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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.


Jeanniey Mullen

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

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