inbox hacking logo

💧Does priming work in email campaigns?

priming marketing

New here? This is Inbox Hacking, a Free Newsletter for Awesome email marketers eager to boost Awesomeness. Email marketing insights, tools, & tactics sent twice per week. Someone forwarded you our Newsletter? Please join over 14,513 Email Marketers and sign up for your Free subscription. Today we lay out 9 priming principles that can lead to more opens, clicks, and conversions.

Fun fact, the weekend cometh in roughly 30 hours and Easter’s about a week away. No-fun fact, Tax Deadline is like 3 weeks away. So we’ve got April campaign templates in our Knowledge Base below and our Final 4 Email Marketing Tournament results at the end of our feature story.

The feature story covers 9 psychological priming principles to help you get more email opens, clicks, and conversions. Learn what primes your subscribers’ weird little brains for action. This topic was inspired by Inbox Hacking reader Nick (🙏🏼). Let’s get right to it.   

Priming the Right Way

Priming is defined by some as…

“Subconscious reaction to stimuli that influences conscious decisions to new stimuli.”

Priming can also be seen as slimy. Correct.

Thing is, if a potential client / customer has no solid interest in what you’re promoting, an ocean of priming won’t lead to a sale.

So let’s look at 9 concepts that can help you make more sales while helping those in need of what you have to offer.

*Many small studies on priming have proven hard to consistently duplicate results.

Bizarro Priming

The first thing to do is avoid bad priming. You don’t want to infect your offers with any negativity that can subconsciously affect your audience.

Example: A positive subject line with your brand name and a negative word can leave the wrong impression. “Hershey’s donates to diabetes awareness.”

Great intentions, but how many subscribers who only scan will remember Hershey’s & diabetes linked?

Sure, we think humans (us) are smarter than that. Use caution with that assumption! The Bachelor has been on for 27 seasons and ratings soared in 2023🥴.

Going to the Well of Flattery Too Often?

I think not. You’re an email marketer, not a 1980s lemon-scented car salesman. Your intentions are pure.

Nothing wrong with flattery. Some studies have shown it works even when the receiving party believes it’s disingenuous. Flattery’s hard to shake off.

In fact, some old-school stand-up comedians used to prime their audience by mentioning a popular local bar or eatery. Hard not to be flattered that Eddie Murphy ate a cheeseburger where you do, right?

It worked so well, many comics quit using the tactic because they felt it was cheating!

Speaking of humor…

Wet Appetites with Humor Priming

This study was done by big-brained folks with security clearance. Not random gurus with access to Google. 

The results showed adding humor enhances product evaluations and boosts odds of choosing that product. Although, oddly, did not make the humor-associated product more memorable. 

“In summary, the present research demonstrates that mere association with humor enhances product evaluations and product choice in a way that is dissociated from the accessibility of the product in memory.” ~NIH

Priming for Attention

Tired of subscribers only scanning your emails, missing your punchlines, never clicking? 

Maybe test peaceful imagery in emails.

Another study by folks with way too much education showed:

“Photographs of natural settings might elicit the experience of tranquility, which results in slower walking speed relative to other conditions.”

Translation: Tree pics slow yo roll. 

Perhaps slow readers’ reading too?



One reason The Bachelor works is temptation – the lure to see what happens next. Sure, the story is dumb and beneath us, but the producers make the story turn. Nothing great is coming after the commercial, but you don’t know what it will be→ that’s on purpose.

The newsletter Chartr does a slick job of this with the chart at the end of their emails. It has redacted info that leads you to guess the answer and click to see the unredacted chart on their website.


It’s why I didn’t post the winner of our Email Marketing Tournament until today. A slight cliffhanger is enough to bring your subscribers to your website or open your next email.

Jot that down. I’ll wait 🙂.

Open Loops, Closed Loops, and…

If you can start with a loop in your subject line, tighten it in the email body, then close it out in the CTA. Congrats. 

Not an easy task. And won’t get a click every time obviously. 

But it gives readers somewhere to go. A path with promise. 

You can even keep the loop open (no closure) and leave readers curious, even if ‘only’ in the primitive part of their minds.

(Loops explained)

Priming Beliefs (Inward too)

Example: Several studies have shown older people who already have negative beliefs about aging are more likely to experience negative outcomes. Self-fullf…

The power of expectations is incredible, according to Professor Andrew Huberman. More powerful than genetics in some cases as the video link above shows.

How does this help your email strategy? 

  • For one, it should highlight how much your Welcome Email matters.
  • Also, subject lines. Clickbait works, but if you don’t meet a subscriber’s expectations after they open your email, you may not get them to open again for weeks or months.

