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How To Write A Persuasive Email

Posted by Christine B. Whittemore on Dec 15, 2015 8:30:00 AM

This is a 7 minute read.

How To Write A Persuasive EmailA persuasive email is akin to the holy grail for marketers. It's one that will get opened, and read, and possibly even acted on. It's impossible to resist. So, what goes into writing that truly persuasive communication?

Wisdom from Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer at The Wilde Agency, originally shared in Human Behavior & Marketing Response: 13 Choice Drivers To Consider, helps make sense of how we are hardwired to respond. Her presentation was titled Tapping into Human Behavior to Increase Open, Read and Response Rates. Although focused on direct mail, the insights highlighted are equally relevant for writing persuasive emails.

13 Persuasive Insights For Driving Interactive Behaviors

1. People respect authority.

In the days of direct mail, an endorsement from an authority figure would have carried significant weight. Nowadays, we see signs of this in social profiles (how many followers someone has) and in social endorsements (how many shares, likes or Tweets a blog article has).

Similarly, an email from the CEO will carry more weight than one from an anonymous customer service representative, especially if you include a picture to humanize that authority figure.

For that matter, wouldn't you agree that a persuasive email should include a picture of a real human being rather than just a plain signature?

2. Humans are naturally curious.

Please do check out Nancy Harhut's original presentation (link above) as it includes a picture of a Coconut mailer used for a medical conference in Hawaii.

The more you are able to stand out with your marketing, the more respect, interest and loyalty you will create. Why? Because you are respecting people's natural curiosity. You are providing them with something talk-worthy and entertaining. Think of how powerful a good story is...

>> See StoryTelling The Business Way With Ron Ploof

3. Gatekeepers make very deliberate assumptions.

Gatekeepers want to avoid blame. They will assume something is important if it looks important. And, if they make a decision once, they generally fall into that pattern.

Even worse are the automatic gatekeepers such as email rules and filters and unsubscribe lists.

>> See Get More Customers? Offer Opt-in Email, Text Messages

>> See How Not To Get More Business: 7 eMail Retail Experience Horrors!

4. People look at who and where mail is from.

This is at the heart of contextual marketing and personalization. Just as we scan for mail from people we recognize in the mailbox (or letters with beautiful stamps), we prioritize the email inbox tsunami by looking for messages from people we know and want to respond to.  

>> See How Contextual Marketing Can Make Meaning For Your Customers

>> See How To Create Email Marketing Customers Welcome? Show Respect!

5. We’re inclined to touch things.  

Interaction increases response rates and engagement.

Touching is harder with email. That's where strong visual graphics are important, especially if they support touch and interaction and pave the way for physical interactions.

However, you can include a clickable button to take your engaged visitors to a digital site where you can feed that curiosity!

>> See How Digital-Physical Mashups Affect Inbound Marketing and Retail

6. Our eyes gravitate to certain words.  

Certain words act as eye magnets: “Free”, announcing, new, finally, soon, introducing, you, a person’s name.

Do a search in your email inbox for specific businesses you subscribe to and read through the subject lines. How many times do you notice certain eye-magnet words?


7. No really can mean ‘tell me more.’  

People buy solutions to their problems. If the first (or fourth) contact didn’t connect, you may need to try again.

Consider a lead nurturing sequence where you provide the recipient with options to disengage as well as modify subscription preferences. Depending on how persuasive your email is, you may find that you generate a positive response after multiple instances of being ignored.

8. Some responses are automatic.  

I find this one fascinating.

For example, “compliance triggers” produce an automatic yes. With direct mail, a coupon or rather the dashed line that surrounds a coupon will lift readership by 23% regardless of the value. Furthermore, telling people 'because' leads to compliance.

Using "easy, quick, improved" will increase product sales.  

Long copy is considered trustworthy compared to short messages. By the way, long copy feeds into great website content that gets found in search.

>> See How To Create Great Content For Your Website (and Business Blog)

>> See How To Get Found On Google

9. People are most interested in themselves.  

We lose people when we focus too much on ourselves, especially in business. There's nothing worse than having to listen to (or read) content that's all about how wonderful an organization is when you're trying desperately to figure out a solution to your own problem.

It's important to give people something, help them fix a problem, deliver good news to them or entertain them, help them feel superior or even share with them something that they aren’t supposed to hear.

Immediately what comes to mind is using "you" rather than "I or we" in content.

Warby-Parker-Want-One-For-Yourself.jpg>> This made me think of How Do You Create Buzz?

10. People make decisions for rational and emotional reasons.  

Many decisions are made emotionally and then justified afterwards rationally. It's important to address both sides of the argument in a persuasive email.

For example, a calculator can help with the rational justification whereas images and words might support the emotions.

11. Avoidance of pain.  

Avoiding pain is much more powerful a motivator than achieving pleasure. Loss can be twice as powerful a motivator as gain.

Which scenario is most effective for motivating you to take action and stop receiving paper copies of your bank statement:

  • Be green, save trees and the planet?
  • Be charged $2/month?

12. People feel obligated. 

The principle of reciprocity is powerful. We like to pay in kind for what someone does for us.

We also want what we cannot have. That's the principle of scarcity: if it's scarce – we want it.


13. We do what people like us and people we like do. 

That's the Principle of Social Proof: we mirror other people’s actions. This is why testimonials are so effective, particularly if:

  • They come from a person similar to the person we are trying to convince – horizontal influence

  • Most convincing if the testimonial suggests. It starts where the prospect is and moves them along.

  • If you don’t use someone like your prospect, use someone your prospect likes.

Think how effective Facebook Likes are, not to mention Amazon reviews and social shares. Social networks bring to life the persuasiveness of social proof.

Emails That Persuade Resource!

This presentation - The Science Behind Emails That Persuade - goes into even more detail. 

NEDMA14: The Science Behind Emails that Persuade - Nancy Harhut from New England Direct Marketing Association

What persuasive emails have you received that made you look, open and click? What was it that triggered your response? Would you apply that to your own emails? 

Download the Content Marketing Guide!  


Topics: email marketing

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