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Article first published November 2014, updated May 2019

If you send email marketing campaigns, you likely find yourself writing a substantial amount of copy.

We’ve previously written about a few copywriting formulas to help you create brilliant content, but those formulas aren’t always appropriate for the messages within your email campaigns.

Read on to discover five persuasive techniques to help you produce compelling copy that can be applied to any type of email campaign you might be constructing.

What is effective persuasion?

Effective persuasion is not manipulating people to make a sale but demonstrating to your customers how a purchase is in their best interests. It is providing all the facts and benefits so your customers can make the best decision for themselves. By understanding what effective persuasion is—and what it’s not—you can use persuasive techniques in your email messages to improve your click-through and conversion rates.

In his popular book, Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini outlines how to use persuasive techniques in psychology. He lists six basic principles of persuasion that apply in nearly any situation:

  • Reciprocity: When you give something—even something small, like a coupon—to a potential customer, that act often inspires them to give something in return. Again, the return gift might be small, such as an email address to subscribe to your newsletter, but it can be very valuable in building your customer base.
  • Scarcity: If your customer perceives that the supply of a certain product is low, the demand for that product naturally increases. Instead of focusing on the benefits of an item, consider detailing the missed opportunity if the customer doesn’t take advantage of the item right away. The urgency associated with this technique often compels a customer to act quickly.
  • Authority: As a small business owner, it’s essential that you establish yourself as an expert in your field. That air of authority or leadership compels others to listen to what you have to say and follow your advice. If you recommend a particular product or service, your audience will be more likely to act on your direction.
  • Consistency: Human nature encourages people to keep their word once they offer it, such as promises to mention your website or to provide a referral to a friend or family member. At the same time, if a customer aligns with your brand, they’ll be more likely to stick with your business, even when problems arise.
  • Liking: People are more likely to favor others that they find attractive. Other criteria might include finding similar qualities or common interests with you. That common ground will make your customer more likely to trust your message and follow your advice. At the same time, it’s that familiarity that can help you create content that is tailor-made for your customer.
  • Consensus: Most of us tend to look to others we like or respect and follow their cues when it comes to making decisions or taking action. If we sense the majority is using a certain product or service, that makes it more attractive to us as well. The consensus is what makes tools like testimonials so effective in your email marketing campaigns.

Keeping these principles in mind, there are a variety of ways you can incorporate them into your persuasive writing when you are composing email messages for your campaigns. The following offer some more tangible how-to writing techniques for persuasive writing.

How can I improve my subject lines?

Improving email subject lines isn’t all that difficult—all it takes is some creative brain power. So consider the following tactics to help you improve your subject lines.

Use sensory words

Email copy that evokes the five senses creates a lasting impression. Whether it’s via sight, smell, taste, touch, or sound, any time you can use language that taps into those faculties, it makes the description of your product more realistic and tangible.

Sensory words also create a reaction in your reader’s brain. Neuroscience research conducted at Emory University showed that words related to texture activated areas of the brain associated with touch (even when their use had nothing to do with physical sensations). The researcher also noted that words that activate the sensory areas of the brain are “more likely to be memorable and impactful.”

Let’s look at persuasive email examples and techniques using sensory words from a fictional tea company.

Without sensory words: Because our teas are good for your mind and body, they make thoughtful gifts for friends and family.

With sensory words: When brewed with hot water, our teas fill the room with notes of florals, fresh herbs, and sweetly ripened fruit. Send a cup of tea to your friends and family to give the gift of a healthy mind and body, and fill their homes with the scent of relaxation.

Employing sensory words helps you write better email copy that creates a stronger, more interesting mental picture.

In this email, you can almost taste the icy coldness of the fruity beverage showcased in the photo:

Source: Campaign Monitor

Evoke imagination

Using imagination in email copy helps your readers picture themselves using your product. It makes them think about how they’d look and feel if they owned the product and gets their mental wheels turning.

In fact, one study demonstrated that simply touching or holding an object helped foster a sense of ownership with a potential buyer. For this very reason, employees at a clothing store want to help you to try on as many items as possible. They’ll help you find complete outfits, get you the perfect size, and make suggestions on item pairings.

