Lessons from the SXSW catalogue.
The SXSW conference has always been known for the quirky session titles it inspires. The competition for panel slots is intense, with 3,000 panel submissions presented for 2012 alone. Part of the selection process involves voting by the public. So, an effective title gets attention when garnering votes for a panel.
We have the same problem with email.
We need subject lines that pull inbox scanners from their numbed slumber in which most emails are unceremoniously deleted. If our email is to be read, our subject lines must save our recipients from mindless autonomy.
What can we learn from SXSW panel authors? In a follow-up to my 2011 SXSW email subject line experiment, I offer this list of session titles-cum-subject line from the enigmatic conference. In general, folks seem to be less creative than in 2011, but the lessons are nonetheless destined to improve your emailing prospects.
Things That Don't Fit Together: Non-Sequiturs
Our brains are wired to discard the familiar faster than a bear can spell Constantinople. It is the unexpected that gets the attention of our conscious and prepares us for action. These titles demonstrate the use of twists to pull readers out of their inbox apathy.
A Penny Press for the Digital Age
Philanthropy Is Not the Future of Journalism
Cloudy with a Chance of Gaming
Multiple Personalities–Not a Disorder but the Norm
Does Your Product Have a Plot?
Meat is Might: Epic Meal Time Rules the Web
Social + Location + Mobile = The Perfect Beer
When Goliath Tries to Steal Your Lunch Money
Can Growing a Moustache Change the World?
Bootcamp for a UX Team of None
Explorations in Corporate Zoology
How to Be Strategically Unlikeable Online
Sunspots: The Promise and Pitfalls of Gov 2.0
Dreams of Your Life: A Darkly Playful Experience
Help, My Avatar Is Sick
Being Considered Obsolete Is Awesome
The Science of Good Design: A Dangerous Idea
Why Karl Keeps His Shades On: Style & Social Media
Lists of Three
There is something memorable, readable, and easy-to-count about lists of three. This method is especially successful when the third item is overly specific or doesn't fit. See "Things that Don't Fit Together" above.
Drugs, Milk & Money: Social & Regulated Industries
Credits Coins Cash: Social Currency & Finance 2.0
Free Coffee, Bad Apples & the Future of Currency
Clouds Here, Clouds There, Clouds Everywhere
Shock and Awe
Boring subject lines make me want to poke needles into my eyes! Sometimes it makes sense to hit readers over the head with something that is just plain shocking. Sometimes.
How Not to Die: Using Tech in a Dictatorship
How Mexico's Drug Traffickers Harness Social Media
Language of Mutilation: Grammar for Ads & Life
Demographics Are Dead: Unlocking Flock Behavior
Everyone Is Gay: Social Media As Social Action
Media Measurement: Science, Art or a Load of Crap
Please Touch Me! Enterprise Delight via Multitouch
Your Social Media Job Is Dead: Now What?
Avoiding Bulls**t Personas: A Case Study
Eat, S**t, Sleep: Enlightenment Through Unemployment
Rhymes and Alliteration
Sensual subject lines supplement the bottom line. Alliteration is the repeated use of consonants. Rhymes grab your readers like a musical phrase. Don't be afraid to add a little poetry to your prose.
Social Music Marketing: Bands, Brands & Fans
An Unusual Arsenal: Tech Tools to Topple a Tyrant
Invention & Inspiration: Building a Better World
Contextual Communication: Crowds and Coordination
Check Yo-Self Before U Wreck Yo-Self, Startup Metrics of the Masters
The Creative Collaboration Conundrum
Binary B****es: Keeping Open Source Open to Women
Teaching Touch: Tapworthy Touchscreen Design
Create a Common Enemy
You may find your reader united behind you by identifying a common enemy - like the delete key.
When IT Says No: How to Create Fast Feature Flow
The Systematic Undoing of Copyright Trolls
Screw the Job Market: Young + Passionate ≠ Broke
Rise of the Social Spammers
Can Washington Make Your App Illegal?
Epic Battle: Creativity vs. Discipline in Social
Why Your 5-Year-Old Is More Digital Than Most CMOs
Has Twitter Made the Sports Reporter Obsolete?
Don't be a wimp. When all else fails drop the political correctness and tell the reader what you really think.
Advise THIS! Matchmaking Startups & High Profile Advisors
Shut Up & Draw: A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually
Flash: F Bomb or Da Bomb?
