Powerful Sender and Subject Lines

It all starts with a compelling subject line — a persuasive message that catches the readers’ attention and zooms into their minds with a precision that causes the desired reaction: to open and read the email. The subject line also whets their appetite for what’s to come.

Whether you’re a veteran copywriter, an email marketing professional, or a Web site owner, a powerful subject lines is essential to email marketing success. It’s importance can’t be minimized or understated.

In direct marketing nothing — absolutely nothing — is put to the test more than headlines. Old-timers call them “leads.” They draw readers into ads the same way subject lines draw recipients into email.

David Ogilvy, who was one of the most effective headline writers, once said, “On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent 80 cents out of your dollar.”

In email, the subject line is equivalent to that headline.

Great subject lines contain copy that causes a psychological reaction. Below are some examples, with corresponding sender lines, selected at random from my own email. Some are pretty good, others pretty bad. As you read, remember unless you pique someone’s interest, it’s unlikely she will read any more of your message, even if it’s displayed in the preview pane.

From: Fulfillmentcenter.com
Subject: No cost diabetic supplies
Offer: Diabetic supplies

The subject line is arresting because diabetic supplies are costly. I’m not sure why “Fulfillmentcenter.com” is used, as it doesn’t add anything. The email mentions additional benefits, such as no paperwork and free delivery. The subject line could have been stronger. It should have mentioned free delivery, as Medicare covers diabetic supplies for many people.

From: Printpal
Subject: Printer Cartridges — You Pay No Shipping Costs — Up to 80% Off Retail
Offer: Printer cartridges and toner

The subject line contains important elements, but the wording isn’t compelling. Words at the end could be truncated. A shorter alternative that accomplishes the same thing and adds one more bit of information could be: “Printer hungry for ink? Save 80% on cartridges. Free shipping.”

The sender isn’t a person, which may give the impression it’s spam. A name would be more realistic and effective.

From: Blair Thomas
Subject: Have You Driven a FORD Lately?
Offer: Official site where you can manage details about your Ford vehicle

The sender line rings false, although it’s a name. As this is a free site with benefits to Ford owners, “Blair Thomas, Customer Service Manager” would be more appropriate. The subject line is even more confusing. It’s appears the writer had nothing substantive to say, so the Ford slogan was used. I thought this email wanted to get me interested in buying a car. Turns out the offer is for a site where you can manage vehicle maintenance, get exclusive offers and incentives, locate vehicle-specific recall information, and access owner and driving tips. None of that’s mentioned in the subject line.

From: Virtual Deals
Subject: Internet Speed Test Today — No Charge
Offer: Free test to determine speed of Internet connection

The sender line screams spam. I’d definitely change it to something like, “Jerry Granger, Chief Technician.” The subject line doesn’t tell me why I should care, let alone take the test. Anyone reading an email wants to know, “What’s in it for me?” A subject line must convey some sort of benefit. I’d suggest: “Don’t throw out your old computer; test its speed for free.”

From: Sally Summers
Subject: Get FamilyCircle magazine, a FamilyCircle Measuring Set & a Betty Crocker Lifetime Cooking Library FREE!
Offer: Trial issue of magazine plus bonuses

The sender sounds like a real person. But the subject line, while filled with great information, is very long and likely to be truncated in many email preview windows. A great offer, the only issue is the number of words in the subject line.

From: Joslyn Stevens
Subject: Your Entry – PCH Online
Offer: Sweepstakes entry

Again, no issue with the sender line. The subject line, however, is weak. Two problems: First, who knows what PCH is? Second, what am I entering? Unless there’s a reason why PCH deliberately uses a nondescript subject line, I’m left wondering why it didn’t choose something like: “Win $1,000 every weekday for life. Enter by 6/30/03.” The message doesn’t contain an expiration date, a necessary element to motivate people to act.

From: Paradisimo
Subject: Say Goodbye To Mosquito Bites Forever
Offer: Personal mosquito repellant

I have no clue why “Paradisimo” is the sender line. I don’t know what it means. In reading the fine print, I see the message is from an email company. Wouldn’t it be better to use something like “Mosquito Control Lab”? I like the subject line.

From: PC Health reply@.
Subject: Free PC Health Check
Offer: Computer health checking software

Not sure whether “reply@.” is deliberate. It looks like a strange typo and doesn’t give a recipient much information. “PC Health” is used in both sender and subject lines. I’d prefer:

From: PC Health Testing Lab
Subject: Is your PC sick? — free checkup! From: Mark and Bob
Subject: Are These Two Guys Nuts?
Offer: Money-making opportunity

I love this one but wish they’d answered the question by adding “making money.” “Mark and Bob” is unusual, and the subject line asks a provocative question, making it necessary to read the email to learn the answer. The message itself is weak and doesn’t adequately answer the question. But that’s a lesson for another day.

Pay attention to sender and subject lines in your email… and keep reading.

Meet Paul at the Jupiter ClickZ Advertising Forum in New York City on July 30 and 31.

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