The Psychology of Email Marketing—in a Nutshell

The Psychology of Email Marketing—in a Nutshell
Photo by Jakub Pabis on Unsplash

What is email marketing?

American Behaviorist—B.F. Skinner developed the principles of operant conditioning. Skinner placed a rat in a cage. If the rat pressed on a bar, he received a pellet. When the rat received the reward, it would press the bar harder. The pellet was the reward that reinforced that action of pressing the bar.

Skinner took this further, he used different patterns of reinforcement.

He then came up with the concept of operant conditioning. Behavior could be shaped by applying reinforcement or taking it away. Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have studied this extensively. And I will stop here, because the details of this would be another article.

With email, we have can connect with a customer or friend instantly. You have someone's attention and the principles that Skinner used are being applied to email marketing.

The rat began to develop a pathway or neurological bundle that was developed over time. The rat formed an almost cement-like connection with the reward. And this connection created a trusting environment. Pellets closed the loop because there are hormones that are released in response to consuming the pellet.

There's an important thing to remember about email marketing...

And it doesn't involve the neurohormonal pathway that I just described.

It's more of a responsibility to a reader, customer or a friend.

In a moment, I will tell you what this responsibility is and why it's so powerful.

It's purpose and why all of the craze

Hormones in our brain act in different ways. They may work to create a bond. Or they may act quickly and on a recurring basis.

Information has its place but, information without a connection won't suffice. Information itself can help to develop a trusting relationship but, it does this by getting someone to act. A second method that information does this is by eliciting emotion.

This brings me back to the responsibility:

An email subscriber has to be treated like a person.

When you think of an institution like Stanford Medical Center or the Mayo Clinic you have certain expectations. You expect the care to be of the highest standards. These institutions have built trust over time.

The whole point of email marketing is to provide value, and to impact the reader.

The underlying processes that get results

Stories inspire. One of the ways that I use email marketing is by telling stories. Onwards, there are different tactics within the email itself and they all serve a purpose. An open loop for example, places a pause on a thought and the loop can be closed at the next email.

Or you may have two open loops that need to be addressed in the next email. Open loops allow the writer to build out continuity, where the reader may look forward to the next communication.

Extended communication with your audience requires that the audience take action. It could be a small action— a reply, forwarding the email or signing up for a download. Small actions build trust. Like a habit that is being formed over time, it's the actions that keep the wheel turning.

The idea is to use email marketing, as we would use other types of business writing. Personally, its effects vary but, the always add to thickening the stew with leads and sales— in terms of the overall sales funnel.

Email marketing should do one or all of 3 things:

  1. trigger an emotion in the reader

2. make someone take a small action (reach for the pellet)

3. layout an insight

Building out feedback loops in sequences

Health, technology and the email marketing fit for outcomes

Do you think patients should be guided only during patient visits?

A medical practice or hospital should have a better view of patient life between visits. Patient non-compliance is a major problem. Interestingly, there are many levels that a patient can be reached. We can shape behavior of patients and populations with INTER VISIT COMMUNICATION. Structured email campaigns inspire, educate, form connections, build trust and improve patient care. Messaging patients through email is not in a silo. It can spill over into the greater eco-system within the patient care team.

CTA- Goal is Subscribe for a few campaign examples

A call to action or 'CTA' is an outcome that you may have for the communication. Examples are to:

  1. schedule a meeting
  2. reply to the message
  3. purchase
  4. educate or inform the reader
  5. watch a video

The idea is to lead with value.

A CTA will move the reader closer to achieving the outcome you're looking to achieve.


Email marketing is your most powerful tools at all stages of the funnel. It allows you to develop a relationship with the reader. One of the fallacies that is commonly followed is that email marketing requires 10s of 1000s of subscribers. In actuality it only takes a few hundred subscribers to achieve results. This depends on your strategy and how you are structuring email campaigns.

Subscribe here to see some examples of email marketing in action.