Emotion is more powerful than reason. And you can trigger these emotions to improve your email marketing results.

    We have previously written about the nice little helpers that are trigger words, aka power words, and shared some tips on how to increase email open rate by using them in email subject lines. In this article, we’ll go deeper into what trigger words are, what science says about their effectiveness, and how you can use them to enjoy a boost in email open rates. 


    What is a trigger word?

    A trigger word (also known as a power word) is an emotionally colored word or expression used to provoke a psychological reaction in readers (in our case – email recipients) by involving their imagination. 

    Power words appeal to all types and shades of human emotions. In email marketing, trigger words are used to urge a person to open the email, read it, click the link in the letter and perform the desired action – buy, share or subscribe to something offered by the sender, etc. The first and hardest task is to draw readers’ attention and spark their curiosity by emotional, intriguing subject lines.

    The (real) science behind emotional triggers in human decision making

    We, people, like to consider ourselves logical creatures. We have to make thousands of both simple and complex decisions on a daily basis – and we try to apply rational thinking to make the best choice. 

    In fact, Researchers at Cornell University suggest that an average adult makes about 35,000(!) relatively conscious decisions every day. And, of course, each decision brings certain outcomes, both good and bad.

    However, we can’t make decisions without taking into account emotions, claims Antonio Damasio, Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neurology, at the University of Southern California. In fact, in 1994, he conducted research which led him to the hypothesis that “emotion and its underlying neural machinery participate in decision making…”

    Damasio continued the study and formulated a revolutionary theory, which he described in his famous bestseller, Descartes’ Error. The theory asserts that “..humans do not make decisions by delegating such tasks to purely cognitive, or reason-oriented, parts of their brain. Instead, there is an interplay of the emotional governing center (the limbic system, primarily the amygdala) and the more evolved area of contemplation (pre-frontal cortex)”. 

    Therefore, Damasio asserts that humans are not thinking machines, but feeling machines that think. 

    What is even more interesting to marketers, the survey of Jonah Berger, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated that strong emotions nudge people to sharing content with others. He highlights the importance of high-arousal emotions: “Anger and anxiety lead people to share because, like awe, they are high-arousal emotions. They kindle the fire, activate people, and drive them to take action.”

    So which emotions can we engage? In 1980, professor Robert Plutchik visualized a wheel of eight emotions. They are a useful starting point for connecting with people’s emotions in your writing. They are: joy, surprise, trust, fear, anticipation, anger, sadness, and disgust.

    Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions

    This palette of human emotions can be used to attract the attention of your audience and make them want to learn more.

    Let’s review several examples of trigger words and their effect on human consciousness and subconsciousness and try to analyze what logical links help them capture human attention and make readers open the email. If you practice it regularly, this exercise will help you select the most suitable subject lines for your email drip campaigns.

    Example 1. Free

    emotional trigger words example

    “Free” may be the most effective of all trigger words. Everyone wants to get more benefits and also to save time, money and effort. People love free stuff – that is why lead magnets are so popular in marketing. 

    Including a “free” opportunity in your headline will make your letter more attention-worthy and attractive, boosting email opens and click-throughs. The only drawback of this word is that it is getting overused and is now at risk of getting caught by spam filters

    Beware that some power words tend to gradually slide to the risk group and later get filtered as spam markers. You can download our massive list of 550+ spam words to stay safe when composing your subject lines.

    Example 2. New

    emotional trigger words example

    As curious beings, humans are always looking for novelty. Something in our nature drives us to seek out the brand-new, latest, and most exceptional goods on the market. Experiment with the trigger word “new” in your email subject lines and other types of marketing copy. Let the readers pause and pay attention.

    Example 3. Proven

    emotional trigger words example

    Evidence-based power expressions can work remarkably well when you plan to build an image of a trustworthy business. When used in a headline or a call to action, the term “proven” implies the confirmation of the efficiency of your approach. Apply it only when you can prove your ideas.

    Example 4. Easy

    emotional trigger words example

    People can sacrifice a big chunk of their life and work to achieve something, but who doesn’t prefer a simple solution? We choose to take the easy path if one’s open. Using the word “easy” or its variations like “easiest” in your subject lines can convert your reader into an engaged prospect. It’s that simple.

    Example 5. Secret 

    emotional trigger words example

    People love secrets more than news due to our incredible curiosity. Secrets may imply profit, exclusivity, intrigue, or valuable information, depending on the context the word is used in. Of course, your content has to satisfy the reader’s thirst for knowledge. In other words, if you promote a mystery, you’d better deliver.

    Example 6. Because 

    emotional trigger words example

    This is a power word that bears a strong positive connotation. It implies a solution or explanation to a problem and always appeals to readers who are trying to find an answer to a hard question caused by their pain points.

    Example 7. Now

    emotional trigger words example

    The word “now” demands an instant response. It lets your prospects know that you’re sharing something of imminent significance. Besides, it’s an effective way to boost conversions on time-limited offers.

