How Sticky Are Your Emails?

Quick: Think about the last email a brand sent you. Hard to recall, right? That’s because most emails we receive as consumers (and send as marketers) are unmemorable. The messages are purely transactional -- a quick way to inform millions of people about your 20%-off sale. And while getting this information out is certainly important, there’s so much more you can do to send sticky, shareworthy emails.

In their book “Made to Stick,” Chip and Dan Heath explore what makes people remember and share certain ideas and messages. They define six principles of sticky messages: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and stories. This is what makes us remember things from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, down to the most viral urban legend.

Here are examples of how to integrate these principles into your email messages to make people remember, reopen and even pass them along to their friends and family.


Simple messages are easiest to remember. Marketers that shove too many ideas into a single message create decision paralysis.

This doesn’t mean every email has to only be one or two sentences. But do make sure all the content you include (text or images) leads to a single point and/or call-to-action. Also make sure this content transfers across all kinds of devices, making your message easy to read whether on desktop, tablet or mobile phone.


Brands send out the same predictable content, and therefore nothing stands out. “Made to Stick” says that in order to transcend customers’ expectations, you need to be counterintuitive and send unexpected content. Customers already expect a showcase of your latest products in an email, but not a downloadable playlist of music.


Along the same lines as simplicity, the most memorable messages are concrete. Customers don’t want to read a bunch of marketing jargon or a list of product features. This is why images and video work well in email to boost engagement. Visual content is concrete and can capture an abstract idea, thought, or experience and instantly turn it into a memorable and meaningful concept.


Credibility is something your brand can only earn over time. If you consistently send relevant and up-to-date emails, your customers will come to trust your messages and be more likely to click through or engage with your content. Constantly sending emails that are bait-and-switch, promote expired sales, or feature products that are sold out by the time the customer opens the email, will make your credibility slide downhill.


The reality is that people don’t buy products, they buy experiences. Most products today are commodities, and if you don’t do something that touches on a customer’s emotions, it all comes down to price. Apple is successful because the company appeals to how its customers feel about themselves, not because it’s fundamentally different than any other computer company.

For example, nonprofit brands that send out emails with a donation call-to-action can boost engagement by showing how support will directly affect an individual or cause right in the recipient’s local community.


People react to stories because a good story can perfectly capture experiences and emotions. Not every email you send needs to be on par with Hemingway, but with some creativity, you can tell little stories -- even if the call-to-action is to purchase.

If possible, make the story about the customer, with information tailored to the individual. Short narratives that take people on a mini-journey that leads to a call-to-action can be a great way to boost engagement,  especially with dormant customers.

How sticky are your emails?



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