The Formula for Driving Action in Your Emails
When it comes to putting together email campaigns, we’re usually laser-focused on trying to say the right things and design the right buttons to increase clicks. But in getting so caught up in the old-school email marketing metrics of success like click-throughs and open rates, we often forget what actually drives customer conversion: an excellent experience. Unless your message contains relevant, interesting, and actionable information, no amount of clickbait is going to get you the conversion numbers that really matter to the business. To get to the root of the matter, we have to look at what compels people to take action. Social psychologist Howard Leventhal did just that in a classic experiment with Yale University seniors. In the experiment, Leventhal tested how effectively tetanus brochures could convince students to get vaccinated. The results provide interesting insight into what kind of copy motivates people to act.
Here’s how that might work for your email marketing:
2. Offer something of limited availability. This often creates even more urgency than a short deadline while increasing the perceived value of the offering, because recipients don’t know how much time they have to act to take advantage of a scarce resource.
Here’s how Litmus accomplished this in 2015 with a reminder to buy my Email Design Conference ticket last year:
3. Meet an immediate need. Offer something useful at the right time. This is where using behavioral triggers and lifecycle-based segmentation to email people with relevant offers or next steps shines. Here’s an example from Dollar Shave Club:
click through to see full email
They offer their post shave cream a few weeks after sending a free sample. If you’re getting this email, your motivation to buy is higher because the offer is most relevant right then.
Notice how the email gives you one place to start — one specific game for you to learn how to create. And there’s one call-to-action: to check out the video explainer.
The ExperimentEach student received a brochure with two parts: (1) a description of a tetanus patient, his side effects, and how he battles the disease and (2) instructions for getting tetanus shots. The purpose was to test the two popular motivators: directions and fear.
- High-fear descriptions had graphic pictures and included vivid descriptions of tetanus patients (bleeding, convulsing, going into shock, and even dying). In order to make the subject feel vulnerable, the brochures also mentioned how tetanus-causing bacteria live everywhere — under your fingernails, in your mouth, etc.
- Low-fear descriptions plainly stated facts and side effects, with no details or pictures.
- Specific instructions in the brochure included a map, directions to the health clinic, and available vaccination times. The brochures also urged students to make time in their school schedule.
- Non-specific instructions simply informed students that free tetanus shots were available at the university health clinic, which they could schedule at their convenience.
The ResultsYou’d think that skin deformations and convulsing bodies would get everyone to start lining up at the clinic for their tetanus shot — but the results showed that fear didn’t make the largest impact on behavior. Only 44% of people who went to get the shot were exposed to the high-fear brochures. What proved to be shockingly effective was the specificity of the instructions. 88% of the people who went to get shots had received the detailed plan for what to do next. So the natural question arose: do people even need fear to motivate them to act? In a followup experiment, Leventhal took fear out of the equation and provided students with brochures on how to get a tetanus shot. The results confirmed his suspicions: 0% of participants went to get the vaccinations. Turns out, while intensity of fear may not be as powerful as you think, you still need to tap into some existing appetite to nudge people into action.
How to Create Motivating ForcesFear or some motivating emotion by itself isn’t enough, and clear instructions aren’t enough. As Levanthal and his colleagues explain:
The information must not only instruct the audience but must create motivating forces which induce attitude and behavioral change.Lo and behold, the golden formula for driving action:
Motivation + Specific Instructions = Action
Step 1: Set up the situation with some urgency.One key to motivating someone to act is to create a sense of urgency. (Stay away from fake urgency so you don’t erode trust — so don’t tell people a sale ends today if it will be ongoing for two weeks!) Here’s three ways you can do this with your emails: 1. Set a concrete deadline, and make it short. While you might think that giving people a bigger time window to act makes the offer seem better, according to Parkinson’s Law, people will naturally take as long to do something as time will allow. And if you give people too big of a window, they’re more likely to put it off. Here’s a promotional email from VideoBlocks. Note the 3 places in the message where they reference the specific amount of time left to take advantage of their deal:
click through to see full email