8 Subject Line Strategies for 2019

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I was looking at a well-regarded study of which subject lines work best for business emails and came across this (and had to laugh): "...the absence of a subject line has had surprisingly positive results. Hubspot's analysis of 6.4 million emails showed that messages with a blank subject line were opened 8% more often than those with subject lines." (Is this called The Emperors New Clothes Syndrome?)

I am not going to recommend that you send out blank subject lines. But... what does that say? Probably that we tire of the same old lines, or ones that feel too salesy or dishonest. Also that there is a sense of curiosity, surprise and what-am-I-missing-out-on with a blank slate.

Anyway, here are some subject line strategies that I will recommend:

Allude to something special. "You're invited" always gets me. It just feels classy. When I see that, there's a chance that the invitation will be free and special. But even if it's not free, I feel a bit flattered. LinkedIn uses "Congratulate," Axios uses "RSVP," both implying something a bit special is happening and action may be required.  

Ask questions. "Even if you go the route of 'Well, how did we do?' you're still engaging with the subscriber instead of simply reacting to their purchase," writes Campaign Monitor. "A question forms the beginning of a conversation with a real human being—it's not simply a robotic response." Amazon does a great job of engaging their customers when asking for feedback—"How did the size fit?" The Drum asked this week, "Sure you don't want daily news?" in its subject line.

Indicate that a quick action is needed. "Act fast to save 30%" just got me the other day. Or "It's our 72-hour sale." (Give a reminder on the last day for that one.) Adds Campaign Monitor: "If you don't discuss anything about time constraints, your subscribers might not respond. They'll think about responding. They'll have every intention to respond. But they won't actually respond."

Personalize. Ever try to send a group email needing help with something and then contrast that with individual outreach. It's like day and night. According to research from Accenture, 75% of customers are more likely to spend their hard-earned money with brands that recognize them by name and remember information about them. Plus, personalized emails are vital for customer retention. A company called getfeedback recommends that you "use time-triggered sends for a hyper-relevant subject line, like 'Review the purchase you made yesterday.' Specifics help jog recipients' memories and increase the chances they'll open your email."

Focus on the benefits. "50% Off Tickets Inside." "Coffee and Conversation (Free Bagels)." AT&T combines the personalization and benefits up-front: "Ronn, Your AT&T May Thanks Benefits Are Here." I also pay attention to the word "Reminder" in a subject line. It makes me believe that I already agreed to something but forgot or may forget to use the benefits.

Trigger an emotion. "Emotion always trumps rationale," Campaign Monitor writes. "'Let us know what you think' will not produce an emotion unless the customer had an extreme experience with your company." The Pulitzer Center sent me an email with the tug-at-the-heart subject line beginning, "Finding Colombia's Disappeared." Fast Company wrote one this week: "Everyone hates passwords. Good news: They're about to die." That triggers an emotion.

Target. "You need to reach out through the noise in your prospect's inbox with something that will interest them, and motivate them to focus in," writes Marketing and Growth Hacking. "A report by Silverpop has found that 50% of recipients unsubscribe because the emails they are being sent are not relevant to them, and they don't have any interest." Data gives us so much to go on these days—my getting an email offering an opera subscription is going to turn me off, but tennis or theater and I'm in.

Trigger a response. In that same article, Marketing and Growth Hacking writes this: "The Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab found that self-disclosure?—?a.k.a. talking about yourself and your problems?—?stimulates the same areas of the brain as sex, [drugs] and good food. [No rock 'n roll?] Talking about yourself activates a reward system which suggests that self-disclosure, more than any other stimuli tested, may be inherently pleasurable. Use this to your advantage. Ask people personal questions about themselves and their businesses. Write a subject line that encourages them to respond and clearly signals your interest in what they have to say. People are more likely to open an email that allows them to self-disclose."

I can't wait to get that email.

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…