Grab Your Subscribers' Attention In Less Than Eight Seconds

Eight seconds has been quoted for some time as the amount of time subscribers take to real an average email. Even if still accurate, I suspect a small handful of emails dramatically skew this number. In reality, you probably don’t have a full eight seconds to convey your message. You definitely don’t have that amount of time to grab their attention.

Talk to consumers about the email programs that catch their attention and they will describe those emails as “short, sweet, to the point” or “easy to digest” or “succinct.”

I recently had an experience that highlighted the need for marketers to get to the point. I was asked to attend a luncheon held by an intriguing business. By attending, I hoped to learn a “little” more about the company so I would determine if a follow-up conversation would be appropriate.

And then I arrived. The lights were down. People were seated around a conference room table and a dull PowerPoint deck was on the screen with the presenters going over every detail on the screen.



30 minutes into the presentation, I realized they didn’t want me to know a “little” more about their business, they wanted me to know a “LOT” more about their business. And then I left.

Driving home, I realized an important lesson had just been reinforced: “get to the point.”

As email marketers, one of our biggest challenges is keeping focused on the information our subscribers want. Grabbing subscribers’ attention quickly is a multi-step process, which each step building on the success of its predecessor:

1)   Registration: Grabbing your subscribers’ attention in less than eight seconds starts with the value you promise subscribers during registration. While not rocket science, this is where many email programs struggle. Either email addresses were captured without setting expectations, or the promise made was too vague (e.g., “Sign up for the latest information”), which results in subscribers that don’t know what to expect and marketers that don't know what to send. Contrarily, if there is a clear value proposition and emails deliver against that promise, grabbing subscribers’ attention gets easier.  

2)   Message theme: Quick-hitting emails work. Long-copy emails also work. Either way, emails need to be unified by a common theme. Identify the one thing that you really want people to take action on in your email and point everything toward this one action. While this theme can unfold through multiple parts or calls to action, emails with competing priorities rarely work. Pick an objective for the email, develop a theme for the message, and focus on driving that message through the subject line, copy and creative.

3)   Subject line: We all know the importance of subject lines as the first step in engaging subscribers, but how to set this stage remains an art. Your subject line is the front-page headline of your email. Go to a newsstand or bookstore and scan magazine covers for inspiration. “November Issue” doesn’t jump out and entice you to buy a magazine -- any more than most of the emails in my inbox inspire me to open them. Your subject lines need to be true to the content, but they also need to include some combination of Curiosity, Urgency, Relevance, Value and Emotion – or C.U.R.V.E.

4)   Creative: As one subscriber recently shared, “I expect emails to be warm and friendly and make me feel like a valued customer.” Fulfilling this promise is the creative challenge: quickly deliver on the promise of each of the preceding steps, make it simple and neatly organized, and do so in a way that doesn’t bore subscribers with unnecessary details or distract them from your theme.

The eight-second email rule was established well before Twitter. One of the things consumers like about Twitter is that it forces people to get to the point -- and this mentality is affecting how consumers engage us through email as well. As such, I believe the eight-second email rule needs to be modified to the two-second email rule. We need to cut through the clutter and grab subscribers’ attention faster than ever before. Doing so requires staying focused and unveiling our marketing messages in steps that draw our subscribers ever deeper into the messages we unfold every time we hit send.

1 comment about "Grab Your Subscribers' Attention In Less Than Eight Seconds".
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  1. Jason Klein from Selligent, November 9, 2011 at 7 p.m.

    I agree that the eight-second rule seems very generous. For me, marketers have about 1/10 of a second to attract me with their subject line, and then if I do open, they have about 4 or 5 seconds to convince me to read further. This underscores the importance of subject-line and content testing.

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