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The last few months I’ve been talking about ways to improve email marketing results. I believe that great marketing emails start with great writing — which I guess is what you’d expect me to say, since I’m a writer. However, I realize there’s a lot more that goes into a successful marketing email campaign than just having well-written content.

This is why an article and infographic I recently came across grabbed my attention. Titled “How Psychology Can Make Your Emails More Appealing,” the article published by Salesforce Marketing Cloud makes the point that if your marketing email isn’t eliciting the response you desire, it isn’t successful — period.

Winning NFL Games — and Email Campaigns

Yesterday, my beloved Miami Dolphins lost again and are off to an 0-2 start for like the fifth year in a row or something depressing like this. As I went through my Monday-morning-after-Sunday-football routine of reading online articles about the weekend’s NFL games, I came across something really interesting about the Fins’ start.

The Dolphins have a new, young and energetic coach, Adam Gase, who finally gives fans some reason for optimism (despite the 0-2 start). The article I read pointed out that, despite the two season-opening losses to very good teams on the road, Coach Gase has done a very good job with play-calling and other nuances of NFL head coaching.

However, most fans aren’t going to give him much, if any, credit for this. Why? Because all that matters in the NFL is the bottom-line result: Did you win or did you lose the game? “Welcome to NFL head coaching, Adam Gase,” the article said. “It’s the most bottom-line driven job in America.”

The same thing is true when it comes to your marketing emails. Did they elicit the responses you wanted … or not? If not, then they failed — no matter how well-written, creative or “award-winning” your emails are.

What’s Your Open Rate?

Getting recipients to respond to your emails starts with getting them to open your emails. I guess that’s kind of obvious, but it’s worth pointing out before we go any further.

The Salesforce Marketing Cloud article put it this way: “You could send the most beautifully composed email, with all the right words, colors, and images, but it won’t do you one bit of good if your recipients leave the email unopened, delete it, or, worst of all, unsubscribe from your list. If your audience isn’t opening your emails, you’re losing money.”

One of the best ways to improve your open rate, according to this article, is to use principles of psychology when designing your email marketing campaigns. It suggests several specific strategies for doing so:

1. Personalize your emails with laser targeting. Of course, this strategy isn’t unique to email marketing. Market segmentation — or targeting distinct customer segments and markets with personalized messaging — is done in all kinds of marketing. But companies often fail too use these same principles with their email campaigns.

Doing so takes advantage of the psychology of the first impression. The more targeted your message is to recipients, the more likely they are to form a positive first impression of the message itself — and hence, of your company. This strategy probably isn’t practical if you have a relatively small distribution list. However, as your list grows and becomes more diverse, you should look for ways to segment recipients and send them content that’s targeted specifically to them and their needs.

2. Choose the right email distribution frequency. This is one of the most common questions I get from clients: “How often should we send out our marketing emails?” There’s no one-size-fits-all answer — it depends on many different factors that vary from company to company. (For more on this, read this article I wrote on blog and email frequency last year.)

What’s important is that you determine the right frequency for you, create a distribution schedule based on this frequency, and then stick to it. Psychologically, your recipients will grow accustomed to seeing your emails arrive on a regular basis — and maybe even come to expect them.

I receive two terrific e-newsletters from colleagues I respect: One comes bi-weekly and one comes monthly, like clockwork. I actually look forward to receiving them and have noticed on the rare occasions when they didn’t arrive according to the usual schedule.

3. Write practical, problem-solving subject lines. We’re all suffering from in-box overload, which has made us very selective about what we open and what we don’t. And the first thing that usually registers in our brain during that split second of “should I open it or shouldn’t I” is the subject line.

According to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud article, emails with subject lines written for utility, rather than creativity, are more likely to be opened by busy recipients. This makes sense when you think about. If you’re really busy, which email are you most likely to open: One with a cutesy, creative subject line that you have to think about for a few seconds to figure out what it’s about? Or one that clearly identifies a problem you regularly encounter and promises a quick-read solution?

As for constructing these problem-solving subject lines, the article recommends that you keep them short (between 41 and 50 characters), specific and focused on the recipients, not on your company. In other words, use words like “you” and “your” instead of “us” and “we.”