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Winning Subject Lines

  |  July 14, 2004   |  Comments

The biggest possible effect in a teeny-tiny space: subject lines that make e-mail hard not to open.

When Karen talks about subject lines during email training sessions, she holds up a tiny strip of paper to represent the space a typical subject line occupies in your inbox. This tiny line of text has a powerful job to do -- without the benefit of color, graphics, or different fonts.

Today, we’ll take a somewhat unscientific look at some winning email messages to see what we can learn from their subject lines. (In some cases, the subject lines have been shortened or modified, so as not to reveal the name of the product, company, or event advertised.)

Connect Before Savings Cutoff.

Because of spam filters, don’t want to use the actual dollar amount of the discount in a subject line. (Sometimes, the actual discount amount isn’t compelling enough to generate excitement.) Yet discounts and deadlines create urgency.

This email concerned a wireless event. The wireless concept (connecting before a cutoff) was married to the discount idea. And a subject line was born. Short, sweet, and to the point.

Crash Course: Emerging Growth Opportunities in the Post.Com Marketplace

Yes, this is a long subject line. It dates from 2001. Today, we’d shorten it. But there’s no arguing with success, and this was an extremely effective email that brought in one third of the senior level executives needed on the first day of broadcast.

What does it have going for it? The "Crash Course" moniker is a nifty name for an event and implies urgency. The promise of emerging growth opportunities after the dot-com crash must have been appealing to CEOs looking for ways to shore up their battered businesses.

Strategic Analysis CD-ROM Reserved For You

We once heard some sage advice from a famous direct marketing copywriter: "When in doubt, strengthen the offer." Whenever possible, try putting your offer in the subject line instead of burying it in the body of the email (where it may never been seen).

Here, we didn’t have to say "free" (or the deadly longer alternative, "complimentary") to get the point across.

Execs Share Top 4 Concerns (And Where They’ll Be Dec. 8-10)

This long subject line does triple duty. It’s the lead-in to a top-performing email in seven-stage conference email campaign. It piques the curiosity of executives who want to know what their peers are thinking. It creates a sense of momentum ("everyone’s going"). And it provides the event date so prospects can put it on their calendars.

Karen Gedney: We Have Not Received Your RSVP Yet

Here’s a close runner-up from the same campaign. The personalization seems a bit spammy. The reason it performed well had to do with the great reputation of the company in the sender line. Corporate executives know and trust the name, so they’re more receptive to a personalized subject line.

Top 10 Reasons To Attend [Event Name”

As we’ve discussed in past columns, "Top 10" subject lines are almost always winners. It’s a technique you can pull out of your hat when you’re stuck for an idea.

You Decide. Or They Will.

This intriguing subject line was directed toward professionals in a field experiencing downsizing and consolidation. It compelled readers to open the email to learn their fate.

Are You [Technology”-Ready?

In this subject line, readers were asked if they were up to speed on a certain type of business technology. In the email, they took a quiz to assess their readiness. All answers were written to point readers to reasons why they should attend a conference -- whether or not they were ready. There’s always more to learn.

50% of [Technology Project” Will Fail. Beat the Odds.

Whenever you have research and can condense it to a few pithy words, use it. Statistics lend credibility to your pitch and evoke curiosity. This also qualifies as a bad news/good news subject line. It shows though most projects fail, yours can succeed.

Invitations of any sort do well, especially with a senior executive audience. Administrative assistants will often pass them along to their bosses if the topic’s relevant or the invite comes from a well-known organization.

What’s the most successful subject line you ever wrote? Send it along -- with the accompanying email -- to Karen.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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