Subject Lines: More Than Meets The Eye

By Kath Pay

Attend any email marketing conference that has a session on subject lines, and I can guarantee it will be filled. Our fascination with them isn’t a mystery, as in essence we’re all on the search for the silver bullet: a subject line that will always work.

Sadly, that silver bullet doesn’t exist. Even when a brand strikes lucky and crafts a subject line that works well for its audience, it only has a limited lifespan. Why is that? Well, because we’re targeting humans, who get bored easily, and also become immune to our marketing messages when we hit them with the same subject line over and over.

There’s more to crafting a successful subject line than meets the eye:

Focus on your objective. Simply put, in a turn on what Web usability expert Steve Krug says: “don’t make them think!” If consumers have to pause to perform a calculation, convert a feature into a benefit, or try and understand your very cool but obscure subject line, then there’s a good chance that they’ll just move onto another email which has a clearer, more compelling subject line.  As marketers we need to do the hard work for them in order to make it easy for the customer to convert.

By focusing on the objective of the email, you’ll not only ensure that you are attracting the right audience but that you also are meeting expectations, yours and theirs. All too often I’ve seen sexy and cool subject lines that are clickbait-like, enticing the reader to open them only to be disappointed, as the content/offer doesn’t match what was promised on the subject line.

Focus on them, not you. Whilst we need to stay focused upon the objective of the email, we also need to be focused on our customer’s desires, writing a line it is customer-centric and not brand-centric.

For example:

  • Brand-centric: “Our sale is on! We have hundreds of items discounted! Don’t miss out!”
  • Customer-centric: “Here’s your chance to save $$$! For 24 hours only. Don’t miss out on bagging yourself a bargain.”

As you can see, the first version is very brand-centric and uses the words “our” and “we,”  whilst the second version uses “your” and “yourself.”

With a tiny bit of thought you can also turn this feature-led subject line into being a benefit-led subject line. Simply state the feature — “Our sale is on!” — and ask yourself “so what?” This leads you to answer it with the benefit: “Here’s your chance to save $$$!”

Know whom you’re targeting. We hear it everywhere: Segment your list! However, how many of us go even further, recognizing that we’re not just sending an email to a segment of faceless names, but are sending it to humans with emotions! When crafting your subject line, ensure you include elements of persuasion such as scarcity, and curiosity just to name a few. Here’s an example:  “Don’t miss out! 24 hour sale. Bag yourself a bargain – you deserve a payday treat.”

There is more to the impact a subject line has on your goals, than meets the eye:

Subject lines also provide longitudinal gains. One of email’s strengths is that it is a push channel, unlike social media, the Web or search, which are pull channels. So we marketers get to take advantage of what is known as the “nudge effect.”  Simply put, every email we send to our database serves a purpose: to place our brand before our customer’s eyes. Even if they delete the email, you stand a very good chance that they read the subject line before choosing to delete the email.

The UK DMA’s Email Tracking Report 2014 shows that when consumers receive an interesting email, they do more than just click. 45% save the email for later. and 38% bear the information in mind for later.  This is the nudge effect in action, and your subject lines plays a very important role in making it happen (as does frequency).

Email drives customers to other channels. The UK DMA’s Email Tracking Report 2014 also shows that email drives customers to other channels (without clicking) such as website, search and social. Don’t underestimate the power of your subject line — it can influence much more than a simple click.

Above all, remember that the subject line, design and content all work together to bring about the conversion, so ensure that each are given their fair share of time and effort. No, that doesn’t mean throwing together the subject line five minutes before pressing “send”!

Interested in finding out more? Check out how the awesome team at Holistic Email Marketing can help take your email programme to the next level.