11 Email Subject Line Persuasion Triggers

November 21, 2017 / By Bruce McDuffee

A few months ago, I wrote about the six types of persuasion and how manufacturers could use each of them to increase sales. Recently I came across a post on the Sleeknote blog about the eleven proven persuasion triggers for emails. As a refresher, these are the six types of persuasion popularized by Robert Cialdini in his best seller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Liking
  3. Social Proof
  4. Authority
  5. Consistency
  6. Scarcity

The eleven persuasion triggers go a bit further in applying persuasion methods to email subject lines to increase your email open and click rates. The eleven triggers are:

  1. Personalization - Most email service providers will allow you to personalize the subject line. It is a seldom used tactic, but according to Campaign Monitor, results in emails being 26% more likely to be opened.
  2. Scarcity - We humans always seem to want what we can't have. This is scarcity at work on our brains. Aka FOMO or fear of missing out. Personally, I feel that using scarcity is manipulative, but statistics show that it does result in a higher open rate.
  3. Authority - Humans have a natural tendency to obey authority. There are different ways to establish authority in an email including titles, experience, reputation.
  4. Curiosity - Humans are naturally curious. We want to know what is behind the curtain. Curiosity is the persuasion power behind subject lines like, "The One Tactic That will Boost your ROI".
  5. Utility - A subject line that offers a solution to a common problem uses utility to gain interest and get the email opened. Who wouldn't open an email that provides a practical solution to a problem.
  6. Numbers - We love numbers because we can categorize the effort it will take to consume an email. One study by Conductor found that headlines with numbers tend to generate 73% more social shares and engagement. Wow!
  7. Social proof - The most common tactic of social proof is customer testimonials. Cialdini says "The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct."
  8. Framing - By stating a solution or a problem in a positive context versus a negative context, people are more likely to act on the positive context choice.
  9. Reciprocity - This is my favorite persuasion technique. When you give someone a gift, they want to give back. For example, if you offer a free webinar that helps someone in your target audience solve a problem, they tend to want to give back by purchasing your product when they have a need.
  10. Salience - When you use emojis or capital letters in an email subject line, you are using salience to gain attention. According to a report by Experian, 56% of brands using emoji in their subject lines had a higher open rate.
  11. Liking - We like people who are similar to us. The best way to use liking in a subject line is to use the language of your audience.


For more details about the 11 persuasion triggers, check out the full blog post at Sleeknote.

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