Category: Persuasion

3 Human Behavior Hacks That Increase Email Response

3 human behavior hacks email marketing

Has this ever happened to you?

You create an email doing everything right. And yet your metrics still disappoint.

You can change this outcome. But first you have to understand how people make decisions.

Up to 95% of decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind

According to social scientists, up to 95% of decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind.

We all like to think we, and our customers, make thoughtful, considered decisions. But very often people simply rely on decision-making shortcuts – automatic, instinctive, reflexive behaviors.

Humans have developed these over the millennia as a way to conserve mental agency. And today these hardwired decision defaults impact everything from what people read, to whom they trust and when they buy.

The good news? You can create emails that take advantage of them, prompting people to automatically take the actions you want.

Here are three ways to start.

# 1. The Zeigarnik Effect – or why just getting started can be so powerful

Social scientists have found that people don’t like to leave things incomplete. Once we start something, we feel compelled to finish.

Think about a book you read to the end, even if it wasn’t as good as you’d hoped. Or about a TV series you couldn’t wait for the final episode of, so you could see the conclusion.

They’re all evidence of the Zeigarnik Effect in action.

And email marketers can use this principle very effectively. For example, send a message that reminds prospects they began customizing a product on your website, but never finished.  Or that they added several items to their cart, but never checked out. Or that, based on your loyalty program, they are only three purchases away from a free gift.

#2. Availability Bias – or what to ask before you ask for the sale

People will determine the likelihood of something happening based on whether they can recall an instance of it. That’s why people who rarely fly often believe flying is less safe than it is.

They think back to the news reports they’ve heard about planes, remember many of those stories involved casualties, and based on this information that’s “available” to them, determine that flying is risky.

What they don’t have available to them is many stories of perfectly safe plane landings – because that’s not news.

So how do you use Availability Bias in email marketing? Before you ask your prospect to buy your product, first get them to think of a situation in the past when they could have used it. Or to imagine a time in the future when it might fit nicely into their lives.

This will make them more receptive to your message, because they’ll judge the likelihood of the event (in this case their need for what you’re selling) to be higher.

#3. The Scarcity Principle – or why people want what they cannot have

Researchers have found that people place more value on items that are scarce. If something is readily available, we get it if we’re interested and ignore it if we’re not.

However, when people know that the product is available only to certain people or only for a certain time, this can make them want it.

That is the Scarcity Principle in action.

Email marketers can easily tap the Scarcity Principle using deadlines, exclusive offers, and limited quantities.  Include expiration dates in your emails, emphasize that your target is receiving the offer because they are part of a certain group, or underscore how rare, hard-to-get or nearly sold out your product is.

You can use many other social science principles to improve your emails. For more advice, contact

About the Author


Nancy Harhut is passionate about the impact behavioral science can have on marketing. A Hatch Top 100 Creative Influencer, Online Marketing Institute Top 40 Digital Strategist, and Social Top 50 Email Marketing Leader, she has creative directed integrated campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands. She and her teams have won over 175 awards for digital and direct marketing effectiveness. The Chief Creative Officer of HBT Marketing, Harhut is known for her interesting and actionable insights that focus on the application of behavioral science to marketing. A top-ranked speaker, she’s wowed audiences from the US Department of Defense to Moscow marketers to SXSW attendees. Companies seeking an added advantage tap her for campaign development, consulting and content creation. Follow her on twitter at @nharhut

9 Brainy Tips for Persuasive Web Design

9 Brainy Tips for Persuasive Web Design
“The brain is the last frontier and we’re just now peeling back all of those cognitive biases and shortcuts that our mind makes.” – Tim Ash, CEO, SiteTuners

Getting people to take action on the offer.

That’s the holy grail of digital marketing: We want visitors to convert every single time.

It may be sooner or it could be at a later time.

The bottom line is that the conversion happens. But if you’re still using logical appeals, then that won’t happen.

See, the logical aspect of the brain takes up too much conscious effort. It’s reserved by the brain for really important decisions.

What you should be doing instead is design your website based on how your visitors’ brains operate. How? By appealing to the part of the brain that’s in-charge 95% of the time: the irrational side. The irrational brain is responsible for visitors’ online behavior: lazy, impatient, and operating on autopilot.

