There is much conjecture about what makes a good subject line and a plethora of articles, including one I wrote last week, on how to avoid the 'Death by Delete Key' before your message is even opened. This week, I thought I'd share advice from the field on the topic. Because I manage the e-mail practice across an interactive agency, I am lucky enough to be able to tap into industry strategists, both inside my company and outside. These strategists help keep me real and in tune with what is happening in the trenches, while challenging the direction of our e-mail practices.
Add in the fact that we monitor the e-mails of our clients' competitors to the tune of thousands of messages per week, and that's a lot of grist for the mill. It provides plenty of examples -- good, bad and indifferent -- upon which to draw conclusions.
For this column, I polled my colleagues on four basic questions. Their responses provide insight into what's working and why.
1. What makes a good subject line?
-"Keep it simple." (Barry Stamos, Inbox Marketing)
-"Brevity: Be to the point." (Russell Marsh, Agency.com)
-"Needs to incite the reader's curiosity and interest -- a cliffhanger of sorts." (Eric Stablow, Silverpop)
-"Concise, personalized, relevant, and engaging to the recipient." (Brian Hollyfield, Agency.com)
2. If you were to instruct a client on using good subject lines, what would you tell them -- in one sentence or less?
-"Make it relevant, compelling, and truthful." (Richard Rushing, Agency.com)
-"Avoid words used by spammers." (Yogita Pareksh, Agency.com)
-"You should say what you need to in 50 characters, highlighting the first 15." (Brian Hollyfield, Agency.com)
-"Don't try to be too smart or witty; it's lost on most people." (Russell Marsh, Agency.com)
3. What are the most important things to test in a subject line?
-"Speed to read." (Russell Marsh, Agency.com)
-"Use of brand and sense of urgency." (Barry Stamos, Inbox Marketing)
-"Personalization vs. non--personalization." (Courtney Caldwell, Agency.com)
-"General verbiage vs. actual price points." (Richard Rushing, Agency.com)
4. What is the most successful subject line you've ever used and why was it successful?
-"There's £250 in your account." (75 percent-plus open rate on cross sell initiative.)
-"Mind boggling mind games." (To Fantasy and Sci Fi book club members; new release garnered exponential response rate.)
-"Philosophy Mother's Day: Give the Gift of Grace." (Philosophy is a brand; tying brand to situation led to 50 percent improvement in campaign viewership rates)
-"Enter now for the Callaway Golf Giveaway from Post-it Perks." (Power brand and right lists led to three times the response rate expected.)
-"Earn up to 100,000 AAdvantage Miles." (One of the most successful subject lines used at AA.)
Here are some recommendations that the field has passed on:
-Don't compromise what you know works, even when pressured by marketing teams to be more direct or action-oriented in tone or approach. This can have a negative long-term effect.
-If you are to test, create a strategy that supports what you'll do if your hypothesis holds true. This will help justify your first recommendation.
-Keep your testing simple and manageable.
-Be conservative with the use of overly-aggressive or direct terms and phrases; these should be reserved for non-responders.
Personalization. While 'first name' is appropriate in some cases, personalization means more than inserting someone's name (product, offer, timing).
Truncate. Remember to keep it short and simple. After 35 characters, it's a blur.
I'll give the final word to two of my poll respondents who, in my opinion, gave the best testament to the situation we all face in this business.
Barry Stamos of Inbox Marketing said, "A good subject line is like an instant endorsement from a friend: credible, concise, and compelling."
And, from Anthony Cammarata of Agency.com: "In those 55 characters, I need instant justification of why I should open the e-mail."