People are aware of cognitive biases but do we know what to do about them?
Spam email copywriters have to work hard. They are the illegal street traders of the email world, flogging fake meds and pushing casino offers down the alley that is your spam folder.
You can’t succeed in the cut-throat world of spam without using a few clever tricks and persuasion techniques, and the spam folder can be a veritable gold mine of inspiration and ideas for how to be more persuasive.
To demonstrate, here is a screenshot of my spam folder. This covers about a week.
Almost every email is using one or more persuasion techniques to persuade me to click. Here are my favourites:
Making the sender a person
Just under half of these emails claim to be sent from a person rather than a company. The sender column in each case shows the full name of a person. This is an effective persuasive technique for a number of reasons.
- A person’s full name adds legitimacy, no matter what the content of the email.
- A person’s name, rather than the company name, suggests this is a specific member of staff getting in touch with me directly.
- Names have associated familiarity. For example, the second email is from Amber. Perhaps I met someone called Amber recently. This could be her getting in touch with me again. It’s worth a quick click just to be sure.
- All the names have something in common – they’re womens’ names. I’d be surprised if targeting a man with emails from what appear to be women was an accident.
In a sea of emails where the senders are companies, a person’s name immediately distinguishes that email as more worthy of my attention. In the spam email business, attention equals clicks.
Outside of spam emails, giving your business a human face (and name) can be equally as effective. On-site customer service is an area where this can work well. Live-chat popups will frequently now show the name, and even sometimes a friendly picture, of the agent that you’ll be talking to. If you’re a lead generation business, a worthwhile test could be to make your contact form more personal, with names and photos of your service team. At Conversion.com we carry out a lot of email surveys and we’ll always ask for a customer service agent’s name to use as the sender of our emails. It looks less like an automated email, and this generates a higher response rate.
Addressing your customers by name
At some point I have given my first name to the people over at Gala Bingo and 888.com. It is good to see that it’s being put to good use. They have both used my name as the first word in their subject lines.
We are all primed to notice mentions of our own name, whether spoken or written. Most of us will at some point have found ourselves suddenly listening to someone’s conversation because we hear them mention our name. It doesn’t even have to be our name, often just a word that sounds similar can have the same effect.
When scanning this long list of emails, my first name is bound to stand out and grab my attention. Spammers know this is an effective strategy. They are so keen to use it that they will even take a gamble on the part before the @ in your email address being your name and address you by that. My full email address would still stand out – the digital equivalent of my name – and chances are that I will read the subject line. Quite an achievement when most of these emails will normally be deleted before they are even seen.
A customer’s name is a powerful persuasive weapon when used effectively. The customer experience immediately feels more personalized when names are used. If you can personalize the content at the same time then you’re in a very strong position.
It’s often stated as best practice when collecting customer information to remove as many fields as possible. Many sign-up forms have moved to being just an email address and password, with no name field. Whilst this may get you a few extra initial sign-ups at first, your effectiveness at converting those sign-ups to sales may be impacted by not knowing that customer’s name. The safest bet is always to split-test it and measure the conversion rate to sale of the name vs no-name cohorts.
Using a question to generate an answer
The third email down in my list (apparently from Eva Webster) is asking me a direct question.
The question stands out. This particular question is phrased like a challenge, and the promise of a challenge might actually be sufficient to get my attention. People often check their emails when bored, so it doesn’t take much to get their initial interest. Plus it’s human nature when challenged in some way to want to prove that you are up to the task.
Using questions in your copy is an effective technique in general because, when someone asks a question, you can’t help but instantly think of your answer. In the case of spam email this might just be enough to stop you in your tracks as you scan down your inbox. Using a question as a headline can be an effective way to capture your reader’s attention and establish their mindset as ready to engage with the rest of your content.
Questions work particularly well in certain industries. Take cosmetics for example. There’s a mould for cosmetic industry TV adverts where they start with a model asking you a direct question such as “Do you want longer, fuller lashes?”. Starting with a question is so effective in this industry as it plays on the insecurities of the audience. Even if you didn’t want longer fuller lashes, chances are you’re now aware that maybe you should do. Then luckily for you the rest of the adverts tells you exactly how you can get those longer, fuller lashes that you didn’t know you needed. It’s a very effective way to capture the customer’s attention and get them thinking about your product.
Using fear of missing out to motivate
From the sheer volume of spam they are sending my way it does seem like 888.com are determined to try every trick in the book in the hope that one might work on me. Here is an example of them using the scarcity principle to try and provoke a response.
This is nicely phrased to give the impression that I am wasting a great opportunity. The “Hurry!” at the end is both commanding me to take action and emphasising that there is a limited timeframe involved. This email is much more likely to get my attention than one where there is no sense of urgency.
This fear of missing out is not a new concept, and examples of its use are everywhere. Low stock indicators on ecommerce sites, next-day delivery countdown timers and simple limited time offers are fairly commonplace. Some fashion retailers will even have a “last chance to see” section of the site that only contains items that you might miss out on if you don’t buy them now.
Nearly all of the emails in this list use one technique or another to try and persuade me to click. Some of the best use multiple techniques combined. Here are the four key techniques we’ve seen in just this small selection of emails.
- Making the sender a person
- Addressing your customers by name
- Using a question to provoke an answer
- Using fear of missing out to motivate
Why not take a look through your junk mail folder and see how many different persuasion techniques you can spot being used?
Where else can we see persuasion techniques in action?
We’ve used my spam folder here as an example, but persuasion techniques like these are in use everywhere you look. Next time you find yourself compelled to open a particular email, influenced by a certain advert, or buying something online, ask yourself these quick questions and see what persuasion techniques you were influenced by.
- What was the first thing about this that caught my attention?
- What did I see next that made me engage further?
- What about this eventually made me take action?
When you find persuasion techniques working on you, look for ways you can use them in your own marketing. After all, if they’ve worked on you they will probably work on other people too.