Get this though, self-expectations will make your email campaigns better too. Expect more of yourself. Nothing wrong with positive self-talk, being your own hype-woman or hype-man. 


Remember when I said lies don’t work? Prime time for that callback. Lies don’t work on others or on ourselves. So it’s best to use realistic hype on yourself. Realistic expectations.

Example: Each morning, I tell myself I can never be Hemingway. Dude was a great boxer. But I’m ok with only being a better writer than Big Ern.

Photo via eBay

One More Priming Principle

Last point on priming subscribers. Where segmentation comes to life. 

Consider the best tactics for being sticky in the brains of various segments of your email list. 

We’ll use the broad example of older generations since priming is associated with memory.

A recent study suggests memory issues could be the result of older people having too much ‘clutter’ in their heads. Too much information to sift through after decades on this planet.

If this is the case, perhaps more concise emails are in order for those aged 55 and up? A fine group of humans, no question about it, perhaps the best on Earth. (See flattery section above😇)

Email campaigns more focused, with less info, are worth A/B testing. On each segment of your list, since we’re all overwhelmed with info clutter now. 

The bottom line on priming? Lots of theories are tossed about. Even more studies, too small to trust enough to scrap your entire CTA strategy.

Instead, A/B test various priming tactics to find out what works with your audience. And remember— what works in 2023 may be less effective in 2025.

Now, drumroll…

March Madness Final 4 of Email Marketing

email marketing
email marketing
email marketing

Read on for fresh stats, Knowledge Base, & a hack you can utilize today.

Knowledge Base

🔌Knowledge is power but first, relax and be late.

Gmail bounce alert (“RFC 5322” bounces – what’s causing it).

Is AI useful in video editing (and which parts)?

April Fools Day is this Saturday (that and 6 more April Newsletter ideas).

Freshen up your user reviews with these 5 examples.


Increase your open rates by up to 300%! Send emails when your subscribers enter their inbox, here’s how…

Spike your engagement and revenue with a new technology that enables you to know when your subscriber enters their inbox! It simply works like this:

Step 1: Inbox Mailers identifies when your subscribers are checking their inbox

Step 2: Inbox Mailers triggers your ESP to send an email while they’re checking it

This boosts opens, clicks, aaaand… sales!

🧐Why not Book a Demo?

Self Help 

Hedonic treadmill.

This theory shows humans always return to a baseline of happiness. 

We can’t stay on top of the world forever. No matter the achievement or happy moment. 

We’re never satisfied. 

Keep this principle in mind when you wonder why roughly 23% of your email list decays annually. 

It’s human nature for subscribers to expect more even when your content stays awesome.

Always be building / rebuilding your list and asking for referrals and incentivizing forwards.

(((Test reEngaged)))

*Shout-out to Inbox Hacking Subscribers → 

💍Abi at MillieSavage (Jewelry)

🎓Amanda at UConn (University)

Facts and Stats

  • 68% of B2B customers are lost due to perceived indifference or apathy (Zippia)
  • Nearly 50% of brands don’t track email interactions down to conversions and fewer than a fifth measure their email marketing ROI (MarketSplash)
  • U.S. companies have lost over $136 billion annually via avoidable customer loss (Econsultancy)

Bonus: 88.2% of Email Marketers tip better than trust fund babies.

priming marketing

From Our Sponsor

If you use email marketing for your business, you’re gonna want to check out Inbox Mailers.

They’re changing the game.

Here’s how…

Their software enables brands to know when subscribers are in their inbox while triggering an email that generates a 50% – 70% open rate→→ with no degradation in click-to-open rates.

The best part?

Inbox Mailers integrates with almost all major ESPs to easily and instantly fire your triggered email, using your ESP, from your domain at the time your subscriber is in their inbox.📩

>>>Book My Free Demo

Marketing Musings

What if…

Nah, it’s crazy talk.

A weekly check-in email to various clients you already have.

Nonsense. It would be like staring at a trophy bass already on your wall.

So much more exciting to chase the next big fish and a bunch of shiny little ones.

Just in case you like crazy ideas though…

3 B2B retention tactics from Marketing Insider Group.

*BTW, my home decor is fish-less. I’m not opposed to fishing, just no good at it.

Get Hacking

Been a while since you cleaned I bet…

Not your garage full of cob-webbed Amazon boxes looking like Spiderman fought Doc Ock there.

I mean your email list. It could use a scrubbing. 

Spring clean those totally inactive addresses, temp emails that snuck in, and possible spam traps. 

Protect your deliverability today.

(How to catch spam traps before they catch you)

*Know another email marketer? Please forward this newsletter to them (thanks a bunch).

📝Please take survey below. Benefits Utah’s Woolly Mammoth preserve.