6 Psychological Triggers to Boost Email Engagement

We’ve said it time and time again: marketing is all about psychology.

Email marketing is no different.

Anyone looking to build their list and actually convert leads into customers needs to have a keen understanding of psychological triggers.

After all, if you don’t know what makes your readers tick, how can you possibly expect them to open your messages (let alone convert)?

When it comes to email marketing, we’ve narrowed it down to seven psychological triggers. These psychological triggers are about as old as marketing itself; however, they work beautifully when applied to your email campaigns.

The Six Triggers for Email Marketers


Let’s start with the undisputed number one trigger that every email marketer absolutely must master, urgency.

While you of course need to give your readers something do through your call-to-action, you also need to ensure that they act sooner rather than later. This is where urgency comes into play.

Urgent messages will always trump timid, generic emails.

Through building a sense of urgency, it becomes infinitely more difficult for your prospects to simply walk away from your messages.

Strive to add value to whatever you’re selling by creating the notion that your readers need to act now. You’ll be able to pique their curiosity and encourage them to take action.

How to create a sense of urgency in your emails:

  • Create a countdown or a limited time offer
  • Use urgent language such as “act fast” or “time-sensitive”
  • Get creative with your CTA. lnstead of the commonly used, “Click here” consider a CTA that conveys urgency such as “Get it before it’s too late!”

Take a look at the below email from subscription box company, Birchbox. Notice how wording like “tick tock…” automatically instills a sense of urgency for the reader.

Right off the bat, when a reader opens this email they know there is something on the table for a limited time only and they’ll need to act fast in order to claim it.


Another excellent example of urgency is this email from fitness apparel company, Gaiam.

The verbiage used in this email such as,  “Today Only” , “Shop Now” and “There’s Still Time” all encourage the reader to take action quickly… and preferably today!



Want to make your list feel like a million bucks?

Give them something that nobody else has yet! Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily.

Exclusivity is a powerful trigger that essentially gives your reader the impression that they’re getting special access to your content or deals. Whether or not this is actually true is pretty much moot: the purpose of exclusivity is to stroke your reader’s ego.

Don’t forget that your ultimate goal should be to give your readers something to look forward to.

How to make your emails feel more exclusive:

  • Use language such as “rare,” “special edition” or “just for you”
  • Offer something users can only get if they take action ie: subscribe, sign up, purchase etc.
  • Reward your top customers or more active subscribers with special deals or content

Pandora does an excellent job of introducing their premium product by offering an exclusive 60-day trial to their “most loyal listeners.”

Notice how language such as, “among the first” is used in order to convey a sense of exclusivity and make the reader feel as if they’re receiving a special offer curated just for them.

Even if this offer was sent out to the majority of their users, it still makes it seem special by saying it’s just for you, doesn’t it?


Another great example of exclusivity is this email from music streaming app, Spotify.

Not only is this email stroking the ego of the reader by thanking them for being a “top listener” but the message has been “written” by one of the musicians featured on the app.

Verbiage used in this email such as “you are one of” and “I want you to be one of the first” make this email feel very exclusive, thereby enticing the reader to take advantage of the offer.


Social Proof

In the marketing world,  social proof can be pretty powerful when it comes to helping your prospects understand exactly what you’re worth.

Think about it, before you try a new restaurant how many times do you search for reviews first to see what other people are saying before you make a decision to actually eat there?

The same concept applies to your business!

Look at email marketing as an opportunity to make your readers feel more confident in your product or service.

In fact, 88% of online shoppers consider reviews prior to making a purchase decision.

By showing off your positive feedback from previously satisfied customers, you provide evidence that you’re the real deal versus a disposable company.

You can likewise leverage the stories of those same customers throughout your campaigns (think: a customer who turned their business around thanks to your product).

How to incorporate social proof in your emails:

  • Share numbers or stats. ie: how many customers you have, how many new signups you had last month etc.
  • Share reviews. Whether it be something as simple as 5 stars below a product or a lengthy written review, build your credibility by showing that you have satisfied customers.
  • Do you have any awards? Use these to your advantage. Creatively incorporate these into your email template.
  • Name drop. Do you work with some major brands? Add their logo into your email.

Take a look at how educational site, Udacity adds social proof to their emails by displaying the star rating of each of their courses/products below each icon.

This is a simple yet visually appealing way to show the satisfaction of your customers and encourages the reader to click that “enroll” CTA.


Another simple way to add social proof to your messages (as we mentioned above in our tips!) is to use numbers in a strategic way.

This email from web design tool, Webflow brings social proof into their message in a simple way by highlighting the number of designers that have signed up to their platform since the reader last visited the site.

