On The Subject Of Subject Lines

I had a great chat this past week with one of my favorite email marketing people, Tamara Gielen of Plan to Engage. I have the pleasure of working with Tamara, hosting email marketing webinars for the GetResponse community -- and she’s always insightful, motivating and just plain fun. In our talk we got on the subject of subject lines, and she made some excellent points I’d like to share.

We see a lot of artificial delineations between social channels and email, but all these channels share a lot more than you might think. For example, Tamara observed that your inbox isn’t that much different from your Twitter stream -- except that Twitter is much more focused on the “now” and probably has a shorter attention span than an email inbox. Oh sure, you can backtrack on your Twitter stream for older tweets, but Twitter’s real strength is in “now surveillance.” 

Twitter is the CB radio of the digital age. No one is going to send you an email telling you they just saw a squirrel, but they might very well tweet about it. Just as some criticized CB radio in its heyday for all the seemingly inane chatter about speed traps and good roadside diners, others make the same point about Twitter. Yet, it’s that very “now” relevance that makes Twitter so addictive for some.

There’s no real starting point and no end in sight with Twitter. The tweets go on day and night, and most of us slip in and out of the conversation thinking only of the moment and nothing else. What’s happening now is what’s important.

A big difference between Twitter and the inbox is that people have to process the content of the inbox, while Twitter (left to its own devices) is self-cleaning. This is one reason a strong subject line is so important! Even if people are just cleaning out their email inbox, they are going to see that subject line – which, at the very least, makes it a powerful branding tool if done right.

Dela Quist is an email marketing “thought provocateur,” who has long championed the power of inbox branding. He’s very fond of pointing out that just having your email in the inbox with the right “from” address and a good subject line is of great value.

A seeming contradiction I often see is how hard some marketers work at the perfect tweet -- and yet they may not put the same effort into crafting a subject line. Perhaps it’s the public nature of Twitter combined with that “now” factor which causes this. Not to mention the imposed character limit that forces wit into brevity. However, unlike with Twitter, you can’t delete or amend that email once you send it – so it’s just as critical to get that subject line as perfect as that tweet.

The subject line is often the last thing we do after working so hard at crafting the right email. With so many components to think about getting right, perhaps we just want to be done with it. Or maybe we’re just creatively spent. However, if every email subject line was a tweet, how much creative thought would you expend to get it just right? The subject line isn’t the last thing to do. It’s the first thing to get right. Because, while it may be the last thing we do, it’s the first thing our subscribers see.

3 comments about "On The Subject Of Subject Lines".
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  1. Jean Criss from Jean Criss Media, LLC, August 6, 2012 at 11:18 a.m.

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a newsworthy, provactive headline should follow suit.

  2. Mike May from Huge, August 7, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.

    Agreed, and I even think in some cases it makes sense to wag the dog with email. Instead of starting with the message and then backing into a subject line that telegraphs content accurately and has a good chance of grabbing attention, start instead with a subject line you know will drive opens, and then write the message (that still fulfills your business needs) around it. It's a tactic borrowed from bloggers, and it really works.

  3. Jim Ducharme from eDataSource, August 7, 2012 at 2:32 p.m.

    I agree Jean. I also agree with Mike that starting from the opposite end can lead to some pretty creative results!

    Try something different just for a change and see what happens.


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