- Category: November 2012 - Email & SMS Marketing
In September Experian published it‘s twelve page whitepaper about the importance of subject lines, which we‘ve summarized for your convenience.
There are many techniques brands employ to capture a subscriber’s attention and initiate a conversation. Whether it is using the perfect imagery with the catchiest headline or precision targeting to a specific audience, every detail can be carefully orchestrated to entice a subscriber to engage with an email message. However, before a subscriber can explore the content of the email, there is one vital step that must be taken. He or she must decide to open the email. Hence, the subject line, which is often thought of as just a simple phrase, becomes a crucial component of email strategy.
From the moment an email is sent to a subscriber’s inbox, it occupies space with numerous other emails. At a glance, it looks the same as its neighbors. Each email contains a subject line with a simple sentence or phrase from a sender. While it is important to craft a subject line that matches your brand, the question here is “what makes an email worthy of opening”? Is it an offer the subscriber just can’t turn down or an intriguing remark that sparks curiosity?
There are a handful of ways to approach writing a subject line that will capture the attention of a given audience. Experian has defined these techniques and has classified them into four different categories, after their study of more than 1,000 promotional mailing subject lines.
The four identified main categories are Fun, Curiosity, Direct, and Relationships.
Asked which category works best, Experian states “direct messages make up 71 percent of subject lines ... but fun and curiosity have the highest unique open rates and definitely are good choices for sparking subscribers’ interest. However, they can lose some of their appeal if used all the time”.
A closer look at each category will provide ideas on how you can write the best subject lines:
Conversational language and fun are often more appealing and appear more personal than stiff or formal language. You can use puns, e.g. "Travel to Ireland and feel like you’re walking on Eire", or a play on words such as: "More boat for your buck", or be provocative with something like: "What does your wife really want?"
Tips for writing Fun subject lines:
- Topics such as travel and leisure are good opportunities to use a comical approach to attract subscribers and allow them to get a sample of the fun they could be having;
- A provocative subject line will challenge the status quo, encourage subscribers to look at something differently, stir interest or opinions, and make consumers want more.
Curiosity is a popular subject line wording theme that is used to tempt the subscriber into reading more. There are many different ways to evoke curiosity in your target audience, but all can be categorized by five simple tactics: question, riddle, unfinished thought, indirect language and intrigue.
- A question can be, for example: „are you getting the most out of your Internet service?“ This is a basic curiosity tactic. The question is simple, yet it makes recipients scrutinize their Internet service.
- A riddle can be something like: „What’s red, blue and waiting for you?“ A riddle makes the reader want to guess at the email’s content. There are a multitude of items that can be the subject of this email, so it will keep the subscriber wondering what the email is about, especially if personalization is involved (referring to “you” or a name).
- Unfinished thought, for example: „What if you could....“ This tactic can work in a few different ways. The subject line can go hand in hand with a headline. If the headline for this was “Have the world at your fingertips” and was promoting a new smartphone, then the thought is finished once the email is open. On the other hand, an unfinished thought can be finished by the entire email, not just specific words. Conveying the message in words is simple, but relating your subject line message to pictures is also possible.
- Indirect language, e.g.: „Saving you money and time”. Using indirect language to evoke curiosity refers to an instance when a subject line gives you only a small glimpse of the whole picture. It is language that lets you know something is happening without telling you what it is. This is curiosity because it leaves subscribers wondering about the email’s topic and makes them want to open it and find out more — especially if the language makes subscribers think the topic may be relevant to events in their life.
- Intrigue can be used like this: „Your procrastination paid off!“ This differs from the other types of curiosity because this type of subject line employs mystery as a complete thought without asking a question. It invokes curiosity by stating something seemingly random or unrelated to what a person would expect to see, causing the subscriber to want to read more.
In conversations and emails, being direct often is the best way to interact with others because it eliminates the possibility of the receiver misconstruing the sender’s message. When messages are direct, time is saved, negotiations are simpler, and interpretation and second-guessing are not required.
When writing direct subject lines, you must be concise and tactful.