This is a great way to nudge this reader back onto their platform in a “everyone is using us, why aren’t you?” kind of way.



Reciprocity is a basic principle of human psychology, you have to give a little to get a little.

The concept is pretty simple: When someone gives you something, you feel a sense of obligation to do something for them in return.

This is exactly why so many sales funnels start with a freebie: your audience can’t resist something for nothing, right?

No matter what you’re asking your readers to do (click a link, sign up etc.) you should be offering some sort of “gift” in return. This can be in the form of a free download, a discount, a free webinar, etc.

Remember, whatever you choose to give should be seen as valuable in order to truly be effective.

How to bring reciprocity into your emails:

  • Offer your readers something for free before you ask for anything in return
  • Share free resources such as guides, blogs, helpful infographics etc.
  • Offer a special free trial or special discount

In the below email, WordPress hosting & site management platform, Flywheel offers their subscribers an ebook they can download… for free.

While this email isn’t asking anything of their subscribers in return, that’s okay.

Flywheel might continue to send out a few more email follow ups with free content before they officially ask for anything in return.


Guided walking tour app, Detour provides an incentive to use their application by offering a $7.99 credit.

How does this tie in with reciprocity?

Well, not only does this encourage the reader to use the app, but hopefully encourages them to make purchases in order to have continued access.




personal connection

Competition is fierce in any given industry. The most straightforward way to stand out from the crowd is by being honest and getting “real” with your readers.

Bottom line, personalization builds a connection with your reader and makes them feel understood.

As a matter of fact, personalized messages improve conversions by an average of 10% and click-through rates by an average of 14%.

A true, personal email requires a certain degree of creativity and sometimes even vulnerability on your behalf; however, they can also help seal the deal with skeptics.

How to establish a personal connection with your readers:

  • Personalized subject lines that present your email as an actual message versus spam
  • Anecdotes and personal tales to help humanize yourself your brand and make a connection with your reader (note the example above)
  • Messages that touch on your audience’s pain points and what keeps them up at night (for example, a newsletter direct at new entrepreneurs could focus on financial struggles and business hardships)

Take a look at this personal thank you email from online marketing expert, Amy Porterfield.

Instead of simply saying thank you to her reader, she touches on some of their pain points and even relates her own experience to that of her readers.

By doing this she makes herself seem more relatable and even though this same message was most likely sent to all of her webinar attendees, it feels personal… written just for you.



When in doubt, keep it simple.

Steve jobs put it this way:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Let’s talk about the psychology of simplicity.

We are naturally drawn to simple things, why?

Because they’re easier to process. Easier to reader. We don’t have to try too hard to understand it.

If something appear simple, we assume it’s easy. Therefore, we’re more inclined to take action on it.

And when it comes to email, chances are your readers already feel bogged down by their inboxes.

While bells and whistles such as images and flashy calls-to-action are always fair game, bear in mind that it’s never a bad idea to switch up your approach. Sometimes a bold, straightforward message speaks for itself without any fluff.

In an era where email is dominated with mobile readers, simplicity is key.

How to bring simplicity into your emails:

  • Include one, clear & eye catching  call-to-action
  • Keep your copy short, concise and to the point
  • Don’t overload your email with images. Only choose images that add to the design of your email, don’t take away from it or distract

Here’s a flash sale email from women’s clothing company, Loft. This email isn’t flashy, it doesn’t contain a lot of text and it’s not overloaded with images. It’s quick and easy to absorb.

As soon as you open this email, you’re wondering what that arrow is all about, aren’t you?

All you have to do is click. It’s easy.


This next example is simplicity at its finest.

This email from graphic design tool, Canva quickly communicates in a sleek way, their announcement with one simple CTA, “Register for early access.”

You’re more inclined to click that bright green button since it’s the ONLY thing asked of you.


Bringing It All Together

Don’t let psychological triggers fall to the wayside when it comes to getting into the heads of your readers.

After all, the more you get to know your readers, who they are, what they want and what their pain points are the easier it will be for you to use these tactics to persuade them to take action.

The more your messages work to tap into these triggers, the more likely you are to boost your engagement!

If you’re looking to start getting more out of your email campaigns, start your free trial with Sendlane and start experimenting.

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Kristen Dahlberg

Content ManagerSendlane
As a member of the Sendlane content marketing team, Kristen focuses on everything from organization to content curation and process improvement. She enjoys variety and the challenge of learning the best way to accomplish each new goal.

Outside of work, Kristen spends as much time as possible at the beach, soaking up the San Diego sunshine!