Dear [Email Marketer First Name], Hold Your Breath

So I started this article with an entirely different intention and was about halfway through it when I had to come back and append this random moment... the hold-your-breath reference couldn't be more accurate.  As I sit on a plane (no, the flight attendant is not crop-dusting), I look to my right and see the man behind me has kicked of his shoes and outstretched his bare, stinky feet and attempted to prop them up on my arm rest...c'mon!! Who does that?!? 

Now back to your regularly scheduled program.... 

Let's face it, I am an uber-user and big fan of email of all shapes and sizes. I've been in the space for years (I was recently reminded that I am now a 12-year veteran of email marketing, which doesn't seem possible, but after some math and fact-checking, alas, it is true) and have seen a lot of crazy, funny and inspiring things happen during this time. However, it was an email that I received this week from Bed Bath & Beyond that got me thinking about the lost art of copywriting for email. 

The email stood out in my inbox, not because it was from Bed Bath & Beyond, but because the subject really caught my attention: "Hold your breath until you see this." It was good. But, I didn't realize how truly creative it was until I opened the message and saw that the offer was for air purifiers --  love it! Now, I wasn't in the market for an air purifier, but I clicked through, checked 'em out... didn't buy, but I can tell you that it is the first email I have engaged with from them in a long time.

So what's the point? You need to show your copywriters a little love and attention. And if you're the one writing the copy, it is time to find some inspiration, because if I see one more free shipping or % off subject with my first name as personalization...I might just scream (I may also *accidentally* spill my coffee on stinky feet for fun).  

Four Tips to Better Subject Lines

With that, here are a few things to consider when writing subject lines for email, as some of *us* seem to need a little reminder - for the rest of you, feel free to move about the cabin (I have been on this plane too long...): 

1. Your subject line is part of your creative process. Too often, I see agencies, creatives and marketing teams spending countless hours finding just the right photo or fretting over the pixel height of line breaks only to leave the composition of the subject line to the person coding the message. While I have mad respect for the guy (or gal) hitting the send button, I also know that the last thing (s) he wants to worry about is writing a subject line that you didn't have time to be bothered with.  

2. Don't replicate your headline as your subject line. Your subject line is a great way to tease your readers, get them engaged or interested in what they might find if they open the message. But if you effectively drive the open, and the reader is greeted by the same text to read, they may not read on. Leverage your subject line as a precursor to the headline, so that when the recipient opens the email, the story becomes clearer. 

3. Character count be damned. Marketers often ask me what the right length of a subject line is, and my answer always is: "Does it matter how many characters it is if it doesn't actually say anything?" I have worked with clients that have seen great success with subject lines that were 38 characters and those that have seen success with 138 characters. The real goal is to make it compelling first and then optimize for things like length (which has more to do with truncation in the inbox than whether a subscriber recognizes the difference between 38- and 138-character counts). 

4. Let the standardized subject line die, please....

While it may be easier to say, "Your July Offers," as the subject line, swapping out the month with each send - could you be any less descriptive? That tells the recipient nothing of the content inside, provides no motivation to actually open -- and, quite frankly, becomes visual wallpaper in the inbox over time. If you firmly believe this works for your business, you may be right -- but do me a favor and test it out, you may be surprised to find that what once worked may not be so effective any more. 

If you need some copywriting inspiration, pick yourself up a copy of "Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This." I read it years ago and still find myself picking it up periodically for a good laugh and quips for the masses. 

On another note completely, would it be awful for me tell this guy that if he is going to burden the rest of the plane with his Frito chip foot odor, to at least get a pedicure on those puppies!! Geez.

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5 comments about "Dear [Email Marketer First Name], Hold Your Breath".
  1. Evan W from Experience Advertising, Inc. , May 12, 2011 at 10:55 a.m.

    nice post....

  2. Curt Wilcox from Real Magnet, LLC , May 12, 2011 at 11:31 a.m.

    you stole my joke Kara...great post, as always!

  3. Rita Allenrallen@freshaddress.com from FreshAddress, Inc. , May 12, 2011 at noon

    Funny but painfully as real as the cell phone user in church...I would say, tell him whatever you think...same as for the subject lines. And make sure you get the message delivered by capturing their attention immediately or the opportunity is lost - as good hygiene comes in many forms...feet and email!

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 12, 2011 at 1:47 p.m.

    Hat pins. Ice cubes. Multi-task. :) for you and (: for them.

  5. Pamela Soisson from Cronin & Company, Inc. , May 17, 2011 at 2:37 p.m.

    I too admired BB&Beyond's witty message. But then they let me down in a subsequent e-mail requesting to "like" them Facebook. It was a flat-out "Like us on facebook" with no compelling content or offer to motivate me. . . Those 20% off coupons are everywhere, surely they could have offered one for "liking" their brand as a reward.