What do you see in these two simple text characters? :)
The answer is obvious, of course: a human face. We human beings are hard-wired to seek out human faces in the things we see, and we respond to faces from the day we are each born.
In experiments, newborn infants have shown a preference for looking at faces and face-like stimuli (e.g., Batki et al 2000). The babies are pretty discriminating, too. For example, they show a preference for faces with open eyes. And, given a choice between fearful and smiling faces, newborns look longer at happy faces (Farroni et al 2007). (ref)
Most importantly, one's attention is held longer by a smiling face. It is built in to the deep structures of our brains for our eyes to be drawn to human faces and for our attention to be held by faces that look happy.
Email marketing is all about retaining attention. We touched on this topic from the perspective of the recipient in the article "Tips for the time poor", in which we talked about techniques to help deal with masses of email. But as senders of business-related email we want to ensure that our recipients DO read our emails and that our recipients DO respond positively to our communications.
The key to a good website, a good blog post, or a good email newsletter is having good content. The most important thing is to have something worth reading. But your content won't get read unless the document captures the reader's attention. How do you ensure your document gets and holds the reader's attention so he or she will actually notice the good content?
Stick a smiling face on it.
This advice is based on all our experience across campaigns for different clients in different industries in different countries. A/B testing has shown us time and time again that an email newsletter that features a smiling face in a prominent position performs better than a newsletter that doesn't - in every respect.
So, next time you're working on a newsletter with us and we say "do you have any smiling photos of yourself?"... you know why!
If you really want to geek out on this topic, check out "The Perception of Emotion and Social Cues in Faces", Neuropsychologia, Volume 45, Issue 1 (2007) pp 75-92.