No matter your industry, it’s difficult to get subscribers to open and respond to your marketing emails.

With my emails for Sparring Mind, I’m regularly able to reach 50-60+% open rates and up to 30+% click-through rates.

How can you do this? By understanding what makes your subscribers “tick” with behavioral psychology research.

While I prefer to keep my exact list size private, I simply use the following psychological principles, supported by that research, to consistently maintain such strong rates.

Let’s get into the research!

1) Creating a Call-to-Action that Works

It’s important to get people to click through the first time they open up your latest broadcast (because few people will re-open your message later). One fantastic tactic you can use is to incorporate a sense of “urgency” (that the action should be taken immediately) into your broadcast. It is used by many great copywriters, and it’s simple to implement.

According to behavioral research by psychologist Howard Leventhal, urgency is quite effective – if you actually give people instructions on what to do next.

Leventhal’s research tested the call of urgency by handing out pamphlets to subjects on tetanus disease, holding back none of the graphic detail of its symptoms. To test things however, he varied the pamphlets.

  1. One pamphlet received just the tetanus information.
  2. The other pamphlet had the same information and minimal instructions on where subjects could get vaccinated.

According to Leventhal’s findings, those who received the second pamphlet (with the follow-up info) were 23% more likely to go out and get vaccinated, despite the fact that both groups had received pamphlets on the dangers of tetanus (and the importance of getting vaccinated).

Leventhal concluded that urgent messages have a tendency to be “blocked out” when no information was given on what to do, even if that information was very basic.

What’s this have to do with emails?

It actually translates quite simply: although creating a sense of urgency in your emails is effective for getting people to click through on their first open (and also work in the subject lines to increase opens), if you aren’t following up in the body copy of your email how people should proceed, you’re just wasting a broadcast.

It might seem to “obvious” to include things like, “Click here to read our latest post!”, in your messages, but writing out specific actions gives your readers some much needed clarity on what they should do next.

2) Master the Art of Choosing

Sheena Iyengar, psychologist at Columbia University and author of The Art of Choosing, is known for her notorious jam study on choosing.

In this study, Iyengar tested people’s reaction to different amounts of choices by selling jam at an upscale supermarket. Some days she would offer 24 flavors of jam, and on other days she would only offer 6 flavors.

The result?

Although the 24-jam setup had more “interaction,” the 6-jam setup had 27% more people actually buying a type of jam to buy!

What’s the takeaway for email marketing?

The “less is more” approach is just as applicable to choices in broadcasts as it is for Iyengar’s study, because when people are faced with too many options, they are likely to succumb to “action paralysis,” or as Iyengar would say: choice is demotivating.

When sending out a broadcast, I personally stick to the one email, one goal rule. I only have one goal in mind for each of my individual broadcasts, and only ever ask my subscribers to do a single thing (like visit a blog post) when sending them a message.

When you’re asking for too many things, you’re really asking for zero things, because when people are faced with too many options, they’ll likely choose none.

3) Keep Your Subscribers on Their Toes

Hold up, what exactly does that mean?

In some interesting research from social psychologist Norbert Schwartz, he conducted a test: he occasionally placed a dime on a copy machine for the next person to use the machine to find. Later, he interviewed everyone who used the copy machine about their lives.

Although this was in 1987, it?s still only 10 cents, no big deal, right?


People who found the 10 cents consistently rated their lives as being happier and more satisfied. That?s a big statement for such a small surprise! Schwartz concluded that:

“It’s not the value of what you find. It’s that something positive happened to you. …[this] only works if you’re not aware you’re happy because you found it.”

This is what I like to call “surprise reciprocity,” and it’s something you can utilize to keep your open rates incredibly high.

How? Occasionally, send messages that include nothing but a free gift for loyal subscribers.

I regularly write up lengthy content for my newsletter and get it designed into a sharp looking PDF and release it to readers for free, no “share to get” or other walls to access, just great free content.

You may think that your blog is all the free content you need, but remember the surprise factor here: people expect free content from you blog, but when they receive something out of the blue via email, you?re creating goodwill with subscribers in a way few other tactics can match.

Plus it just feels good to reward your readers.

Your Turn!

Now I’m handing things over to you.

  1. Leave a comment below on what you thought of these strategies. Are there any you’re going to implement?
  2. As a special thanks, feel free to download my latest (free!) brainy ebook on 10 Ways to Convert More Customers (with Psychology)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!