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The Devil’s in the Detail: Crafting the Email Subject Line

Details are important. And email marketers know just how important tiny details are each time they attempt to craft the most enticing, clear, and valuable subject lines for their email campaigns. Email subject lines provide marketers the small yet impactful window of opportunity to make direct connections with potential customers, says Christopher Lester, VP of sales at Emma, an email marketing platform.

“The email subject line is probably one of the most important pieces of a campaign because the inbox is a really full place,” Lester explains. He says, on average, users get about 150 messages in their inboxes each day, and those emails are coming from family, friends, and coworkers. “So the subject line is really the piece that allows [marketers] to move from something that feels like inbox clutter to something of value that someone wants to open. It’s the beginning statement of the story.” The chief email marketer shares some essential do’s and absolute don’ts when crafting the email subject line.

A few do’s

Include a call-to-action
Whether on DRTV, through postal mail, and especially in email subject lines, the call-to-action (CTA) is an effective strategy to elicit an immediate response from your target audience. Lester says that with such a short window to persuade readers, the CTA displays the value for the consumer quickly and clearly. “The email subject line is just a…way of giving the user that quick cost-benefit analysis,” Lester says. “In other words, what is the value of the email compared to the amount of time dedicated to opening and reading the message?” He says for the audience the value must outweigh invested time.

Personalization remains a solid strategy, but Lester encourages marketers to get more creative in their email subject lines than simply inserting a name. Make the headline pertinent with specific, personal information. “It’s like the cocktail effect,” Lester says. “When you’re scanning through an inbox and you see something that pertains specifically to you, it’ll make you stop. It’s like hearing your name at a cocktail party and having to stop and listen.” Once that personal element gets readers to stop, he says they’ll take the time to see if the rest of the subject line—and message—is valuable.

Get to the point
Don’t be so overly creative that the point of your message is unclear, Lester warns. Marketers need to get to the point; and they must either lead or end the subject with the most valuable information. “Don’t hide your valuable information in the middle,” Lester says. For example, if the message is presenting a discount, put the price cut in the beginning or end of the subject line. “The reason is simple: People are scanning the edges.”

Use clear language
Marketers need to be black and white about the value of the message in the subject line. “Clarity allows people to make decisions about your brand and the brand’s products very easily,” Lester continues. He stresses that it’s clarity that allows marketers to fight through the crowded inbox space: “Help consumers scan their inboxes.”

Use variety
There’s nothing wrong with structure in your subject lines, but much like an in-person conversation, few chats begin exactly the same every single time. Lester adds marketers should remember that there’s a human being on the other end. “If you wouldn’t start your conversation with a friend in the exact same way each time, why would you do that with your marketing pieces?” he adds. “You’re building relationships and making full connections. That means having a conversation, not pushing some dictated script.”

Some definite don’ts

Never beg for opens
You wouldn’t beg someone to be your friend, so why beg shoppers for opens and interactions? Lester says that people don’t want to feel desperation in your subject lines. “The reason someone interacts with a brand is because there’s something about that brand’s story that resonates with them, and they want to be part of it.” He adds that few people want to be part of something that feels like desperation, and says if marketers are begging in the subject line they should check the value proposition in their message: “If you deliver the value consistently, you will never have to beg for an open.”

Don’t be too vague or specific
Too little information can leave your audience confused; too much information can leave them without much intrigue. Lester says marketers must find that delicate balance with just the right details. “Think of the subject lines as the teaser,” he explains. “It’s the piece that makes readers want to open the email. Then the actual message will do the rest of the work.”

By no means be misleading
Not delivering on the promise of an email subject line leads to a terrible customer experience, Lester says. He says it’s all about creating a great experience so that people will interact with—and, of course, buy from—your brand. “There’s a moment of trust involved,” he adds. “You have to honor that.”

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