Make a Great First Impression (and learn more at the OMS event in February) – Part Two

Posted by Stephanie Miller on

Subject lines could be the single most important factor in open rates and response. Yet they are much neglected. Too bad for the industry, but what a great opportunity for you to boost results and nudge out the competition.

Last week we touched on a few tactical best practices regarding subject line length and content that will grab subscriber attention. Here’s a few strategic issues to consider when writing subject lines that are sure to maximize impact in the inbox.

  • Don’t Underestimate Subject Line Sensitivity. The fact is subject lines significantly influence response. About 42% of respondents to our annual holiday study (2006) use subject lines to make that all important open or delete decision. In direct mail speak, if you don’t focus just as much effort on the “envelope” as you did on the content, then your entire effort may be wasted.
  • Do be consistent. Respondents to our annual holiday survey tell us that they use the subject line in combination with the from line to determine their interest and level of trust with each sender. Keep your friendly from line (the words that are visible in the inbox) consistent, and also maintain a consistent voice for the subject line. This will help readers quickly assess the value of the email relationship.
  • Do your best to impress each time and you have a better chance of motivating your subscriber to take action. With just a few short words of clear and snappy copy coupled with targeted segmentation you are better able to cut through the email clutter, promote your brand, and ultimately engage your subscriber.
  • Do lead with the call to action. Start by writing the subject line, THEN put the email message and creative together. That way, you are forced to solidify the call to action for the message/promotion.
  • Do write subject lines like a magazine cover. It’s not hard to write a great subject line, but it typically takes longer than a few seconds just before you hit the send button. Magazine covers illustrate what it takes to have a great subject line. Start by just stating the offer in direct terms – e.g.: Red Shirts on Sale. Then try twists to add in a strong reader benefit, some shock/awe,a teaser discount/offer or even celebrity – but don’t get too clever, as clarity still rules. For example, “Snazzy Red Shirts Now 10% Off” or “Go Office to Glam in One Great Red Shirt – On Sale Now.”

To ease the process, we suggest having a10-minute brainstorming session where you and the team come up with at least a dozen ways to state the offer. Start with the best practices we discussed in part one and part two of this series then decide whether you should lead with discount or the product brand. Not sure? Swap them out, see how it reads and then test the three best lines you come up with. Considering that you really do have only three seconds and about six words (or 55 characters) to drive an action, spending 15-20 minutes on your subject line each mailing is worth it. Each word has to really count!

I’ll be talking more about subject lines and how to create great subscriber experiences at the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego in February, and urge you to consider joining us. We’ll discuss email, search, online marketing and social networks – and most importantly – how all these fit together to help you create memorable and profitable customer experiences.

Hundreds of senior level marketers are already registered, but space is limited (and by invitation only). You can apply for an invitation here (be sure to mention that you heard about the event from Return Path!), and we’ll even give you our Preferred Partner discount of 40% off if you apply before January 11, 2008.


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