7 Proven Ways To Write Emails That Get Replies, Backed By Science

Friday Mar 21, 2014 by Bernie Reeder - Marketing Strategist, Yesware

Effective email writing boils down to one thing: Mind reading. 

Really. 

Sure, we’re all different, but in many instances our brains are prone to react to psychological triggers in a similar manner. Understanding these subtleties can help you hone in on creative ways to persuade others to take a desired course of action, like reply to more of your meticulously written emails. 

Here are seven powerful psychological principles that can help you get busy people to respond to your emails, backed by template reply-rate data and examples from Yesware’s own sales team. 

 

1. Social Proof

 
Peer pressure is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the smartest. It accounts for why emails have higher open rates when sent to multiple people, and higher response rates when mentioning other stakeholders at the company. Because when it comes to making decisions –like whether or not to reply to someone’s email– we take cues from other people. 
 
What it means: If your prospect sees proof that his colleagues are receptive to your ideas, he’ll be more likely to jump on the bandwagon and give you the time of day. It’s one of the reasons this prospecting template from Yesware’s Paul Hlatky has been so effective at garnering replies:
 
 
 

2. Provide A Reason (Because I Said So)

 
A study performed by Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer found that people were more willing to comply with a request (in this instance, cut in line) when people used the word “because.” Even when the reason was seemingly nonsensical (i.e. “Can I use the copy machine first because I need to make a copy?”), nearly all (93%) people complied. 
 
What it means: When you ask someone to do you a favor, you’ll be more successful if you provide a reason. Because (see what I did there?) yes, in today’s world of 24-7-365 communication and mile long to-do lists, answering an email from someone you don’t know is a favor. 
 
 

3. Throw In The Frog

You’ve been going back and forth with someone for weeks now, and then suddenly, they’re MIA. No reply. Won’t return your phone calls. Nothing. What’s your next move? 

You throw in the frog. 

In an experiment by O’Quinn and Aronoff, participants were assigned to “buyer” and “seller” roles and asked to negotiate the price of a painting. Half of the sellers received instructions to use the line “my final offer is $_, …and I’ll throw in a pet frog.” This led to relaxation, smiles, and increased compliance, with buyers agreeing to pay significantly more money than when the frog joke was not used. 

What it means: When you make someone smile, they relax. Humor can help break down objections and win over an otherwise unreceptive audience. Here’s an example of how breaking the ice can earn you replies:

 

 

4. Choose Your Numbers Wisely

Let’s look at three quick tips that can increase your chances of getting your email opened and keeping their attention long enough to get a reply, all backed by science.

  1. Include digits in the subject line. Numbers written out as numerals (i.e. 33 as opposed to thirty-three) have been shown to stop wandering eyes of online readers, making it more likely that your email will get noticed in an overcrowded inbox.
  2. Use statistics and data. It makes you appear more credible.
  3. Remember: Three is the magic numberNumerous studies have proven that the brain likes to be presented with three choices, whereas four choices may trigger skepticism and anything higher than that can lead to confusion. Try breaking your email into three (short) paragraphs, offer three options for meeting times, or describe your product using three adjectives.  

 

 

5. Keep It Short & Simple

Brevity is the soul of wit. So it should come as no surprise that it’s the soul of effective emails, too. Drawing from data culled from five years of emails in an executive recruiting firm, researchers found that shorter emails result in quicker response time, leading to higher overall productivity. 

What it means: Don’t waste their time. Be considerate of your audience and use spacing, numbers, bulleted lists etc., to visually break up your message so that it’s easy to digest and take action on. MIT’s Marshall Van Alstyne argues that Twitter length  - roughly 140 characters – is ideal. Here’s what that looks like:

 

 

6. Use Their Name More Than Once

Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. -Dale Carnegie

Dale wasn’t kidding. “Few things light us up quite like seeing our own names in print or on the screen,” explain the folks at Copyblogger, citing recent research on brain activation. “Our names are intrinsically tied to our self-perception and make up a massive part of our identity. No surprise then, that we become more engaged and even more trusting of a message in which our name appears.”

What it means: Personalization is key. Try catching their eye by placing their name in the subject line — i.e. “Hi Jim, it’s Bernie from Yesware.” Asking for a reply that requires more than a simple yes/no? Throw in a simple “Thanks for your time, Jim” to close out your email. 

 

7. Be Specific 

Being vague isn’t going to help you clinch that important meeting. According to research by psychologist Robert Sutton, people are more responsive and willing to help if they’ve been given clear directions on how to contribute. Research coming out of Carnegie Mellon also found that people are more likely to respond to email requests that are easy to answer, as opposed to complex messages that require more time and mental energy to address.

What it means: Ending your emails with open ended statements — i.e. “Let me know what works best for you” or “how is your schedule this week?” — does more harm than good. Rather than take the time and energy to make the decision for both of you, they instead opt for “no decision” and you get no reply to your email.

You should end every email with a pointed call to action. Buy or not buy? Meet or not meet? Interested or hold off? Here’s an example that’s worked particularly well for our team:

 

Bernie Reeder is a Marketing Strategist at Yesware. You can find this post, as well as additional posts on the Yesware blog located here. Follow her on Twitter @BernieReeder.

 

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