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How to Use Brain Science to Improve Your Email Marketing Campaigns

how to improve your email marketing campaigns


In 2016, we can continue to agree that email marketing isn’t dead and, in fact, it continues to grow. With more and more brands getting on board (87% report they will increase email marketing budgets in 2016), it can be difficult to stand out amongst your competitors. The solution? Be smarter about what you’re sending!

Emma has released a guide called: Your Brain on Email: The Science to Winning the Inbox, which breaks down how you can apply brain science to your email marketing campaigns in order to get better results in the inbox and beyond. There are six brain science facts in Emma’s guide but I only want to talk about three of them: the Zeigarnik Effect, the amygdala, and the Von Restorff Effect. Emma does a great job of making the connection between brain science and email, so much so that I’ve become fascinated with the idea of how the two can work together. Here are the three brain science facts with a few examples that hit my inbox.

Zeigarnik Effect

An interesting way to help boost open rates is to use incomplete phrases in your subject lines. Our brains tend to focus more on uncompleted tasks, which capture our attention more than completed tasks. This phenomenon is called the Zeigarnik Effect. Using incomplete phrases followed by an ellipsis triggers our brains to want to resolve the issue at hand, which results in an open.

Here’s an example of an email I received from Forever21. The subject line reads “Let’s Face It…” and then upon opening the email, above the fold they used “INTRODUCING…” to entice subscribers to scroll down and read more.

Example 1: Forever21

NewForever21EmailScreenshot copy


The Amygdala

The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for our gut reactions– an instinct that works much faster than the conscious mind. When designing an email, use images that focus on food, sex, danger, and landscape because those tend to resonate better with this part of the brain.

Here’s an example from Visit California that utilizes all four of these images in one welcome email.

Example 2: Visit California


california email marketing


Patagonia also does a great job of attracting your attention in their emails by displaying delicious meals and using landscape to convey a sense of danger and excitement.

Example 3: Patagonia

PatagoniaFoodEmail marketing



Also, keep in mind that your subject line and preheader text should work together to tap into our gut reactions by creating a sense of urgency, excitement or even anxiety. I receive multiple emails from Ulta Beauty that promote ‘limited time’ deals. This tactic encourages consumers to make a purchase and do it fast.

Example 4: Ulta Beauty

Ulta beauty email

Von Restorff Effect

Finally, we have the Von Restorff Effect, which states that an item that is notably different from others is more likely to be remembered. This means that you should make your calls-to-action stand out, while also considering colors, placement and button size. Note that buttons produce higher click-through rates than text links and people tend to have gut reactions to colors like yellows and blues, which can activate anxiety and trust while red tones can activate excitement.

This example from JustFab immediately draws you to the CTA because the bright pink color stands out against the black and white tones that surround it.

Example 5: JustFab


BONUS – Social Default Bias

Ok, so I’m giving you a fourth fact from the guide because it’s probably the easiest one to understand and it’s simple to apply. Social Default Bias states that when we can’t make our own informed decisions, we copy other peoples’ choices. This is highly relevant to email marketing campaigns because, as Emma points out, 84% of people trust recommendations from people they know, whereas 15% of people trust recommendations from brands themselves. Leveraging the power of social media, combined with your email campaigns, can result in a successful relationship that enhances your marketing efforts. You can include reviews, quotes, and ratings, or simply add social buttons to your emails, which can help increase click rates by 150%. Here’s an example that I received from Misfit, a brand that encourages their customers to not only follow them on Instagram but to tag them in posts about snacks.

Example 6: Misfit



There you have it! Test these four brain science methods in your email campaigns to help your brand break through the cluttered inbox and produce better results. Be sure to check out all 6 of the brain science methods included in Emma’s guide and read more about the fascinating connection between brain science and marketing. Want to chat more about the connection between email and brain science? Shoot me a note–

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