Here’s a great infographic from SiteTuners describing the most important cognitive biases and automatic brain responses:

9 things online marketers need to know about the brain infographic

To get your visitors and prospects to act, follow the cues of the irrational brain when designing your online experience. Here’s how you can make decision-making as simple and as effortless as possible for the brain on autopilot:

1. The brain likes simple choices

Don’t overwhelm users with too many choices. Presenting users with too many options often leads to decision paralysis, where they’d rather put off making the decision than have to decide on the spot with limited information.

On your website, limit choices and make them visually obvious. Use wizards to guide users and lead them to a choice or product that’s best suited to them.

2. The brain likes shortcuts

The brain tries as much as possible to conserve power by using mental shortcuts.

Web conventions, for instance, allow users to interact more efficiently with websites. When the interface is familiar, the brain isn’t slowed down by the need to first figure out how it works and where things can be found.

The same is true with social proof such as testimonials and user reviews: it helps the brain establish early on that your website can be trusted: “Hey, 200,000 users can’t be wrong!”

3. Most of the brain is involved in visual processing

More than half of the brain is devoted to visual information processing.

And it processes visuals quickly. In fact, it only takes 50 milliseconds or 1/20th of a second for humans to form an impression of things they see.

This means your users can judge your website appearance almost as fast as their eyes can take in information. So make sure your online assets – from website to email to social media – are designed in a professional and modern way.

4. The brain is wired to pay attention to motion

One of the brain’s oldest survival instinct is motion detection. We are hardwired to notice when something is moving. This means that anything that moves on a web page (eg. videos and animation) not only catches, but monopolizes our attention.

While motion is not necessarily a bad thing, you should use it only when it supports landing page goals and contributes to users’ increased understanding of your offer. Otherwise, any video, animated text or moving pictures will only become unwanted distractions for your visitors.

5. There’s a part of the brain dedicated solely to recognizing faces and people

People are programmed to be social. We look at faces to learn more about the environment as well as to get behavioral cues from others.

You can benefit from this by using images of faces and people carefully on your landing pages. If you want your visitors to interact with certain elements such as the call-to-action, for instance, use an image of someone looking at it rather than gazing directly at the user.

6. The brain anchors on the first thing it sees

Anchoring is a shortcut used by the brain in decision-making. It refers to our tendency to use the first information we get as a reference point for evaluating everything that come afterwards.

Imagine you’re shopping for a laptop. The first one you see costs $3000. Then you see another that’s priced at $1800. Later you come across a $500 laptop. You’ll probably buy the second laptop at $1200 since you’ll think $3000 is too much for a laptop but $500 is too low to be of great quality.

Here’s how you can use anchoring on your site: Start with an expensive option that will serve as a reference point for your visitors and then list the others in decreasing order.

7. Prices map to the same parts of the brain as physical pain

People equate spending money with losing resources. Prices – which signify spending – activate the same region of the brain responsible for feelings of physical pain.

What hurts the wallet can physically hurt your users, too, so avoid symbols that represent spending. If you have an ecommerce website, minimize perceived pain by making prices appear shorter and smaller. Digital Growth Unleashed chair Tim Ash also suggests dropping the currency symbol altogether, as well as experimenting with various positioning and framing to reduce the “pricey” appearance.

8. The brain responds to fear of loss more than potential gains

For humans, the prospect of losing something is a stronger motivational force than the expectation of any gain. This is useful when you want to create a sense of urgency in your visitors. For instance, you can tap into their fear of missing out on your ecommerce product pages by highlighting the scarcity of certain items. You can also utilize this fear of loss through limited-time discounts and similar offers.

9. Memory is about the peak-end rule

As marketers, we want to turn our visitors into avid customers of our site or app. In order for visitors to come back and do business with us, they’d have to have a positive memory of their previous transaction. Fortunately for us, the brain has a Peak-End Rule, wherein the most memorable parts of an experience are usually its most intense point and at its end.

