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Why Most Sales Emails Get Deleted

​I get a phone call from some unknown caller which is clearly a recorded message that begins “Don’t hang up”. So, I hung up.

Then I get another which begins with a long pause, a click and a message that said, “This is an important call”. No, it wasn’t, so I hung up.

Today the post arrives and there are two pieces for me (yay! I’m popular!). One is in a brown envelope and the other is in a white one with writing all over it and a picture and what feels like a pen inside. I open the brown one first.

So, what’s wrong with me? How come I do the opposite of what I’m being asked to do? Could it be that I’m an anarchist? Or I’m bloody-minded? (If you speak to my wife, she might have a few choice words on that subject.)

But you know what? My brain has been programmed to behave like that. In fact, so has yours, and so has everybody! Do you know who did this to us? The businesses who want us to act on their messages. How bizarre is that?

Put simply, the more marketing tries to grab your attention the more you ignore it.

Reverse Psychology Explained

Why is that though?

The reason is quite simple. The first time something tries to arrest your attention it will succeed whether it’s a piece of junk mail or a passing ambulance siren. But once it has your attention your brain makes a decision as to whether it’s actually as important as it signalled it was. In the case of the ambulance it is and the next time you hear its siren you’ll react in the same way.

the more marketing tries to grab your attention the more you ignore it

However, it’s not the same for junk mail because you quickly realised that it wasn’t as important as it pretended it was. So, the next time you get a piece of junk mail shouting for your attention your brain knows it’s not as important and deprioritises it.

This shows itself to the marketers in measurable ways such as a drop off in responses (or in the case of email a lowering of the Open Rate). This causes the marketers to up their game and makes the junk mail shout even louder – this time with a pen or some exciting wording on the envelope. That clambers for your attention and you may open it but then again you realise it's not that important and deprioritise it.

This battle for our attention has been going on between marketers and their prospects forever. It’s even got to the point where the TV adverts are significantly louder than the TV programme so you can hear the advertising message in the kitchen when you get up to put the kettle on!

It’s like some crazy marketing arms race with marketers bringing out ever bigger weapons to capture our attention whilst we defend ourselves by learning to ignore the message.

In the end, marketers will have nowhere to go since they can’t knock on your door and scream their offer into your face (although I’m sure they would like to).

You vs The Marketer

There are two things working against the marketer:

  1. They are having to find ever bigger and older ways of grabbing your attention

  2. The communication is being received from someone they don’t know

It’s point 2 which makes them have to use point 1.

The solution to this is so simple most marketers miss it entirely.

Instead of making the marketing look like what it is i.e. marketing, make it look more like the thing that will naturally get the reader’s attention.

Sales marketing emails are a perfect example of this:

Just like the mounds of mail that used to litter our doormats, our inboxes are full of emails competing for our attention and time. (And for some people inboxes can be thousands of emails deep – horrifying!) So, it becomes a daily battle to work out which emails are important and which are not.

The easy way to thin out your inbox is to get rid of everything that looks even vaguely like it’s from someone selling something.

And how do you judge what’s important? Well, you use a very simple process to decide (below).

Flowchart indicating that if you don't know the sender you're more likely to delete their email

How Not To Look 'Spammy'

Now if you send marketing emails to a business it’s unlikely that you’ll send them often and regularly which means it’s extremely easy for your recipient to forget who you are between emails. And that means that they will move to the second step and see if the email looks like junk.

If the email is packed full of flashy graphics, big photos at the top and looks bright and colourful it will be quickly deleted! Remember all those emails are doing is shouting out that they are selling you something and that makes you delete them even faster – genius!

Just have a think about the emails that do grab your attention – they are from your work colleagues, friends and family. They are simple, written in plain text and begin with your name. Everything about them signals to you that they are important BECAUSE they are not screaming for your attention.

So, it makes sense that in order to get our emails to be read, they should look more like plain text rather than junk email. Take a look at Frank Kern’s marketing email to me. It’s simple, plain text and looks like one a work colleague would send.

A basic text only email from Frank Kern

Now compare it with this one:

A heavily graphical email with lots of shouty headlines and colourful eye catching photos

Which are you more likely to read?

Sometimes marketing is about being sensitive to the environment the message is being read in and blending in rather than standing out. Just like the old Chinese proverb: In a room where everyone shouts sometimes the only way to be heard is to whisper.


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