Using Behavioral Science and Neuromarketing in Cold Email

photo of bulb artwork

Human psychology is an inescapable part of sales and marketing. The lack of a solid knowledge of psychology has meant that both sales and marketing have gotten a bad name.

Now, everyone is using the same techniques over and over again, and if there’s one thing that the human brain gets bored of quickly it’s repetition.

You’re going to find out some of the most effective principles in behavioral science and neuromarketing that nobody else is using.

The Justification (Because) Heuristic

The first heuristic is as simple as it sounds. If we give a reason for our action, people are more likely to concede to our requests. The most amazing part? The reason can be nonsense.

A study done in the late 70s pitted people trying to cut in line for a photocopier against those already in line. Let’s take a look at the results:

Using Behavioral Science and Neuromarketing in Cold Email

The difference between the Placebic information and the Sufficient information categories?

Placebic information was tested with the phrase “because I need to make copies” and Sufficient information was tested with the phrase “ because I’m in a rush”.

As you can see, there’s a 1% difference in compliance between giving a “real” reason, vs a nonsense reason; but an enormous 34% difference between not giving a justification and giving one.

Now, when you combine that with the second heuristic, you get something really powerful.

The Effort Heuristic

When things seem like they’ve taken a lot of effort, we value them more.

It’s as simple as that.

Handmade, hand-picked, and hand-sewn items carry more value because of the perceived effort that has gone into the process.

It seems strange to use the example below when we’re talking about cold email, but just wait and see! 

Dutch shirtmaker 100 Hands does a brilliant job of using both the Justification (Because) Heuristic and the Effort Heuristic.

Using Behavioral Science and Neuromarketing in Cold Email

They don’t just say “exceptional fit” – it’s an exceptional fit so it can fit two sizes.

The fronts and sleeves are hand sewn and attached, and the pockets are embroidered by hand

It’s fully unlined and unconstructed because it’s more comfortable that way.

The pockets are bellowed because you get extra space that way.

Can you see how they could have ignored all of those “superfluous” bits at the end, and just listed product features?

  • Exceptional fit
  • Fully handmade
  • Unlined
  • Four pockets
  • One inside pocket

The effort that has gone into it is evident, it’s made by 100 hands!

There’s a justification for most of the features.

This, in turn, justifies the $995 price tag.

How to Apply the “Because” and the “Effort” Heuristic to Cold Outreach

The easiest way to apply these heuristics to cold outreach is to show the prospect you’re sending an email made specifically for them rather than some obviously templated message that was sent to hundreds of other people.

Researching your prospect

This is the easiest method of using the effort heuristic. All you need to do is spend 2 minutes Googling them. In today’s day and age, finding information about someone online is child’s play.

You’re looking for blog posts they may have written, interviews they might have given, Tweets or LinkedIn updates.

Anything that you can comment on, compliment them on, or anything that highlights what they’re interested in can be used for a simple one liner at the start or end of the email you send.

This shows you’ve put the effort into actually researching them and sending them an email, rather than just blasting the same email to 1000 people.

Crafting an email specifically for them

There’s nothing worse than getting a horribly generic email out of the blue. Best case scenario your prospect just ignores it.

Worst case scenario they mark it as spam and move on with their day without even reading it.

You get around this by being specific and personalized in your emails. Put their name in the subject line. Reference something specific about their company as the reason you’re reaching out.

Find evidence that they want what you’re offering and provide the evidence in your email.

By doing any or all of this, you’re showing whoever you’re writing to that you understand them, their business, and the problems they have, versus just sending out random and generic outreach and hoping for the best.

Create personalized images

Image personalization is a quirky and fun way of humanizing your outreach. Sending images is boring, but when an image has a prospect’s name on it, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

Personalized images also take “a lot of effort”, which as we’ve found out, is a massive quality signal. If a prospect thinks that you’ve taken the time to manually create a personalized image and send it to them, they’re way more likely to get back to you.

Use Dynamic Personalization on landing pages

This one requires the most work, but is almost guaranteed to make an impact.

If and when a prospect visits your website or a landing page, they see their name, their company’s name, or their logo on your page, it looks like you’ve put an enormous amount of effort into creating the perfect experience specifically for them.

Framing Your Offer

You should have a solid one liner which explains what you do in your business: I help X do Y by doing Z.

You should be testing this to see if there are new ways of framing it that resonate better.

There are two common ways of framing an offer:

  1. What the prospect stands to GAIN
  2. What the prospect LOSES

People feel the pain of losing things more than they feel the benefit of gaining an equivalent amount, meaning loss frames are more powerful than gain frames.

People feel the pain of losing things more than they feel the benefit of gaining an equivalent amount, meaning loss frames are more powerful than gain frames. 

It’s classic loss aversion – you’d rather not lose than win. For example:

Using Behavioral Science and Neuromarketing in Cold Email

Nobody wants to be losing revenue, so this will theoretically resonate more.

Changing Your Frame

Next up is changing the frame from functional to emotional.

If you currently are focusing on the functional elements of your offer (more leads, more revenue, etc), switch to an emotional frame (being able to achieve growth goals, having more time with their kids etc).

The functional benefits are what everyone is talking about. Sales is a fundamentally emotional process, and emotions are what push people to buy.

Most people are way less logical than you think, so testing an emotional frame is always worthwhile.

Switching to Low Effort CTA

The last piece of the puzzle is to switch your call to action or CTA to one that requires the lowest possible effort from your audience. Very few people will want to immediately get on the phone for 15 minutes with you!

A CTA that asks if they’re interested in more is extremely low effort. They can literally reply “Yes”. By giving them back the choice, they don’t feel like you’re being pushy. People hate having their decisions made for them. The assumptive close could work in a closing situation but in an initial email it can turn a prospect off.

A low effort CTA doesn’t make you seem pushy. Instead you give them back their sense of autonomy. This is the highest impact thing you can do. People want to be FREE to make the choice versus feeling coerced into it.

The Bottom Line

Like everything in marketing, it is your job to TEST THIS. 

Using behavioral psychology in copywriting will not work unless you rigorously test it against things that are already working. Anyone who tells you that there is a 100% sure-fire way of doing anything is a liar, me included. 


David Jacob is the Co-Founder of LeadHawks, a neuromarketing-led growth agency


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