When an email hits your inbox, do you notice the unseen nudge the subject line is giving you?

Seasoned marketers may well do; members of the public might not. But it’s definitely there. As nudge mechanisms go, email offers one of the most impactful ways to get recipients to take action. Yet that doesn’t always make nudge central to marketers’ considerations.

Email marketers can get so embroiled in focussing on response rates that they lose sight of the behavioural change goal; often justifiably, as they have to prove direct ROI - not just whether their campaign makes someone think or act differently.

However, this also ignores the massive nudge effect that email campaigns have on all of us as consumers and citizens. According to SaleCycle (2019), 59% of respondents say marketing emails influence their purchase decisions. It’s a nudge strategy worth considering beyond the commercial arena.

What is the current situation?

Right now, the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is demanding each of us changes the way we think and behave. Perhaps ‘staying alert’ is not as simple as it sounds, when our behaviours and actions are instinctive and ingrained. What we do when we’re out and about - from where we sit on public transport to the route we take through a supermarket - is often achieved on autopilot; through neural pathways burned into our being from years - sometimes decades - of repetitive functioning.

So it’s going to take time and a lot of collective care and attention for us to alter our actions as we emerge from the pandemic into the ‘new normal’. To that end, the government is spending tens of millions of pounds on campaigns to guide us - and we think email has a huge part to play.

What do the numbers say?

Nudges do take time, but in the long run they are extremely effective. For brands that use email for commercial purposes, the medium has the ability to ensure existing or future customers are on the correct consumer journey to engagement, consideration and purchase. And it clearly works: 78% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the past 12 months (source: Hubspot).

The wide reach of email campaigns also gives the channel an edge when it comes to nudging people in the right direction. The visibility of email is a crucial part in this: even if people are not opening your messages they can still burrow into the subconscious. This, in turn, can alter the behaviour of people in your target market at scale.

Furthermore, subject lines with catchy but meaningful tones can be effective for capturing recipients’ attention. Whether solicited or unwelcome, an email notification will generally have an impact by simply reaching the individual.

Email campaigns can also be optimised by profiling certain customers who may be interested in a brand, using customer segmentation to reach the people who are most likely to act, from clickthroughs to commercial action.

What’s true for brands can also be harnessed for public health messages. Emails can be sent on a much larger scale than most forms of media allow, reaching the greatest number of people as possible.

What is the extent of the nudge?

Of course, it’s worth recognising that email has its limitations - as does any channel. A mass-market mission to change the behaviour of entire populations will require a balancing act between different marketing media. Not all citizens have access to email, and some say they aren’t keen on receiving communications from brands and other organisations direct to their inbox.

To mitigate these issues, communication touchpoint evaluation tools like Omniatt are available. It can help you determine the optimal usage of email and other channels, depending on the message and the target audience.

The art of email marketing can come into its own during this uncertain time. Whether you’re a public body in need of reaching a high proportion of the public to help people adapt to a post-pandemic world; or a brand seeking to make the most of a newly captive audience with more and more spend shifting online; email has a major part to play in winning hearts and minds, and nudging people to make changes to the way they act.