Big Ol' Babies: Why Baby Boomers=Public Media FAIL
Your Marketing Sucks: Why You Need to Think Local
Lead With a Number
Four session titles that use numbers. When we offer the reader a specific number of things, they know they are going to get a manageable set of tips or tricks that is easy to scan and digest.
11 Reasons QR Codes Are Not Engaging Consumers
3 Secrets to a Killer Elevator Pitch
100 Things Designers Need to Know About People
Enterprise Social Media: Five Emerging Trends
Make Up Words
If you find yourself with subjectlinitis, tossing a memebomb or two may be your best hope. New words can turn a deletophile into a reader.
Adprovising: Agile Marketing Made Easy
The Making of Twittamentary
Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas
Discover the New Frontier of the Glocal Internet
The Local Backbone of the SoLoMo Revolution
Coolhunting and Coolfarming with Social Media
Wireless Wellness: App-tastic or Just Fun & Games?
The Hyperlocal Hoax: Where's the Holy Grail?
Pop Culture References
If you know your audience, you slip them some "Funky Cold Medina" in the form of a pop-culture reference. For your geeks, "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" will do. For the younger generation, something from the "Harry Potter" series might make a connection. Music is usually a sure bet. Can you name the sources of the following references?
Star Trek and Social Media
Do Gamers Dream of HTML5 Sheep?
The Cloud as Skynet: Conquering Digital Overload
Get Smart! Hack Your Brain for Peak Performance
Wall-E or Terminator: Predicting the Rise of Al
Gimme Shelter from the Storm Clouds
Defense Against the Dark Arts: ESAPI
The Field of Dreams Manifesto
Is That Your Final Offer? Mobile Dynamic Pricing
Not Your Mommy's Blog: The Evolution of Dad Blogs
Why Doesn't Congress Grok The Internet?
LEAN STARTUP: Baby Got (Feed)Back - Putting the Lean in Learn
Metaphors and Similes
Similes are like can openers for the mind. Metaphors are the batteries in the flashlight of your email. The technical term for this style of messaging is "transubstantiation," using the characteristics of one thing to add meaning to another in the eyes of the reader.
Rev Up Your Product Design, the "Concept Car" Way
Online Personality Disorder: Resumes & Profiles
Knitting a Long Tail in Niche Publishing
Snackable Content: Working in a Bite-Sized Future
Hunt or Be Hunted: Get the Design Job You Want
Keeping Kids off the Street: Wall St. vs. Startups
Death of Digital Downloads: MP3s the New 8-track?
Target an Audience
Right-handed marketers, take note! Targeting your audience can significantly increase the relevance to two groups of people: those to whom you are speaking, and those who feel left out by the fact that you aren't speaking to them (you left-handers felt a twinge of anger at being left out, didn't you?). This approach takes guts, as you are consciously ignoring part of your audience in the hope of truly engaging another.
Why Women Fail to Rule the Social Networks
Greek to Geek: Classical Rhetoric & the Modern Web
Blogging: Why So Many Women Are Doing It
Digital Divas: How Girls Rule the Digital Universe
Even the "oldest profession in the world" required some persuasive messaging. Your reader may see sex as the most base or most exalted activity humans can engage in. This is the risk and the reward for bawdy banter in your email subject lines.
Brands That Believe in Sex After Marriage
Sex, Lies and Cookies: Web Privacy EXPOSED!
Sex in the Digital Age
Big Brands and You: Make the Love Connection
Social Media Comes of Age Without the Help of Porn
Nudity and Online Journalism
Sex Nets: Pickup Artists vs. Feminists
Sex on the Web - The Sabotage of Relationships?
If you've got the goods, big promises will make you rich in as little as three days. Big promises make the reader ask, "So, how can you do that?" even if they are skeptical. Of course, if you can't deliver on the promise with sufficient proof in your email, all is lost - including your credibility.
Expanding Our Intelligence Without Limit
How to Live Forever
We Are Legion: Digital (R)Evolution
Change the Course of History with Greasemonkey
UCB Comedy presents: The Best Damn Stand-up
New This Year: Add an "i"
Turn your subject line into an iLine! All it takes is one little vowel.
iVision Africa: New Media's Role in Reframing Africa
iPlant: Advanced Computing to Feed the World
There you have it. Over 100 titles to tantalize and titillate your email mind like a jolt of electricity from an unlicensed nuclear reactor, guaranteed to help you get lucky and make your ex jealous - if you're not a total iDiot. Did I miss anything?
Hit us with your favorite subject lines in the comments.
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With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.
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