Why behavioral sciences are important for email marketers

Why behavioral sciences are important for email marketers

This week we mark the start of a new series of articles, scratching below the surface and poking about in the gray matter a bit. Read on to discover why behavioral sciences are important for email marketers and what really drives us and our actions.

As an email marketer, you are probably concerned about such things as; impressions, open rates, click-through rates and conversions – and rightly so. They all convey important information about your email campaign and are the primary source of insight into the performance. However, where do all these numbers come from and how can you use them to help understand how your customers interact with your emails?

Your customers are what drive your email campaigns and it is the ability to anticipate and direct the behaviour of these customers that can drastically improve your campaign’s performance. Through interpreting consumer behaviour, it becomes clear that the sciences of how people think and act are an essential tool for email marketers. However it’s difficult to convert this data into usable insights into how your customers think.

This is where behavioral sciences can help. Behavioral sciences can provide email marketers with insights into the underlying cognitive functions that guide human behaviour. With this knowledge email marketers can better understand why their customers behave in the way they do and can create better performing campaigns as a result.

Before we jump headfirst into behavioral sciences, it is important to have a strong email campaign foundation for behavioral sciences to have a positive effect. Behavioral sciences cannot fix an ineffective campaign, but with a solid foundation behavioral sciences can do wonders for your email campaigns.

What are behavioral sciences anyway?

Behavioral sciences incorporate a number of different disciplines that focus on the behavior of people. It is a widely researched topic and there are number of networks that focus on sharing information regarding behavioral science within businesses such as the Copenhagen Behavioral Economics Network in Denmark or the London Behavioural Economics Network in the UK.

Where to start when thinking about using behavioral sciences?

It is difficult to implement behavioral scientific techniques without an understanding of the topic. Fortunately, there exist a huge amount of research freely available online, most of which can be easily implemented to have a positive effect on your email campaigns. Once you have an understanding of behavioral sciences, you need to examine a problem that you are having. Let’s say your click-through rate is low and you want to use behavioral science to understand the reasons for this. Let’s examine the interaction.

  1. Customer receives your email
  2. Customer opens your email (an open)
  3. Customer views the content in your email (an impression)
  4. Customer doesn’t click (no click)
  5. Customer closes the email

This is a very simplified description of the interaction that occurs. When looking closer and applying knowledge from behavioral sciences, it becomes clear that there are a few factors stopping an individual clicking within your email. Aside from the fact that the customer might not like the product or service in question, there are a number of factors to take into account that determine click-through rate.

There are a number of factors to take into account that can improve click-through rate.

  1. People have a limited amount of attention at any given time: Is your email cluttered with too much information? If so, reducing the noise will make elements stand out.
  2. People are very good at detecting changes: Do your call-to-action buttons stand out from the landscape? If not, changing the color, texture and size of a call-to-action button so it stands out can improve the click-through rate.
  3. People have a tendency to follow the gaze of other people: Are there faces in your email? Make them look at a call-to-action button to attract immediate attention.
  4. People look to their peers for action advice: Conveying to your recipients that others are clicking can encourage them to click as well.

The examples above are not limited to help raise the click-through rate. The good thing about understanding the data is that it can be used to interpret many different scenarios. MailChimp have a function called “Subject Line Researcher” that can compare your proposed subject line with statistics of how this subject line has previously performed. While this is useful tool, it only provides you with the data, but does not explain the reasons why these subject lines perform better.

The fourth example above, that utilizes the concept of social proof, can easily be adapted when designing arguments within the email, subject lines or any situation where an argument is needed to convince the recipient to act in a specific way. Understanding why this works rather than simply accepting that it works will provide a stronger analytical foundation in convincing recipients to open, click and ultimately buy.

Remember to A/B test

When you are A/B testing it is possible to design them based on behavioral sciences. For example, if you want to A/B test what subject lines perform better. By using behavioral sciences you can experiment in finding the best subject line structures that really drive open rates. Research has shown that most people are loss averse, which means that they try to avoid risk when possible and tend to react more strongly to losing something as opposed gaining something. Referring to our subject lines, this means that when designing what to write, try making arguments based on losses instead of gains. An example could be:

“Buy now and receive one extra”
Argument revolves around the possibility of gaining something (one extra)

“Don’t miss the opportunity to receive one extra”
Argument revolves around the possibility of losing something (the opportunity to receive one extra)

Subject lines are all about framing the correct statement. Even though the message is the same (receive one extra) the tone of the line has been changed. The difference might seem small on paper, but for the human mind this can be the difference between an open email and one sent to the bin.

These theories shouldn’t be taken as an absolute rule, they provide you with a solid base from which to expand your knowledge of behavioral sciences. Analysing big data with behavioral theories and applying them through A/B testing can prove to be a highly effective combination which can help you achieve the results that you are looking for.

In conclusion, behavioral sciences should be seen as a way to understand your customers better. As a way to gain insights into the behaviour behind the numbers on the screen and provide tools to act on these insights to achieve a better performance. If you are not already using behavioral sciences now is the time to start.

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