    Example 8. Everyone

    emotional trigger words example

    Like other creatures, people tend to flock in crowds. Humans usually don’t like to be the first to do something as we don’t know if it’s right or wrong. To put it simply, most people don’t like to feel like lab rats in an experiment. People are more inclined to get profit from something if they know that other people have done it many times before them. That’s why social proof is so convincing. The idea that all the people are doing something can evoke the FOMO and boost email open rates and conversions.

    Example 9. Want 

    emotional trigger words example

    What unites all the humankind? One of the answers is that we all desire something. It can be wealth, prestige, knowledge, goods, services, or relationship, we all want something. 

    Apply trigger word “want” to encourage readers to determine what they wish to have or to help them understand what they really want. For example, your prospects might not realize that they want to know how to read more pages every day or learn to play the guitar. Give them a suggestion.

    Example 10. Win

    emotional trigger words example

    Who doesn’t like winning something? This emotional trigger is comparable to “free” but in addition to that, it implies scarcity.

    It’s easy to get something if it’s given for free to anyone. To win, however, you have to be the favored one or few. That’s an efficient way to get people to open your email and interact with your brand.

    Trigger words and phrases to use in email subject lines in 2020

    As we have mentioned, the list of trigger words can never be complete – it’s constantly renewing, as some words get popular and others get out of use. And some triggers are so abused that they start triggering spam filters.

    Below you can find an emotional trigger words list you can apply in your email subject lines (and email body) to attract readers’ curiosity. 

    Sensory power words #1: Visual words

    1. Bulky
    2. Crooked
    3. Drab
    4. Gigantic
    5. Glittering
    6. Gloomy
    7. Glow, glowing, to glow
    8. Hazy
    9. Shadowy
    10. To shimmer, shimmering
    11. To sparkle, sparkling

    Emotional power words #2: Trust

    12. Absolutely
    13. Admiration, to admire
    14. Authoritative, authority
    15. Facts, factual
    16. Faith, faithful
    17. Fool-proof, sure-fire
    18. Guaranteed
    19. Proven
    20. Reliable, reliability
    21. Research-backed
    22. Saint
    23. Scientific, science
    24. Trustworthy

    Emotional power words #3: Fear

    25. Abuse, abusive
    26. Anxiety, anxious
    27. Banned
    28. Burning out
    29. Despair
    30. Failure, to fail
    31. Freaking out
    32. Horror
    33. Miserable
    34. Pussyfoot
    35. Sabotage
    36. Steal, stolen, plunder
    37. Threat

    Emotional power words #4: Surprise

    38. Awe
    39. Jaw-dropping
    40. Mind-blowing
    41. Mesmerizing
    42. Spectacular
    43. Remarkable
    44. Enchantment, enchanting, to enchant
    45. Astonishing
    46. Terrific
    47. Breath-taking
    48. Spellbinding
    49. To beguile
    50. To bewitch

    Emotional power words #5: Sadness

    51. Austerity
    52. Envy, envious
    53. Grief-stricken
    54. Heartbroken
    55. Hostile
    56. Lovesick
    57. Resentful
    58. Shame
    59. Sobbing, to sob
    60. Tearful
    61. Teary-eyed
    62. Troubled, trouble
    63. Weepy

    Emotional power words #6: Disgust

    64. Crap, crappy
    65. Icky
    66. Junk
    67. Lousy
    68. Nasty
    69. Obscene
    70. Outrageous
    71. Repellent, to repel, repulsive
    72. Ridiculous
    73. Scuzzy
    74. Shit, shitty
    75. Trash, trashy
    76. Vulgar

    Emotional power words #7: Anger

    77. Annoying
    78. Bitter
    79. Flare up
    80. Frenzy, frantic
    81. Fury, furious
    82. Grumpy
    83. Hatred, to hate
    84. Hysterics
    85. Irritating
    86. Panic
    87. Rage, raging
    88. Tantrum
    89. To sulk

    Emotional power words #8: Anticipation

    90. Charming, to charm
    91. Craving, crave
    92. Discovery, to discover
    93. Enthusiasm, to enthuse
    94. Forgotten
    95. Inspiration, to inspire
    96. Little-known
    97. Longing, to long for
    98. Lust
    99. Mystery, Mysterious
    100. Passion, passionate
    101. To woo
    102. Yearning, to yearn

    Try adding emotional trigger words to your copy

    Emotions are engaged in the purchase of almost any product. Can we use emotions to make our clients buy, click, share or read more? Yes, but the first thing your prospect needs to do is to open your email. And to catch their attention, you can use emotional triggers in your email subject lines.

    We encourage you to use these observations and research to invent your personal secret list of emotional trigger words that will skyrocket your campaigns’ open rates. Use dictionaries to discover even more trigger words and pick the ones that suit the tone of your message.

    Do you use emotional triggers in your writing? Share your experience in the comments.


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