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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, a recognized women-in-business and tech, is known for her entrepreneurial style and her ability to build, shape, and grow brands into well-known dominant, successful entities. Jeanniey is a pioneer in email, mobile, and digital marketing; publishing; and brand-building. She now leads her own agency, YellowBean LLC, focused on assisting companies of all sizes with driving innovation and growth. Most recently, Jeanniey was the Global EVP, CMO, and subsequently Chief Growth Officer for Zinio, where she worked to define and implement strategies creating explosive growth through strategic partnerships with publishers, technology companies, brands, and consumers during her five-year tenure. Jeanniey has authored and contributed to multiple books, blogs, and magazine articles. She is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a blogger for Huffington Post, and a frequent keynote speaker. A serial networker, in 2005 Jeanniey founded the Email Experience Council, which was sold to the Direct Marketing Association in 2008. She sits on the Advisory Board for IndieFlix, and on the International Executive Council of the Internet Marketing Association. Jeanniey is recognized as both a Top CMO and Top Author on Twitter, and was most recently featured as Mover and Shaker by the Professional Woman's Magazine, and a featured Woman in Technology by The Legacy Series Magazine.

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