All About Email: Capturing Attention
After your from line, the most compelling thing motivating recipients to open your email is its subject line. You know the drill: To stand out in a cluttered inbox, you have to work hard to capture attention. Subject lines must be carefully crafted to develop innovative ways to present your latest promotions and products.
Think about how your company approaches email. You probably spend a lot of time planning the editorial and offer calendar and creating strong individual campaigns. However, subject lines are probably an afterthought. It's important to remember that one of your greatest points of leverage is the subject line. Do some soul-searching. Is most of your focus on the content of the email? Is the subject line constructed at the last minute? If so, you're missing the boat.
Here are some ideas you can put to use, and examples of what not to do.
Offers, Sales & Discounts
Here are the last five subject lines I received from an e-tailer that sends weekly communications:
- Groundhog Day Sale - Save up to 50%
- Red Tag Sale + Save up to 65% on Overstock
- Clearance Sale + Additional 10% Off 90,000 Items - Code inside
- Winter Sale + Promo Code Inside
- Clearance Sale - Save up to 75%
Would you open them? What image do they project for the company?
The e-tailer gets credit for playing up Groundhog Day. But every subject line is essentially the same. They didn't capture attention because they're mundane — it's just a matter of which discount is offered each week. They also position the company as a discounter and nothing more. (In fact, in my view, this particular brand is not a discounter.)
Examine the email strategy for your company and brand. Too many companies are in lockstep with the company above, only focusing on quick sales. Your email program should have many more overall objectives.
Here are some subject lines with more pizzazz:
- Old Navy: "Mystery Offer Ends Tomorrow! Save up to 50%." Intriguing.
- Only Natural Pet Store: "Important News About Your Cat's Food + Save Every Time You Order!" Personalized for type of pet.
- Wine Enthusiast: "Nothing Says I Love 'U' Like Free Shipping!" A Valentine's Day promotion without saying Valentine's Day.
- Sephora: "Sample a new skincare routine - free Gift with purchase."
- Patagonia: "FREE SHIPPING code + Ice Climbing Recommendations." Sale plus a captivating headline.
- Omaha Steaks: "ABSOLUTELY LAST DAY | Below employee pricing | FREE Shipping | 4 FREE Tartlets." All about offer in several ways.
- Office Depot: "Shop Smart and Stretch Your Dollars in 2010." Appeals to budget-conscious consumers.
Conventional wisdom says promotional subject lines should be short. You'll note that several of these are longer or introduce more than one concept. The Patagonia subject line, for example, promotes a special offer, but also includes an element that could be very intriguing to outdoor enthusiasts.
Industry pundits also suggest all-caps should never be used, because it might trip spam filters. Yet several of these examples use caps for emphasis, and they did make it to my inbox.
The only way to know if these techniques work for your business is to test. A/B subject line testing is routine for most email systems.
Subject Line Bloopers
The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but don't use these techniques for your email program:
- A fine chocolates marketer: "Company name." No value added.
- A consumer retailer: "subject line." A common proofing mistake — oops!
- An apparel cataloger: "As seen in the The New York Times." "The" appears twice, another all-too-easy proofing mistake.
- Writing instruments marketer: "'Company' has added new closeout items." Boring.
- Computer marketer: "Thank [Company] it's Thursday. $599 laptop, $439 desktop & more." And why should I thank you?
- Computers and electronics marketer: "'Company' Business Outlet: Warehouse Sale." Used in eight of its last 10 emails.
- Computers and electronics marketer: "Prices slashed again!" Used three consecutive weeks.
Your readers expect professional, branded communications. Use subject lines to provide additional information, always have another pair of eyes — or more — proofread all elements, and don't insult readers with sheer repetition of one sales pitch.
When you want to promote new products and services, you have a world of opportunities available to you. Here are some ideas:
- Action Bag: "Did you wait until the last minute?" Asks a question.
- Best Buy Reward Zone: "Fall in love with our Partner Offers this Valentine's Day." A seasonal promotion that's tongue in cheek.
- Brooks Brothers: "Watch the Story of Saxxon Wool Unfold - Yes, Those Are Real Sheep!!" Stands out from usual subject lines and promotes a video.
- Gaiam: "$1,000 Gaiam gift card: Ask why before you buy & you could win." Contest announcements are compelling.
- Design Within Reach: "Design Notes: Removing stains and neon signs." Adds value.
- Golfballs.com: "Your Name/Business Printed on Golf Balls, from $12.95/dz." Spans consumer and business interests.
- Hello Direct: "Be the First to Own an Industry First in Wireless!" Plays to readers' egos.
- Norm Thompson: "Colors that go "POP!" See them all + ship FREE!" Evocative wording.
- Office Depot: "Join our free webcast: Organize Your Small Business." another that adds value.
- Radio Shack: "Sneak Peek: Trade In Your Old Phone." An insider look, plus it adds value.
Personalized Subject Lines
Very few emails today use subject lines personalized with the recipient's first name. Marketers have moved away from this technique because many spammers use it and there's a concern that messages with pesonalized subject lines might be blocked or sent to a bulk folder. This is worth testing. I've seen companies increase email open rates and clickthroughs 25 percent or more with personalized subject lines.
Invest more time in creating and testing your subject lines so you can determine which approaches, offer presentations and lengths make sense for your audience. Test personalization, straightforward vs. factual approaches, percentage off vs. a dollar amount, and more. The more you test, the more you'll learn. ROI
Reggie Brady is president of email marketing consultancy Reggie Brady Marketing Solutions (firstname.lastname@example.org).