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Oct 11, 2020

Two Systems of Thinking in Email Marketing

By Nana Nonaka

At Email Experts, we know email marketing is improved by incorporating interesting ideas and concepts. Our inspiration comes not only from marketing studies but also from other fields like behavioural science. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a highly regarded book by renowned psychologist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman describes the two systems that drive the way we think, as well as other concepts that have become widely talked about in today’s digital marketing world. Simply put, understanding how people think helps us be better marketers. In this blog, I explore how the Two Systems of Thinking can apply to email marketing.

Two systems of thinking
The main idea behind Kahneman’s book is that System 1 thinking is intuitive and effortless, while System 2 thinking is slower, more deliberate, and more logical. We use System 1 to perform quick and effortless tasks like completing the sentence, “bread and…”, or perform familiar tasks such as driving on an empty road. In contrast, we use System 2 to perform more effortful and logical tasks like solving maths problems.

Being able to engage with customers’ emotional, fast-thinking or System 1 has always been an important part of selling. In an information-overloaded world where attention spans are short, it has become vital. Customers are increasingly exposed to many interesting marketing campaigns across multiple channels. In this highly competitive space, it’s a privilege to be invited into a customer’s inbox and have direct access to them. Use this opportunity to establish your brand in customers’ minds with regular messaging. Here are some lessons I learnt from “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.

System 1 and Email Marketing
Customers are thinking in System 1. Send consistent and memorable emails from the moment they sign up to your mailing list.

If you want your brand to be customers’ obvious choice in purchasing a product, it is crucial to send out consistent and strong brand messages from the moment they sign up to your email list. Customers spend most of their time thinking in System 1. That is, they think fast and emotionally, and often make impulsive, biased and gut-level decisions in today’s fast-paced marketing space. This means that signing up to your mailing list through a pop-up form was a highly effortless and instantaneous task that used System 1 thinking. If you don’t follow up with multiple memorable emails, they will most likely forget about the subscription or your brand in a matter of days.

The 'Halo Effect'
Creating a strong welcome series, including unique brand stories, is an excellent way to reinforce brand messages while you are fresh in customers’ minds. It creates positive first impressions. Kahneman’s “Halo Effect” concept is based on the tendency to like (or dislike) everything about something based on one experience with them.

This applies to brands – first impressions matter and potential customers will judge your brand by the initial experience they have with you. Welcome emails help build the foundations of your relationship with your new subscriber. You want these to be extra personable, reinforce the brand’s positioning and messages, and where possible, drive impulsive gut-level purchase decisions. For example, persuade a new subscriber to become a first-time customer by using a limited time offer, welcome discount.

Brand stories also appeal to people’s desire to be a part of the story. In your welcome series, take the time to explain what’s special about your brand, your vision, mission or values.

Thinking about the brand
The two systems of thinking can be useful in helping us distinguish how we think about our brand as marketers versus how customers think about our brand. Marketers, in contrast to our customers, tend to spend a lot more time thinking about our brand and our marketing (it’s our full-time job!). We are often engaging our System 2 thinking, or making marketing decisions in a more deliberate and logical way.

A potential pitfall is marketers can be afraid to send multiple emails to customers for fear we will come across as annoying or pushy. However, customers are never thinking about our brand as much as we are. Customers are fast thinking and require consistent marketing messages and reminders to engage with your brand. Your brand (and email) is only one of many in the customer’s inbox so it’s important to follow-up the initial email with multiple emails (blog features, FAQs, customer reviews etc.) that add value to the customer journey. You can give customers the option to reduce the number of emails they receive in the future via an email preference centre to accommodate individual preferences.

System 2 and Email Marketing
Customers’ System 2 deplete quickly. Keep email designs intuitive, short and sweet.

Kahneman states that System 2 (e.g. the thinking we use to make sense of written content) is inherently lazy, requires a lot of attention and gets tired easily. Keeping emails short, simple and easy to scan in the span of seconds is the key to keeping customers focused and attentive. This prevents System 2 from depleting.

Information density and distractions like unnecessary tables and images can overwhelm customers and prevent them from engaging further with the email campaign. Prevent customers’ System 2 from getting tired and clicking out of an email by splitting up long and chunky emails. For example, a content-packed email with FAQs, brand stories and product recommendations can deliver a lot of value to customers but it would be much more effective if they were split into separate emails. Having designated emails for content like FAQs, brand stories and product recommendations ensures that each email has a clear purpose and is easily digestible. This increases the likelihood of your customer reading your full content.

Another way to ensure emails are digestible is to use a content hierarchy. This means putting the most relevant content at the top and a clear call to action button at the bottom. Reading emails can require a lot of effort and attention. Marketers should do everything they can to give customers a seamless, engaging and intuitive experience.

From “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, we learn that it is important to appeal to both the customers’ emotional side of thinking, System 1, through regular and memorable emails and to System 2, by simplifying designs so customers can easily make their purchase decisions.

Written by Nana Nonaka. Edited by Carmen Yan.

Author: Nana is an email implementation specialist at Email Experts. She has developed email campaigns and automated flows for iconic Australian brands, including Kleva Range, Super Sleeper Pro, Erstwilder and many more.