The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo, is a theory that describes the different ways individuals respond to persuasive messages, depending on their level of motivation and ability to process the information. The model suggests there are two primary routes to persuasion: central route and peripheral route. This model can be applied to messaging in marketing automation campaigns by tailoring content to how a particular audience processes information. It can help to explain why some persuasive messages work better than others and why some individuals are more easily persuaded than others.

Email marketing campaigns will not perform optimally without considering the ELM model when developing your overall strategy. As consumers navigate between the central and peripheral routes during the customer lifecycle, it’s crucial to take the ELM into account when crafting email content for different stages of the customer journey.

Misunderstanding Central Route Processors Could Derail Your Email Campaigns

Audiences that process information via the central ELM route are characterized by specific cognitive and motivational attributes that guide their information processing and decision-making. These individuals possess the following attributes:

High Motivation

Central Route individuals are motivated to invest a high degree of mental effort in processing information. Their motivation may stem from personal relevance, importance, or a perceived need for detailed understanding.

High Ability

They have the cognitive ability and resources to engage in thorough thinking and analysis. They are capable of critically evaluating the information presented to them.

Attitude Change

These individuals are more likely to experience a lasting change in attitudes and beliefs. The persuasion is based on the quality and merit of the information presented.

Central Route Processors are more inclined to explore and analyze information beyond what is presented to them in a single message.  To tailor content to the central route individual, brands must understand that they make decisions when they are highly motivated, as mentioned above, which enables them to engage in deep cognitive processing. They heavily scrutinize and evaluate messages and are thoughtful and systematic when analyzing information.

Recognizing Peripheral Route Processor Traits is Your Lifeline

Individuals influenced by the peripheral route tend to give little thought or effort to messages when processing information and decision-making. These individuals possess the following traits:

Low to Moderate Motivation

Individuals swayed by the peripheral route have lower motivation to engage deeply with a topic or message. They are more influenced by surface-level information and are less likely to invest significant mental effort.

High Emotional Appeal

Emotional connections, humor, or relatable stories can have a significant impact on their perceptions and decisions.

Limited Cognitive Resources

These individuals may have limited cognitive resources available, leading them to rely on mental shortcuts and heuristics for decision-making.

People guided by the peripheral route rely on superficial cues, emotional appeals, and quick decision-making. Their experience typically needs to be effortless. For this reason, many access emails on smartphones, so mobile-friendly designs are essential to capture the attention of these consumers. These individuals benefit from mental shortcuts, allowing them to make quicker decisions with less cognitive effort.

Address Fluctuating Customer Needs at Each Stage of the Customer Lifecycle or Risk Losing Them

People tend to switch back and forth between routes during the various stages of the customer lifecycle, so it’s essential to deliver content specific to each route of the ELM. Failure to do so means they may receive content they aren’t interested in, resulting in increased spam and unsubscribe rates as well as a decrease in deliverability metrics.

Content that appeals to central route individuals is authoritative and data-driven and includes facts and rational arguments. For example, whitepapers, case studies, and comparison guides would be relevant to this audience.  In an email campaign, content should include strong arguments with a professional tone and a strong call to action directing them to the website to do more research on the product or service.

Content that appeals to the peripheral route processer captures their attention quickly. The headers need to be eye capturing and the call to action (CTA) needs to be clear and prominent. It is important to communicate the main idea and value proposition in a straightforward manner. Lastly, it is crucial to have a clear visual hierarchy that leads the reader through the email straight to the CTA.

Avoid the High Stakes of Overlooking Email Service Providers to Tailor Email Campaigns to Customer Journeys

Multi-channel integration offered by most Email Service Providers (ESPs), through API and webhooks, plays a significant role in tailoring content to either the central or peripheral processing routes.  ESPs gather data from channels such as email, social media, websites, etc. By analyzing this data, brands can get a better understanding of where a consumer may be in the purchase lifecycle and customize email content to each stage. According to Omnisend, “Marketers using three or more channels in their campaigns earned an 18.96% engagement rate on average, compared to single-channel marketers who earned only 5.4% (meaning 250% more engagement from pluri-channel campaigns).” You can then use the data gathered from the various channels to deliver timely messages that encourage customer engagement with the content.

For example, central route individuals value consistency and logic. Multi-channel integration ensures that the messaging remains consistent across different platforms, reinforcing the credibility and persuasiveness of the content. These individuals, who are motivated and engage in systematic processing, benefit from a consistent and in-depth narrative across channels. This also allows for sequential messaging, which provides additional layers of information, appealing to these individual’s focus on systematic analysis.

For peripheral route processors, visual appeal and social proof are crucial. Multi-channel integration allows for the use of attractive visuals, influencers’ endorsements, and social proof across channels, enhancing the peripheral appeal. Additionally, by leveraging multiple channels marketers can engage users with various formats (video, infographics, or short posts on social media), which are more likely to attract and retain the attention of these consumers. Consistent visual elements and emotional messages will capture their attention and prompt quick engagement.

Align with the Elaboration Likelihood Model or Watch Your Email Campaigns Crumble

Understanding how audiences respond to messages is crucial for effective email communication. Tailoring messaging to align with the Elaboration Likelihood Model will significantly enhance the effectiveness and impact of your communication efforts. Marketers must also be aware that customers will switch from the central route to the peripheral route and back again depending on where they are in the purchase process, so it’s important to customize content to appeal to the various stages of the customer journey and be aware of how they process information in each stage.