emails and move on to promotional campaigns, and then drop social proof in your emails. The consistent messaging will act as evidence and prove the confirmation bias, helping customers pick your brand without second-guessing it.

Check out the example:

My Mind Space to Think Email
My Mind Space to Think Email

My Mind wants to give its users more space to think without being pushy. The above email example is one way to train recipients’ minds to improve their lives and confirm that their thought patterns are right. 

4. The Von Restorff Effect

Also known as the ‘Isolation Effect,’ this theory proves that an item that stands out from its surroundings is more likely to be remembered. This effect can be strategically used in email marketing to make certain elements or messages more memorable to recipients. 

Here’s how you can apply it to your emails:

  • Use contrast in design: Make important elements such as CTAs or key messages stand out from the rest of the elements — you can use bold colors and highlights to increase their effectiveness.
  • Isolate key information: Place key offers or information away from the rest; you can use white space or borders to emphasize this piece of information.
  • Highlight unique selling points: If you are promoting specific features and benefits, highlight them or place them farther away from the normal elements.
  • Emphasize special offers: Highlight deals, discounts, and offers with bold backgrounds or borders.
  • Isolate customer testimonials: Create dedicated sections for reviews and testimonials. It’s better if they are placed inside a box with different backgrounds.

Applying the Von Restorff effect in your email marketing can make your campaigns more memorable, ultimately increasing the likelihood of your audience engaging with your future campaigns.

Allset Promotional Email
Allset Promotional Email

Allset uses a neon green background to convey the message effectively. They also use a contrasting color further down, encouraging the user to invite more friends to participate.

5. The Decoy Effect

The Decoy effect explains that when people are in between choosing two items, an addition of the third item can alter perceptions of the first two. In simple words, an introduction of a less attractive offer influences the choice between two or more options, leading users to make a decision they might not have otherwise made without the decoy. 

Use the following tactics to apply this theory:

AspectUse it this way 
Pricing tiersPresent multiple pricing options with a middle tier option – it may be slightly more expensive than the basic option but with fewer functionalities than the premium. The decoy encourages customers to choose the premium option with all the features and functionalities
Feature comparison When promoting different products or services, introduce a less attractive offer to highlight the perceived value of the highest-paid option
Bundle deals Create premium value bundles and introduce a decoy with a less favorable mix or fewer items
Content access levelsFor subscription-based services, use a less appealing add-on feature that makes premium add-on features look great for the pricing
Decoy effect ideas in email marketing 

LiveChat uses the decoy effect in the following example:

Live Chat New Pricing Plan Email
Live Chat New Pricing Plan Email

LiveChat introduces its starter plan by highlighting it as the main offer. Even though there are two other options, users are more likely to choose the highlighted offer due to the decoy principle.

Despite the use of these theories and psychological principles, your email marketing results may vary based on various factors, such as — your email deliverability, email send time, and segmentation strategy. 

We recommend working with an email service provider to use the right methods and tools to tap into human behavior.


How Campaign Refinery Can Help You Tap Into Customer Psychology

Email marketing psychology is highly effective when done right — we understood the undertones of customer psychology and created a platform that resonates with your audience. 

And in harmony with the right features, it can help you greatly achieve your desired results. Powerful email automation, easy segmentation, unique engagement rewards feature, and a stellar analytics dashboard refine your email marketing strategies for higher conversions and can place you among top senders. 

Proud to offer all of the key features to our clients, Campaign Refinery also has a credit system that allows you to pay only for what you use, making us one-of-a-kind email automation software. Further, our automatic email list cleaning feature wades out unwanted and harmful email addresses even before you hit send. Add a practical campaign library to the mix and you’ll understand why we provide the highest email deliverability rate in the market!

It’s your job to use the psychology of email marketing right. Let us do everything else. 

If you want to be a part of an elite platform with robust features and premium results, apply to become a Campaign Refinery client today!

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