How Can Emotions Influence Email Readers?

Posted by Gabriel Gastaud on

Consumer journeys are fragmented into hundreds of micro-moments. Every touch point represents an opportunity for brands to influence customers’ decisions. Although brands may be liked or trusted, most fail to align themselves with the emotions that drive their customers’ most profitable behaviors.

The subject line is the first thing subscribers see before deciding to open an email. Subscribers actions rely on a very complex schema which is led by the emotions they are experiencing. However, only six percent of email programs currently leverage sentiment as part of their email program strategy according to Selligent & StrongView’s 2016 Marketing Trends Survey.

Identifying and measuring emotions is complicated, because customers themselves may not even be aware of them. Big data analytics and existing research open up a great opportunity to learn from emotions. By evaluating the word-emotion association, we identified the most common emotions perceived by the audience across 40,000 subject lines. Every subject line was classified according to the eight basic emotions from Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotions (anger, fear, anticipation, trust, surprise, sadness, joy, and disgust).

Our research reveals the impact of the most common emotions on the hidden metrics of deliverability.

Key learnings about emotions used in subject lines:

  • Anticipation sparks very positive engagement! These subject lines generate curiosity and excitement for example: “Get ready for the long-awaited return of…”. This emotion increased reads to six percent above average and also diminished the percentage of emails deleted without reading by one percent. While this emotion is well used by some email marketers, the complaint rate was six percent higher than average. Therefore, using this emotion should be handled with caution to avoid creating disillusion if the content is misleading or disappointing.
  • Joy in the subject line increased the read rate to 10 percent above average. Subscribers tend to delete these emails slightly more without reading. Joy has a very significant effect on the email forwards (34 percent above average) and tends to decrease the complaint rate (12 percent below average). Subject lines like “Sporty-inspired looks we love!” generate a very positive engagement that lead to a four percent increase in inbox placement rate from average.
  • Trust is the main emotion used by email marketers (77 percent of the emails). Subscribers tend to have relatively fewer actions with these emails. Subject lines concerned about trust vary from basic notifications like “Your Account Statement Is Available” to news headlines like “10 Essential Facts About Caffeine”. We’ve noticed a five percent lower complaint rate which seems to reinforce the role of trust in brand loyalty.
  • Surprise tends to have a negative impact on the audience. While surprise can raise interest, this emotion may be followed immediately by the emotion of fear, joy, or confusion. This could be because subject lines like “Amazing Deals On Brands You Can’t Find Anywhere Else!” are overused and have lead to a decreasing interest from subscribers. This statement is sustained by a much higher complaint rate (22 percent above average) on these emails. Additionally, all the other engagement metrics underperform in comparison to the benchmark average. Inbox placement is also negatively affected (3 percent below average). The secret may be relying sparingly on this emotion to reach the expected results.
  • Disgust seems to be mostly unused by marketers. Only 0.5 percent of the campaigns we analyzed were classified with this emotion. Disgust can be easily perceived as a negative emotion. Subject lines like “Sick of being single? Do this” can generate this feeling. People tend to delete these emails without reading (3 percent below average) and read them less too (6 percent below average). These emails also generated more complaints (93 percent above average) which can lead to worse deliverability.

With over 100 million emails analysed across all verticals, this research provides a great insight about emotions in subject lines.

Turn these learnings into action
Every single word used in a subject line can leverage emotions. Depending on your campaign goal, you can easily adapt your email content and your subject line. Explore the NRC Word-Emotion Association Lexicon through this interactive visualization to identify the best words. The end goal is to find the best keywords to drive email opens and clicks.

If you want to learn more about the science of emotion in marketing, we recommend you read the following articles: How Our Brains Decide What to Share and Whom to Trust and The New Science of Customer Emotions).

Methodology :
Nearly 40,00 email campaigns were analyzed for the purpose of this benchmark. The results come from behaviors based on more than 100 million emails received during march 2017 by our Consumer Network Panel Data. Based on the subject lines, all email campaigns were classified according to their word-emotion association. These findings are provided thanks to the Natural Language Processing methods.


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About Gabriel Gastaud

As a Senior Email Strategist, Gabriel Gastaud is part of the Professional Services team at Return Path. He has worked with numerous major brands to improve their sender reputation by solving inbox placement issues and improving overall subscriber engagement. Based in Paris, Gabriel has eight years of email marketing experience. As a data-driven consultant, he understands how to analyse data, identify key learnings and deliver the best possible results.

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