A little psychology trick that got me to read a cold email.

If you’re like me, your inbox is full of people trying to sell you stuff. People are using lots of clever tricks to get you to open their email. Even better if they can get you to respond. Most people have become pretty good at deflecting sales pitches and detecting things sent by marketing automation.

They slipped one past the goalie

An email recently landed in my inbox that actually got me to pay attention. The subject of the message was “Intro: J+Jane”. I wasn’t sure who the sender was, but I meet a lot of people and don’t always remember names right away. Introduction emails are a pretty common thing since business relies on networking and making connections. I probably get a dozen a week, so this was nothing strange.

Here’s the trick: The sender structured it to look like a type of interaction most people already trust and actually want: an introduction.

It went like this (names changed to obfuscate the guilty):

Sorry, I don’t know a soul at Nine Labs directly. But I did a little digging around. J Cornelius (cc’ed here) is CEO there.
J: Would you be open to connecting with Jane? Thanks.
Jane: Yes for coffee :) I’ll text you.
John Doe
Fake Company, Inc
123 Anywhere Street
Faketown, NY 10001
— — — — — Original message — — — — — 
From: Jane Smith <jsmith@fakecompany.com>
Subject: Can you help?
To: John Doe <jdoe@fakecompany.com>
Hey John,
How are you? Do you happen to know anyone at Nine Labs? I’d love to connect with someone in a senior-level position over there, if possible.
Let’s grab coffee soon?
Jane Smith
Fake Company, Inc
123 Anywhere Street
Faketown, NY 10001

See what they did there?

By making it look like an introduction they captured my attention long enough to read the message — and write this post. Now, you’re probably smart enough to figure out these (fictional?) people work at the same company and it seems like they want to sell me something. That was a red flag for me, too.

Note: I didn’t respond. However, had the company seemed more interesting or relevant to my needs I just may have responded to see what “Jane” had to say.

Pushing Your Buttons

This message is interesting because it taps into the psychology of why we read email in the first place. We’re typically looking for updates from people we know, interesting news, and more connections to grow our business. This type of message — beginning with the subject line — effectively pushes a button most people have: a desire for connectedness.

This is Psychology Driven Design — the art and science of understanding how people think, what motivates them, and using that knowledge to design brands, products, and experiences.

Most people would call this a facet of User Experience design, and it is. It’s perhaps the most important facet since it considers both analytical and emotional sides of the customer’s mindset during the design process.

You might not like this email tactic, but you have to admit it was well designed to get me to open and read it. Now if only they were selling something I actually wanted…

Half a baked pie is better than a half-baked pie.

Had they done a better job of piquing my curiosity about the service they offer and how it could provide value to me I might have responded. They didn’t fully communicate anything of value to me so I didn’t respond.

Messages like this show taking time to understand your target market and what makes them tick, then spending the time to craft something that fits their mental models is a powerful way to achieve business results. It also shows that you can’t half-bake the idea. If you’re going to try to connect with a customer you have to fully commit. Make sure the message is not just clever in its delivery but that the substance — the value to the customer — is there, too.

What are you doing that might be half-baking the pie?

Thanks for reading…

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J Cornelius is a brand strategist, experience designer, and business consultant. He’s been building digital products for the web since 1996, and has been credited with creating multiple things web designers and developers take for granted today. He’s the Founder and CEO of Nine Labs, a digital experience design and strategy consultancy based in Atlanta, GA.