Email. The cornerstone of any financial services marketer’s kit bag. Not the shiny object it once was after Digital Equipment Corp marketing manager Gary Thuerk sent the first “mass” email in 1978. And for a fact, we know email marketing isnt going anywhere, in fact, it’s growing! In 2020 alone, 306 billion emails were sent and received each day worldwide (Statista, 2021). That’s a staggering amount of daily emails. Not just that, but this figure is expected to increase to over 376 billion daily emails in 2025 (Statista, 2021).
So, if you are going to use email in your marketing mix in 2021, then let’s make sure it’s as effective as possible.
I attended a presentation on email marketing by Nancy Harhut, who’s won over 150 awards for direct marketing effectiveness (with creds like that she got my attention!), presenting “10 Human Behaviour Hacks that Will Change the Way You Create Email”. This presentation goes back to 2016, but alot of her tips still hold true to this day!
Here’s what I learnt.
We all use decision making shortcuts as a way to conserve energy and speed through our waking day. Marketers can use this to our advantage by leveraging the following human behaviour hacks to improve the chances your readers notice, open and act upon your email communications.
Tip 1: Magic words in subject lines
A boring subject line is not going to perform as well as a subject line that compels you to click through, right? However, the finance sector is not an industry that can indulge in blatant click-bait subject lines. This is where “magic” words or “eye magnet” words are your friend.
- NEW – one of the top 5 most persuasive words (synonyms also include now, introducing, discover, announcing etc.). It appeals to the human brain’s need for novelty, news and newness
- FREE – spam filters can catch this so test but Nancy posited the use of FREE can lift open rates by 10%
- RECIPIENT’S NAME – apparently we all like the look of our own name and Nancy has seen open rates increase by 29% when the recipient’s name was included in the subject line
- SECRET – making your readers feel they have information that isn’t widely available saw open rates increase 11% (think “confessions of” too) but check with Compliance first!
- ALERT – humans are hard wired to look out for danger… and breaking news… and could lift your open rates by 33% according to Nancy
We also have to remember that a lot of email is read on mobile so word length is important - think 35 words or less, and front-loading your “eye magnet” words to avoid them being truncated.
Tip 2: Position your message for a fast response
Humans respond to two action-inducing principals: scarcity and exclusivity. We hate to miss out. If your reader feels time-pressed or special, they are more likely to respond. This is where Nancy saw a 17% increase in click-through rates from the inclusion of a countdown clock.
Tip 3: Ripple effect of the scarcity principal
Garnering the first “yes” is the hardest but once your reader has taken that first positive action, it’s easier to encourage them to say “yes” again. The trick to activating the first yes is to make it a small ask. Subsequent yeses are made easier if the first “yes” was public (for instance on social – see Tip 4) and if you remind them they said yes before. You can ask for larger commitments as you go.
Tip 4: The benefit of social proof
Decision makers, both personally and professionally, look to social proof prior to making a purchase decision. We trust the opinions of others, particularly if they’re like us. If you can show your reader how others like them have taken up your offer, they are more likely to make a purchase decision.
Tip 5: Negativity can deliver positive results
People are twice as motivated to avoid pain as they are to achieve gain. This is why cash investments paying almost zero interest are so popular after major economic downturns or times of uncertainty. By highlighting the potential pain, e.g. “Don’t let inflation destroy your investment returns,” they open themselves to a solution that helps them avoid a negative outcome.
Tip 6: Availability bias turns doubters into buyers
We use our past experiences and memories to decide the likelihood of an event occurring. For example, if your client had a bad experience when dealing with your customer service team, they are expecting they’ll have a similar experience next time. To use this to your advantage, stir your readers’ memories or imaginations before you ask them for a response.
Tip 7: The authority principle to make you look better than your competition
Children are taught to respect and respond to authority from the get-go ensuring by adulthood this is well ingrained, making us hard-wired to listen and follow anyone that presents authority. In business, we position brands and spokespeople as leading experts through commentary in the media, releasing research reports, securing ratings and so on. We’re all familiar with the term thought leader, I expect. And your clients respond to hearing from the leading expert.
Tip 8: The power of “because”
This is one of my favourite tips. Nancy referred to psychologist Ellen Langer’s experiment where an office worker jumped the photocopier queue. When the worker asked if they could go ahead of the person in front, the probability of the person agreeing was increased from 60% to 94% if they used the word “because”. It didn’t matter what the reason was, “… because I’m in a hurry” was about as successful as “… because I have to make some copies”. Perhaps try that in the coffee queue tomorrow!
Tip 9: The journalists’ secret that boosts readership
The information gap theory is that humans will act to close the gap between what we know and what we want to know. Journalists are taught to answer the 5 Ws + the 1 H i.e. who, what, when, why, where + how to ensure their article leaves no question unanswered. And marketers can encourage action by highlighting an information gap with subject lines like “How to boost your savings” “Why under-insurance can leave you stranded” or “When using a fund manager makes sense”.
It’s also worth noting that numbers stand out in a sea of words because they promise ease and order. And if including numbers in your subject line, Outbrain’s study of 150,000 article headlines found that odd numbers are perceived as more credible because they appear less conveniently packaged than even numbers. The exception is 10 and its multiples which also work because they are cognitively fluent. So make sure you use a numeral rather than spelling out the number.
Tip 10: The Von Restorff Effect
In 1933 Hedwig von Restorff’s experiments on memory found that if you want people to notice, make it distinctive. For marketers, Nancy recommended piggybacking on holidays and celebrations, customer birthdays, and anniversaries. People notice and remember things that standout and special days clearly fit into that category. E-commerce and retailers have mastered this with sales around the end of financial year, Boxing Day, Black Friday, Easter etc etc.
However, the major holidays or events can be crowded from a marketing message point of view so Nancy suggested leveraging minor holidays or even inventing your own celebration/ remembrance day which works too (I’ve scheduled in World Compliment Day on 1 March, have you?!).
As with most modern marketing, the key is to know your starting point (and if you’re interested in benchmarking your email campaigns’ performance against industry averages, check out MailChimp’s monthly updates, develop some ideas to test, implement, track the outcomes and incorporate your learnings into the next campaign.
Here’s to you smashing your email campaign KPIs in 2021!