What do you get when a couple thousand pros of the email marketing discipline walk into the Litmus Email Design Conference in Boston?

You get a “cah” (car) load of self-starters and problem-solvers who relentlessly find ways to make email better. #LitmusLive was a big-time event which gathered folks from all walks of life – and we all seemed to earn our spot in email marketing in similar ways by way of “someone had to do it”.

Since most of us might identify with being a pioneer – let’s talk about a few of the trinkets I was able to return home with from my trek to Boston.

I’m not much of a coder, but I do love selling stuff. With that said, I spent the majority of my time in the Marketing Track and I found a gem in Aric Zion’s talk “Applying UX Persuasion Principles to Email Design”.

It’s long been told that saying the right thing at the right time, and in the right tone of voice will net you positive results. While I know this to be true, and I’ve tried a million things to get shoppers to buy more of the things I’m selling, but I couldn’t really define the principles in plain english until now, so here it is.

If you’re a marketer who’s needs a guide for how to pull on your customer’s heart strings – this is for you. Remember these words, and what they mean.

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment and Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Liking
  • Authority
  • Scarcity


The reciprocation principle is based on one’s obligation to repay someone when they have given us something. The Regan Study found that when person A bought a coke for himself and another for person B, person B bought twice as many raffle tickets from person A.

Think about how this can be applied to email marketing strategies. I’m seeing opportunities to provide someone with something of value without asking for anything in return. Free trials, free consultations, free samples, free tips from the pros, free shipping… the list goes on and on.

Here’s an example of a reciprocation baked into an email:

Commitment and Consistency

The Commitment and Consistency principle suggests that once we make a decision or take a stand, we are likely to make future decisions to match that past behavior. Aric Zion reinforced this principle with a racetrack study. The racetrack study found that after placing a bet on a horse, people are much more confident in their horse’s chances of winning than immediately before the bet.

This principle I know all too well since I work in the realm of shopping cart recovery. Adding something to the shopping cart and traveling partly through the checkout process is quite a first step. The next logical thing to do is for Rejoiner to ask the shopper to take the next step!

Here’s an example of commitment and consistency baked into an email:

Social Proof (and phrasing)

When we’re unsure of something, we validate our own opinions by understanding other’s opinions.

There are a number of ways to apply social proof to your email marketing. Most common is a review (or review ratings) used in “product pushing” emails. If we think harder, you could find a way to use your brand’s Voice of Authority to develop a better experience like “Staff Picks” “Chef’s Special”, or “I chose these for you”.

Canned social proof still has it’s benefits, and even though they seems forced in small spaces, shoppers are more likely to believe something even though it may not be true.

Here’s an example of social proof baked into an email:


The “liking” principle suggests that we say “yes” to people we know and like.

Similarity is important – We tend to like people who are like us.
Familiarity – We like people we know.
Cooperation – We like people we collaborate with.
Association – We like people who connect themselves to positive things.

Here’s an example of liking baked into an email:


We always, always, always follow and react to authority symbols. Aric reinforced this principle with the following explanation: The Milgram Experiment is a study which focused on how far ordinary people will go in following what an authority figure tells them to do – even if the result is hurting someone else. Results found that ⅔ of subject in the experiment went as far as instructed.

Here’s an example of Authority baked into an email:


Scarcity is a fairly simple and well known principle – if something is less available to us, we want it more. For example Aric used a “terrible twos” study to reinforce this principle: We’ve found that when given a choice between two equal toys, the two year old boys all picked the toy with the barrier in front of it.

Here’s an example of scarcity baked into an email:

What to do next

Read about the lessons learned from Litmus’ TED2015 (The Email Design Conference).