Emotional Email Design and Copywriting: The Secret to Driving Engagement and Sales

Most people respond to marketing messages according to how they feel about a product rather than logic.

Noted psychologist Robert Plutchik created what is now known as the “wheel of emotions” which describes how emotions are related, which marketers can use to cultivate the desired emotions and response.

Emotional Factors That Influence Engagement

Now let’s explore how as email marketers we can cultivate these emotions in our subscribers, and influence their engagement.

Anticipation: Humans are curious. You can use this to your advantage when crafting your emails. Enticing imagery, trigger words, and teaser content all help to motivate your prospects.

Joy: Happy customers mean well engaged, repeat customers. Keep customers happy by offering valuable content, positive imagery, and well-written copy.

Trust: Your prospects want to feel safe when interacting with your offer. You can build trust through endorsements, well-known referrers, and reviews.

Emotional Factors That Influence Purchases

Research suggests that up to 90% of all purchase decisions are made unconsciously and in a matter of seconds. Below are some emotional factors that can influence those split-second purchase decisions.

No-brainer: People prefer to buy without thinking. If people are required to think too much when interacting with your offer, you are exhausting them, and the subconscious mind doesn’t like that.

Make it easy. Narrow your product choices and cut out unnecessary information.

No Risk: People have a natural aversion to risk. As a general rule, people feel loss more powerfully than they feel gain.

Consider positioning your product as being the “safe” option rather than the “new” option or give them the option to kick-the-tires before committing.

Social Proof: People will follow the crowd. As humans we all like to move with the herd and see what other people like.

Provide your customers with proof that other people are buying, and benefiting from, your product.

An Example of Emotional Email Design and Copy

All of the work we do as creative marketers uses the abilities we have to play with emotion.

But as email marketers we have additional considerations, which run parallel to emotional triggers, such as preview text/panes, image rendering, mobile views and subject line/content/landing page continuity. All of which must also be considered.

Now let’s take a look at how this animated email from Litmus which beautifully illustrates most, if not all, of the emotional engagement and purchase triggers mentioned above.

email design

Here’s a Breakdown

  • Joy: Snappy Headline + Professional Imagery
  • Anticipation: Simulated Video Animation + Crisp Body Copy
  • Social Proof: “Mind. Blown.” Tweets
  • No-brainer: Solo Offer + Clean Call-to-action
  • No Risk: Free Trial or Learn More

This email also successfully addresses the limitations of the medium. For example, note how well this email rendered on my mobile device.

Note too this slick screenshot that was created by a new, free service from MailChimp called Smartphones@.

What’s The Takeaway?

If your emails aren’t tuned to resonate with your audience’s emotions, you could be losing business. If you are having problems developing engaging emails that resonate with your audience, you can look into an email marketing company such as iContact to help you. By cultivating one or more of the desired emotions in your email creative, nay…your email program, you’ll boost click rates, decrease attrition, and grow your revenue.

But remember this…emotional engagement doesn’t begin and end with email creative…but you can use it unleash the power of this creative thinking in all of your marketing or professional endeavors, not just design or copy of the email itself.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is the Founder of Indiemark. He can be reached at scott@indiemark.com or indiemark.com

P.S. Props to Justine Jordan who created the Litmus email. I’m a fan but not just because she wears an awesome cat hat. Justine’s work reflects that she has strong sense of how aesthetics and copy should work in partnership.



  1. Agreed, Justine’s pretty cool, knows what’s happenin. I find the most difficult one is trust – unless you’re a very well known brand, it’s very hard to build up. What’s worse, is it’s hard to directly measure.

  2. So true, Scott. Emotions have a lot to do with how a subscriber or potential customer views you and your brand. I think another important thing to bring up is the use of colors in your newsletters or campaigns and the emotions that those can render in your readers. I briefly mentioned them in a whitepaper I wrote about Calls to Action.

    I also used Ann Smarty’s fantastic article on Colors called ‘ Colorize Your Brand’ to help me : )

    Great article, per usual! Keep up the great work!

  3. Wow, Scott! For once, I’m actually a bit speechless! Thanks so much for featuring our Interactive Testing launch email for this post. It was a lot of fun to put together, and I couldn’t have done it without my team here at Litmus creating such awesomely emotionally-inspiring products to promote 🙂

  4. People should add this url to their agenda to check every once in a while 😉 A great reminder realy. But don’t give all the credits to emotional links and content.

    I’m definitely adding this into the email reading list up at: http://www.emailaudience.com/email-marketing-review

    Functional has it’s place as a revenue driver too, although mostly the marketers focus is on “buy now”, simple chaptered navigation for instance can drive more purchases (also see: http://www.alchemyworx.com/emailworx/2012/strategy/why-you-should-be-investing-in-functional-links/ )

Leave a Reply