• Last updated: May 05, 2015
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What is the Nudge Effect?

Essentially it's a way of influencing people's behaviour without telling them specifically what to do. You may be frustrated with unopened emails and low clickthroughs, but be reassured that even if your subscribers don't open your email, its presence in their inbox leads to a tangible impact on brand awareness and sales via online and other channels.

Why does the Nudge Effect work?

Think of when you ever have to visit a hospital. A triage nurse will decide straight away what kind of attention you need - how people open emails operates the same way. Quick decisions need to be made - what to open straight away and read, what to read and save, what to keep and read later and what to delete.

This is where the Nudge Effect works - when sorting their emails, your subscribers will see your brand impression first in the 'from' column and in the subject line. What you need to do is provide the information in the subject line that encourages the subscriber to retain the information you've provided. It's a subtle yet powerful opportunity that makes even an unopened email a source of potential success across all your channels.

How can an unopened email sell?

Sending an email communication featuring your brand name, and a subject line that communicates what's in the email and how that benefits the user, can still influence a purchase decision. This is true even when the recipient fails to open the email.

Purchase behaviour studies, which we use frequently at Alchemy Worx, show spikes over time in purchases from recipients who did not open an email.

What made us start looking at the effect of unopened emails was an increase in our clients' natural search, PPC search and affiliate search results, after a customer email was sent. But how does it affect sales?

The chart below shows a company's sales performance for a fortnight across all channels - the vertical embedded orange area indicates when the email is sent, the orange horizontal line shows sales from people who didn't receive the email, while the dark blue line shows people who got the email but did not open it. Despite not opening the email, they still went on to purchase via another channel - evidence of the Nudge Effect in action.

Your message, in other words, may have been just the prompt a subscriber needed to pick up the phone or make a purchase via another channel.

How can I optimise my emails for the Nudge Effect?

Often when marketers create emails, they are obviously trying to improve on the 20% open rate of emails. Engaging content is essential - but you can still influence sales across all channels through the effectiveness of your subject line and 'from' address.

Consider promoting other channels in your subject line. You could create a subject line with your brand and a message like "best deals in-store this month" or "call our sales team for a 20% discount". This way people do not even need to open the email - they remember the message that relates to other channels and can follow up your offer.

Alternatively, you could use the same subject line each email communication. "Household insurance for less - best deals online" in one email, and "Household insurance for less - call now for an amazing deal" in your next communication. The first part of the subject line is designed with the Nudge Effect in mind - it is designed specifically for people who are not going to open the email or act on it immediately.

This kind of email works 3 ways - delivers brand messages, encourages click-through and directs responses to other channels.

One other way of optimising the emails is to time your messages effectively. If your retail outlet has its busiest day on a Saturday, time an email for Friday encouraging customers to visit your store that day for a special deal. You could also send it for a day when you have less footfall to drive people in store. If Saturdays are always busy, but Fridays less so, send the email on a Thursday. Customers will retain the information and go the extra mile on their shopping trip to visit your store.

This is the Nudge Effect at its best.

How can I see if unopened emails make a difference?

The best way to see if unopened emails are making a difference to revenue is to analyse your historical data. Look for data that relates to a spike in natural search results, PPC search increases and affiliate search increases around the time you sent the email. Also check for spikes or rises in sales from other channels in the hours and days after an email is sent to your subscriber base.

Using your historical data and analysing sales from all areas will help you determine how your email activity is working. The Nudge Effect is both provable and visible.

For an interesting visual example of how the Nudge Effect works in daily life, watch the video belowآ from the master of subliminal persuasion, Derren Brown.


You can also learn more about the Nudge Effect from the book that explored it in detail - Nudge: Improving Decisions About, Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein. Buy it from Amazon.co.uk