The Psychology of Email Marketing

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The human mind is a powerful machine, constantly working and responding to external stimuli. Because of the way a human’s brain is wired, everything it sees or reads elicits an emotional response. A Microsoft study made the claim that humans now have only an attention span of 8-seconds. Understanding this, emails must be written in a way that appeals to our emotions, and must quickly grab attention.

Kate Harrison, a Forbes contributor, states that no one will read your story if they aren’t drawn in by emotion. These simple psychological principles can help connect with email subscribers to create a lasting relationship.

The Psychology of Color

There is a significant psychological component to color. Color affects emotional response and mood. Certain colors have been known to evoke certain emotions. Take red, for example. Red can incite an energetic feeling. Green can promote relaxation. And blue can convey trustworthiness. According to Kissmetrics, blue is a favorite for both men and women, and suggests security, which is why it is often used in bank logos. GoDaddy defines the emotion associated with each color as such:

  • Red: Energetic (may increase heart rate)
  • Orange: Aggressive (may incite a call to action)
  • Blue: Trustworthiness (suggests security)
  • Green: Relaxing (also suggests wealth)
  • Yellow: Optimistic and youthful
  • Pink: Romantic and feminine
  • Black: Powerful and slick (often used for luxury product
  • Purple: Soothing and calming

The Psychology of Images

If an email gets opened, there’s reason to celebrate – but not to gloat (just yet). Eighty percent of readers are just skimming through emails. A 2008 psychology study found that adding an image of a person (when relevant) appeals to the fusiform face area of the brain. This area of the brain is also where emotional responses are processed. According to the study, “The impact of faces is shown in our impressions of people as well as in our behavior towards them, such as whom we help, whom we hire, or whom we ask for a date.”

When choosing images for an email campaign, efforts should focus on choosing images that get attention, and invoke the desired emotional response. Furthermore, if sharing a testimonial via an email campaign, make efforts to include an a picture of the person behind it, so as to increase effectiveness.

In reference to the call to action on an email, use visual cues to direct people to take action. There are two types of visual cues to keep in mind:

  • Explicit: Obvious clues, such as creating an image that is pointing to the call to action (CTA)
  • Implicit: Less obvious, like a photo of a person looking at the CTA

Targeting & Personalization

Impersonal emails lack the ability to appeal to a person’s emotions, and email blasts often fall prey to this fact. When emails are personalized, readers pay attention. As Dale Carnegie said in his bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, there is no sweeter sound than the sound of one’s own name.

Experian Marketing Services found that personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates, and found that personalized subject lines result in a 26% higher open rate. Furthermore, Aberdeen found that personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%. Leveraging available consumer data such as demographics, past purchases, and location can help indicate personalized information to the audience. This kind of data also provides a basis for segmentation, which can help increase open rates, engagement, and purposes thanks to increased relevance.

A survey done by Sendpulse found that 62% of subscribers read emails when the subject line is interesting, and half of the subscribers are more interested in content rather than frequency of emails.


The idea of scarcity can be a favorable thing for email marketers. The less people perceive there is of something, the more they want it. It can also invoke the concept of FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. No one wants to feel like they are missing out on a good deal.

A marketer can promote the idea of scarcity by offering limited quantities of an item, or by promoting time-sensitive offers and discounts. But overusing this tactic leads to ineffective marketing. See also: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Tapping into teachings about how the human mind works will lead to more effective email marketing campaigns. There is still so much to learn about what makes people tick, but these principles will lead you in the right direction.

How do you incorporate psychological principles into your email marketing efforts? Tweet @SendPulseCom with your ideas, and we’ll share our favorites!

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