2009: The Year of the Subject Line

Happy New Year! Now that you are back at work and focused on making 2009 the best year ever, I want to share the one secret to success that will put you light years ahead of your competition: the subject line.

I’d like to proclaim 2009 the “year of the subject line.” In the world of e-mail, with so many choices on how to best affect results, I have chosen the subject line, in large part, due to the economy’s financial state. The reality is, we are in a recession. And, one thing that all recessionary times foster is innovation. And in a time of technical innovation, you can be sure that 2009 will bring the introduction of new ways to communicate with each other electronically. Think about it, we are already reading e-mail in diverse places. We access our e-mail accounts on our PCs, laptops, mobile devices, social networks, NintendoDS and other gaming systems, on some airlines and even through hotel networks and cable TVs. Next up on the list will include access to e-mail inside our GPS systems in our vehicles, via MP3s that are not iPhones, inside appliances (like your refrigerator), and possibly even integrated into personal appliances we travel with like alarm clocks, digital photo frames, and more.

When e-mail is available to you wherever you are and surrounds whatever you are doing, the success of it breaking through the clutter of a normal life will be based on how well the subject line matches your current frame of mind.

Think about it. If you are in a doctor’s office waiting room with nothing else to do, even the most mundane subject line may get you to open an e-mail because you need to pass the time. On the contrary though, if you receive that same e-mail while you are walking to your departure terminal at the airport, the chances that you will open it will be slim to none.

So how can you make sure your subject line will drive the most impact in 2009? Here are three tips of simple, innovative, and fun ways to increase your impact:

  • Call your media planner (or Microsoft directly). Ask them to share their Hotmail e-mail reading trends with you. Microsoft gathers no personally identifiable data around what types of personal e-mails get read, so it can more appropriately advise on how to buy banners around the e-mail inbox. You might think that people plan to buy your product on a certain day or time of day, when in reality the buzz about it is happening at a different time. This route can increase your results by 600 percent or more.
  • Poll your family and friends. Face it, we are in the media business. We all think electronically. Try polling your friends and family who are not in marketing and ask them what their priorities are for the next week or month. You might be surprised to hear people say things like: to go shopping after holiday discounts, or to get ready for the Super Bowl. In any event, that gives you a huge hint as to what themes to use with your subject line. In my last column, I used a $0 offer and got many, many people to respond saying that they opened it because it was in line with their seasonal thoughts and priorities.
  • Don’t forget the non-responders. Just because someone doesn’t open in 72 hours doesn’t mean she’s not interested. E-mails perform that best when the same message is sent to a non-responder three times (in a bit of a different creative shell of course). Many companies always focus on the 30 percent who open and cast off the 70 percent who don’t. A subject line with “last chance” or “final offer” can help activate up to 50 percent of your non-responders.

While I am confident that the subject line of your e-mail will be the key to great results in 2009, don’t forget other important aspects of your e-mail program. These include: delivery and reputation, opt-in capture and profiling on your Web site, and integration with other media channels like banners or social networks. Remember these points and your 2009 will be off to a great start.

For more tips and hints, check out this free preview of my book, “Email Marketing: An Hour A Day.” “Email Marketing Book: An Hour a Day.”

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