The Emotional Pitch: Playing On Feelings Works Best In Subject Lines

Want to do a better job of engaging with consumers? Give vent to your emotions.

That is, write emotional subject lines that prompt consumers to open your email. That’s the main takeaway from The Write Stuff: How CMOs Can Use Ai To Develop Data-Driven Marketing Creative, a paper by Persado.

Emotional email subject line appeals are “far and away the most important element and getting this right will be vital in order to produce high open rates,” the study notes. “With the email body, however, the functional/CTA part of the message leads the way.

For instance, emotional subject lines make an average 56.91% contribution to performance, far outpacing descriptive (24.27%) and functional language 7.58%). That metric is similar for direct mail.

When it comes to the email body, however, descriptive language contributes 40.38%, versus 33.1% for emotional copy.

But don’t ignore description — it has a 24% impact on subject-line performance.



In contrast, descriptive language dominates in web pages and banners and display. On Facebook, use of stylistic or structure formatting elements like symbols, is most effective.

Granted, emotional appeals may differ with the season. On January 19, the top-performing emotions were exclusivity and curiosity. On December 18, roughly a month before, the top one was anxiety.

They also vary by vertical sector.

In financial services, for instance, subject lines that herald achievement (“You’re being rewarded faster”), gratification (“You’re getting bonus miles”) and anxiety (“please review your options”) do best.

Less successful are lines that simply encourage people (“it's easy to earn more rewards” or prompt guilt (“Don’t’ miss out on this chance to apply”).

In retail/ecommerce, the prevailing emotions are gratitude (“you deserve this deal”), achievement (“You scored an offer”) and safety (“It’s official, our sale is on”). 

Meanwhile, technology buyers are most persuaded by gratification (“Treating you to the best tech”), anxiety (“Your attention please”) and safety (“These deals are no joke”).

The losers? Challenge (“Get prepared with the best gear”), guilt (“You won’t want to miss this”) and encouragement (“Get more out of your device”). 

The study concludes: “Words matter at every moment in every channel across the customer journey, but what matters most changes depending on the audience, the channel, the brand and even the time of year.”

Over three years, Persado ran 8,149 “language explorations,” encompassing over 300 million message permutations and 2.4 billion impressions in six channels. 

It adds that “marketers need to leverage in-depth data to understand what will work best for their audience and they need to make experimentation a constant because change is constant.” 

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