What this means is that your visitors aren’t likely to remember the entirety of their site visit, but they would definitely remember the parts where they either got frustrated or delighted. They’d also remember if their visit ended well or in tears.

It therefore pays to make sure your site is free from serious usability issues. If you’re in ecommerce, make searching for specific items as effortless as possible. Test your site thoroughly for errors and ensure that everything is smooth-sailing for customers all the way to the checkout process. If you’re in B2B, remove unnecessary clutter and distractions on your site that block customers from their path to conversion.

When you really think about it, digital marketing boils down to one thing: persuading and influencing the brain. But your design and messages should be targeted to the right side of the brain. If you want to design an invisible, effortless experience, then design for the illogical, subconscious aspect of the mind that’s responsible for memories and automatic decisions.

Understand the inherent workings of the brain – its fondness for shortcuts to simplify decision-making so you can stop designing websites that are too complicated for the brain to process.

Using Neuromarketing to Build Trustworthy Websites

using neuromarketing to build trust

Persuasion begins with something as simple as trust.

It doesn’t matter how big your call-to-action is or how good your offer is. If your visitors don’t trust your website enough, they won’t spring into action.

That’s how important trust is in your online presence.

The thing is, your visitors don’t even have to have had a bad experience to be wary of your website. Most of the time they just automatically distrust your site.

So how do you build a website that web users instinctively trust?

Pay Attention to Appearance

First impressions matter.

Pioneering conversion rate optimizer Tim Ash, who also happens to be a cognitive scientist by training, used to tell website owners that “Your Baby Is Ugly!”

Here, Tim wanted to emphasize how most websites were cluttered and just plain hideous with horrid fonts, stock images, and blocks of texts. Unsightly website appearance not only made them unattractive for web visitors, it also reduced web credibility and reduced conversions.

It might come across as common sense, but the significance of appearance in trust-building is actually backed up by brain science. One of the brain’s enduring survival mechanism is high-speed visual information processing. We process visuals quicker than text. This means that visitors judge web pages based on their appearance and this judgement is almost instantaneous.

Take for example, the results of a 2006 study that revealed that it only took web users 50 milliseconds to form an impression of a website.

That’s literally faster than you can blink. Your visitors may not be aware of it, but they’re actually making decisions on the trustworthiness of your site on a subconscious level.

The brain uses appearance as a shortcut to determine if a website can be trusted. Having a professional design is therefore crucial to building instant credibility with your visitors. While today’s web experiences may be far from the crude designs of the web’s early days, remember that appearance isn’t purely aesthetics. You also need to focus on information hierarchy and clarity to gain the confidence of web users.

Design for Ease and Simplicity

The brain hates complexity.

If you’re familiar with psychologist Daniel Kahneman, then you know that people are on autopilot most of the time. That is, the brain actually decides automatically and subconsciously based on certain patterns. It likes to conserve energy so it only engages in the slow and effortful process of logical and conscious thought when it really needs to.

When users are confronted with unintuitive, convoluted web design, they are forced to expend mental effort to figure out how they can accomplish their goal.

Poor user experience design can induce anxiety and trigger cortisol – the fight-or-flight brain chemical – in your web visitors. Bad UX is perceived by the brain similar to a threat, and it releases the stress hormone so the user can respond immediately to any danger.

Put simply, complicated websites induce stress. It may sound ludicrous to think that surfing through web pages can be stressful. But that’s exactly what happens when your visitor struggles with navigation or keeps encountering website errors. And the brain is equipped with memory so people learn to distrust and avoid websites that look like they might cause unnecessary stress.

The easiest way to design a trustworthy site is to keep it simple and usable. Follow web conventions, make navigation a no-brainer, and test your website for errors. The last thing you want is to trigger stress hormones in your web users that could send them scurrying off to a “safer” website.

Understand the Brain to Build Trust

Create a website that users trust on an instinctive level by investing in professional design and improving web user experience. Your goal should be to reduce clutter and extraneous elements that cause unnecessary cognitive strain for your visitors.

Design trends may change over time but how people’s brains respond to online stimuli is unlikely to drastically adjust to these changes. Acknowledging the vital role of the subconscious in your online users’ decision-making goes a long way in making the right design decisions.