However, what if your customer can’t hold the item you’re selling?

Helping them imagine it is the next best thing. As an example, imagine you’re writing email copy for your business, which offers a tool for cloud-based project collaboration.

Without evoking imagination: You can work from anywhere, anytime, with any team member via our cloud-based collaboration tool.

With evoking imagination: Imagine a workplace uninhibited by location or time zone where you store information, keep track of project deadlines, and communicate with team members wherever you go. With our cloud-based collaboration tool, your remote workplace can become a reality.

In this email, you can picture yourself sitting poolside with a tropical drink at a Mexican resort:

Source: Campaign Monitor

Add the word “because:

The word “because” in email copy creates a sense of ethos for your business. You’re not only telling potential customers how your product or service is unique and wonderful, but you’re telling them why and giving them a reason to believe you.

Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard published a study in 1978 that highlights this principle. She had subjects try to cut in front of a line of people waiting to use a copier. In the first instance, the person pushing in simply asked “Can I use the copier?” and 63% let them cut in line and go first. In the second instance, the person asked, “Can I use the copier because I need to make copies?” and 94% let them go first.

Despite the fact that everybody was in the line because they needed to make copies, there was a significant increase in the amount of people who let someone go ahead in line when the individual simply added the word “because” to the request.

Consider how the word “because” helps this fictitious vitamin company write better email copy.

Without because: Vitamins help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and get the nutrients your body needs.

With because: Vitamins are a key part of any healthy diet because they help your body get the nutrients it needs to maintain an active lifestyle.

Adding in the “because” helps reinforce the necessity and logic behind the purchase.

Formulate sound bites

Sound bites are short bits of email copy that stick with the reader. The two primary elements of sound bites are rhyme and repetition. Not only do they roll off the tongue in an audibly pleasing way, but they also help messages become more memorable.

Studies have shown that rhymes make statements sound more believable, while repetition creates a form of mesmerism.

You’ve seen this strategy in action time and time again: Commercials use rhyming for jingles or repeating phone numbers over and over in the short span of the ad.

As an example, we’ll use this tactic on email copy that’s promoting a special type of pen.

Without sound bites: Your pen doesn’t just write messages; it showcases your personality.

With sound bites: Your pen. Your personality.

Notice how when the sound bite incorporates repetition and alliteration it becomes catchier and packs a more memorable punch? You can write better email copy by giving your reader an easy message to recite and remember.

Create mini stories

Storytelling helps break down the sales barrier, fosters a sense of connection, and helps sweep the reader into an alternate world. Why’s that important? Research shows that, when readers can picture themselves in the story we create within our copy, sales messages begin to stick.

Storytelling is an essential part of human existence and has been since the very beginning of time. It’s used to pass along lessons, cultural heritage, and important events. It resonates with the human experience. When we can relate to the protagonist of the tale, we are more likely to follow the lead of our hero.

Because of the value we place on stories, it’s essential to incorporate narrative form into our email copy. Today, marketers that haven’t mastered the art of storytelling can’t easily create content that stands out from the crowd.

Let’s look at an example from a fictional candle company.

Without storytelling: Candle Coop tested their custom wood wick candles outdoors to ensure they would stay lit and provide a powerful scent in a variety of different environments.

With storytelling: Candle Coop sent candles to testers in six different states with varied climates and weather conditions to study the level of fragrance they produced in different outdoor environments. Testers burned the wood wick candles on open porches and at outdoor gatherings. The result: even on windy days, candles from Candle Coop provided a powerful scent and burned for hours without blowing out.

Even the brief story in this email draws us in and makes us feel compassion for the plight of the victims of Cyclone Pam:

Even the brief story in this email draws us in and makes us feel compassion for the plight of the victims of Cyclone Pam:

Source: Campaign Monitor

Wrap up

Using these research-backed persuasive techniques can help lift the quality of your email copy and increase your click-through rates. Once you’ve mastered these persuasive writing tips, add some compelling images to complete your campaign.

Check out this blog to find the best sources for breathtaking photos and eye-catching images.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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