6 Ways to Make Your Emails more Persuasive

Persuasion is the at the soul of sales and marketing, but also in most of your daily communications. Clubs, group project work, scheduling a meeting with a professor—they all involve convincing other people to act.

If you’re like most college students, deleting hordes of unimportant emails is part of your daily routine. That means emails you send won’t get more than a glance most of the time.

Use these writing techniques to keep that from happening.

1 - Know your audience

This one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but it can’t be stressed enough. Busy people won’t bother opening your email if you don’t give them a reason to care in the subject line. You need to identify your recipients and what interests them. Adjust your tone appropriately and make sure you’re not a bore.

Example: Which subject line knows the audience better?

  • “Can anyone please fill out this survey? There will be prizes!”
  • “FREE JAMBA JUICE when you fill out this QUICK SURVEY”

(pro tip: free food is always interesting)

2 - Use the headshot feature on Gmail

It might look like an unnecessary feature, but adding a headshot to your email actually increases the subconscious sense of connection recipients feel to you. Better connections boost your chances of getting responded to.

And make sure you’re looking at the camera, since this Cornell study found that people prefer pictures that make eye contact with them.

3 - Send your message to 3 or more recipients

An analysis of over 500,000 sales emails from professionals by Yesware found that increasing the number of recipients will boost both the open rate and the response rate to your emails, as illustrated in the chart below:

Should you add random recipients to your emails to bump up your numbers? Probably not. But when it’s appropriate, aiming for this sweet spot might just make people more inclined to hit ‘reply.’

What about when you only have 2 recipients? That leads us to our next point:

4 - When you only have 2 recipients, send to one and copy the other

Ever received an email, saw another person in the recipient's line, and thought, I’ll let them answer! Turns out that happens to most people—a lot. If you’ve ever taken a psych class, you’d know this phenomenon as the diffusion of responsibility. Everyone expects someone else to answer, so no one does.

The data says things work differently when one of your 2 recipients is CC’ed, though. Why? It might just be that one person feels more pressure to respond when they feel there’s a third party watching. But all you really need know is that it works.

5 - Always include a reason

Here’s another fun psych-based tip. It turns out that people will be significantly more likely to accept your requests—regardless of how absurd—if you simply give a reason.

Psychologist Ellen Langer studied how variations of a request affects responses. When an individual asked to cut in a line for a copy machine, people agreed 60% of the time. In another variation, the individual gave a reason—“I have to make copies.” This time, those in line for the copier agreed to let the individual cut 93% of the time.

Adding ridiculous reasons to your emails will probably do more harm than good, but the good news is that your emails should have reasons for being sent anyway. Make those clear, and watch your inbox fill with replies.

Bonus points if those are reasons your recipients care about.

6 - Remind recipients that it’s their choice

It’s bad enough being bossed around by a superior, so you can imagine how much people enjoy being told what to do by fellow students. An analysis of 42 psychology studies found that people are up to twice as likely to say yes to a request when you include variations of the four words, but you are free.

When you do so much as hint at the freedom of choice, people feel empowered, respected, and useful. Don’t overuse this unless you want to come off as unsure of what you want, but you might find that a healthy dose of this technique helps you get the cooperation you need.

An email is like a pitch—you’ve got to sell it to your audience if you want to get things done. Try keeping these techniques in mind the next time you draft one.

Written by Stanford Marketing's Alejandro Bravo