Running marketing campaigns based on instinct seems like a thing of the past in this data-driven industry. But as it turns out, modern marketing can make use of instinct — by utilizing behavioral psychology to nudge customers.

On this episode of “The Commerce Marketer Podcast,” we’re joined by Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer at HBT Marketing, to discuss how marketers can use behavioral science to nudge customers and encourage purchase decisions. So if you’ve ever wondered why notification icons are red or why social proof has such a strong impact, you’re about to find out.

“Very often people rely on decision defaults, and they make decisions without really thinking about them in the moment — just responding automatically and instinctively,” Harhut says. “If a marketer can build some of the prompts or triggers into their strategies, it increases the likelihood they'll get the response they're looking for.”

And for email marketers, Harhut says the first step is to get someone to open the email and convey the message quickly, and that starts with the subject line. She advises marketers to apply familiar best practices, such as keeping subject lines under 35 characters, but also to focus on magnet words, words that research shows are more attractive readers.

“Some words jump off the screen and attract the eye like a magnet,” Harhut says. “That includes the whole family of “new” words, such as new, now, introducing, announcing, finally and soon.”

According to Harhut, the human brain is hardwired to crave the new and novel, constantly looking for that next new thing — and finding it releases dopamine, a “feel good” hormone, that encourages people to continue seeking it.

Similarly, research shows that using the word alert can lead to a 33.1% in open rates.

“Human beings are hardwired to be scanning the metaphorical horizon, always looking for dangers so that we can avoid it,” Harhut says. “If we see the word alert, it telegraphs to us that there might be something we need to pay attention to — Including email subject lines.”

Personalizing subject lines is another tactic Harhut recommend, saying that simply including a recipient’s first name can boost open rates by 30%. She goes on to explain some of the other words to use, and also some words to avoid. She continues by discussing the opportunities and pitfalls associated with using emojis and free in subject lines.

She discusses the differences between B2B and B2C emails and muses about the future of each, and then explains the merits of social proof.

“A barrel economists and social scientists have found that when people are uncertain of what decision to make, they often look to others.” Harhut says. “Some people refer to this as social proof, other people refer to it as herd mentality.”

Harhut then takes us through ways to apply behavioral science to the entire customer journey, from subject line to landing pages, purchases to returns. She explains what makes an effective image, especially graphs.

“A study out of Cornell found that having a chart or graph could provide instant credibility for your copy,” Harhut says. “The chart doesn’t actually need to provide additional information —the mere fact that there’s a chart or a graph indicates it must be true… because there's a chart.”

She adds the caveat that while these tactics can nudge people who are on autopilot, it takes more than listening to this episode to succeed — but it’s a good place to start.

“As marketers, we know we can't make people do something that they don't want to do,” she says. “These incremental lifts ultimately pay off. And sometimes, a little bit of a lift is all we need to give ourselves an edge.”

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