For mobile, subject lines ideally should not exceed 33 characters. This limits the wording to one line. Multiple lines cause the creative to be pushed down and lost, causing less visual impact.
- Urgency, e.g. "1 DAY LEFT!" instills a sense of urgency within the customer, but it also creates curiosity and provides an incentive to learn more. By urging customers to act now, the subject line elevates the importance of the email, and the message becomes more important.
- Succinctness, e.g. "$1.99 Ebook!" Analyses suggest that succinct subject lines are more appealing and therefore receive higher open rates when they are 26 characters or less. “$1.99 Ebook!” names both the price and the product without using any unnecessary words to distract from the message. Succinctness is crucial when trying to craft a lucrative subject line because when lines are kept short and to the point, the most important information is immediately discernible.
- Promotions and price points, e.g. "Extra 40% Off Sale (Today Only!)" When a price point, sale, discount or shipping offer is presented numerically in the subject line, subscribers realize just how much they will save and are eager to take advantage of the deal. Urgency and a discount are used in this example to encourage the subscriber to open the email and learn more.ÂÂ Another tactic is to mention free or reduced shipping when the customer orders within a certain amount of time.
Relationship subject lines capitalize on subscribers’ ability to relate to the brand or product by targeting specific interests and groups. These include events, a niche group to which they belong, a social media invitation, or a recurring newsletter they expect in their inbox at a given time, among others.
- Events, e.g. „Pacquiao vs. Marquez: Tonight only on DIRECTV“ - This is an example of a subject line that would attract strong attention from a subscriber who follows boxing. By mentioning a specific event in the subject line, the audience of DIRECTV subscribers feels invited and welcomed to the viewing of this event.ÂÂ An invitation seems more exclusive. Even inviting someone to a sale at a retail store provides a sense of exclusivity that could make a sale seem more worthwhile.
- Niche groups, e.g. „Adele Fans! Get Her New Album Here“ - A niche group is a particular group of consumers comprising a narrowly defined, targetable portion of a market that a company makes an effort to connect with and sell to. In this case, the group consists of fans of Adele. Other niche groups can be demographically oriented and sorted by age, gender, religion, profession or geographic location.
- Circular/Newsletter/Recurring updates, e.g. „Your Weekly Discounts & Offers“ - Unlike emails that are sent with the sole intention of promoting one sale, event or opportunity, there is a category of emails that are sent out on a schedule — weekly, daily or even multiple times in the same day. If a consumer is accustomed to receiving the same company’s mailing regularly, he or she develops a familiarity with that company and looks forward to hearing from it. The key here is to be consistent with your wording. Changing the formula of the subject line too drastically may result in fewer opens.
- Social media, e.g. „Like us on Facebook for a chance to win $1,000“ -ÂÂ In the age of “follows” and “likes,” it seems as though people today spend more time interacting on social Websites than they do in person. As the population gravitates more toward these Websites, it is important for companies to keep up with such mediums in order to reach and relate to the appropriate audience.
- Online communities, e.g. „Adventurers like you are logging on... Who will you meet on your quest?“ - From message boards to online gaming, there are large communities online that don’t involve the typical social media. Appealing to either members or potential members of these communities can be very useful, especially if a company’s product or service relates to them.
- Group discounts, e.g. „Serious discounts for parties of 5 or more!“ - Being social doesn’t just mean making online connections. It also can apply to situations where multiple buyers can get a discount that individual buyers cannot. It is a means of having your target audience want to be “social” in the literal sense of the word. People will gather and spend time together in order to experience the service or product offered by the email.
With so many strategies to employ, it is still very common for a company to fall into a subject line rut. Many have the mentality of “Why fix something that’s not broken?” While that may save some time, it is simply too risky. The excitement and curiosity wear off when emails with the same subject line format are sent repeatedly. This may cause the subscriber to tire of receiving them, start ignoring them or mark them as junk.
Companies need to maintain the allure of their emails by employing new ideas and a creative outlook. To optimize the response from your subscribers, spice up your subject lines, and don’t forget to gauge their effectiveness through testing. Be prepared. Be data-driven. Most of all - be memorable.