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5 Myths About Your Subject Line

  |  May 24, 2010   |  Comments

Who would have thought that e-mail subject lines can still have a material impact from a branding perspective? Well they do, and here are five myths that you shouldn't believe.

A few days ago, I was a passenger in a car on the road to a meeting and scanning my e-mail for important messages.* A subject line from one e-mail said to me, "This offer was selected especially for you." As an e-mail marketer, I knew that this was not true, but I still spent the time to open it. I didn't click on it, or book a flight (it was from US Airways, but now I do pay more attention to its messages as a brand).

Who would have thought that e-mail subject lines can still have a material impact from a branding perspective? In this highly mobile world, many of us fall prey to the potential short-term need to drive opens and forget about the long-term impact a subject line can have. This week's column is dedicated to the subject line, and the five myths that often occur when contemplating it.

  • Myth No. 1: The only value of your subject line is to get someone to open that message. It's not. As seen in the example above, your subject line can have a direct impact on your brand loyalty. Use it wisely.

  • Myth No. 2: Subject lines only matter for consumer messages. No way. In fact, just yesterday my company was lucky enough to have MSNBC write a great article about our iPad app. I was so excited I sent it to my company with this subject line: "MSNBC is a fan of the Zinio iPad app." At the same time, another person in the company sent out the article with this subject line "MSBNC, I didn't crave, I didn't cave..." This subject line happened to be the subject line of the reporter's story. But, guess which one got opened first?

  • Myth No. 3: Your subject line is meant to make your reader open the message. If you think the sole purpose of your subject line is to get someone to open the e-mail, you're wrong. That may be the primary purpose, but remember, an e-mail never dies. So, as it gets filed away in a folder and attempted to be pulled back up at a later date, your subject line will be key to acting as an index for what's inside.

  • Myth No. 4: Subject lines shouldn't contain URLs. Why not? If you need to know to check in now, why make someone open the message - give them the link. Try it - it's pretty cool now that most mobile devices will pick up on the structure of a link and automatically make it hot.

  • Myth No. 5: A subject line is the biggest key to your e-mail's success. While I just spent all of this time telling you how important it was, I have to end with a note of caution. While it is true that the subject line is the main vehicle for branding and plays a key role in effectiveness, if you have established a great relationship with your customer, or expectation of offers/news, your e-mail will be opened regardless of what the subject line is. Don't be afraid to test!

So there you have it. Take a moment this week to value your subject line's impact from both short-term and long-term perspective. It could change your results considerably.

*This column has been updated to clarify that the author was a passenger, not the driver.

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Jeanniey Mullen

Jeanniey Mullen is the vice president of marketing at NOOK by Barnes and Noble, focused on business growth and customer acquisition.

Prior to her role at NOOKTM Jeanniey launched a wearables fashion technology company called Ringblingz. Before getting into the wearables business, Jeanniey was the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Zinio, where she grew the business by more than 427 percent, into one of the largest global digital newsstands. Other notable roles in her career include her involvement as the executive director and senior partner at OgilvyOne, where she led the digital Dialogue business and worked with Fortune 50 brands including IBM, Unilever, and American Express, and being a general manager at Grey Direct. At Grey Direct Jeanniey launched the first email marketing division of a global advertising agency. Prior to her time in advertising, Jeanniey spent seven years in retail leading a variety of groups from Consumer Relations and Operations, to Collections and Digital at JCPenney.

One of Jeanniey's favorite times in her career was when she founded the Email Experience Council (which was acquired by the Direct Marketing Association). Jeanniey is a recognized "Women in Business," a frequent keynote speaker, and has authored three books and launched a number of companies ranging from entertainment to technology and fashion.

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