March 5, 2003

What makes a Subject Line click?

OPEN SESAME: Creating Your Subject Line

By Mike O'Sullivan

Why do so many subject lines fail? Because "convincing someone to open it" ain't easy. With just a few words, your subject line has to tell your recipient four -- count 'em -- four things:

Tell your reader four things

You're targeting professionals just like him.

You understand his needs.

And you've got an offer that will meet them.

But... he can't learn more unless he reads your message.

I illustrate with a project I did - a promotional email I developed in collaboration with NetLine (a marketing automation service provider).

Our client, a vendor of product development software, helps organizations efficiently incorporate their customers into the product development process. As a result, those who use its software (product managers and other product development professionals) save time and increase the odds that their new products will succeed.

With that in mind, here's the subject line we came up with:

The winning subject line

"Product Management: Putting You in Control"

To break this down: We started by selecting the audience. Seeing the words "Product Management," any person in this line of work would immediately sense a connection.

We then show we appreciate our audience's day-to-day concerns. Specifically, we know that information management and product malfunctions overwhelm the average product manager. By saying "Putting You in Control" we imply a grasp of her challenges and indicate there's a way to keep them in check.

The open rate doubled

So how well did we do? This particular promotional email was a follow-up to an announcement our client had written and sent to its in-house list. As a result of our new subject line the open rate doubled. Same offer, same list.

Now this is just one approach you can take when creating your subject line. There are others.

Pose a question

For example, your subject line could pose a provocative question -- making your recipient want to find out the answer.

Offer an explicit takeaway

It could directly state what the recipient will learn (let's call that the "explicit takeaway").

Use a benefit as a command

Or it could command the recipient to do something -- that command expressing the key benefit she'll receive (let's call that "benefit as command").

Keeping product development as our topic, I demonstrate:

- Cut Your Beta Testing Costs in Half (Benefit as Command)

- What's Wrong with Product Development? (Question)

- How to Get Better Products to Market (Explicit Takeaway)

- Ten Ways to Improve Product Development (Explicit Takeaway)

In every case, you're accomplishing the same goal: Convincing your target recipient you have something he's interested in.

Now while I'm focusing here on promotional emails, you can see how these ideas apply to any email communication. After all, whether you're sending out a product offer or an e-newsletter, your subject line's got the same job description.

So give the subject line your careful attention. Your reward could be one that - as my gimmicky article title suggests - works like magic.

Mike O'Sullivan is an independent marketing writer.

Useful links:

The Secret Life of a ClickZ columnist
By Debbie Weil (ClickZ 4/3/02)

Crafting an Effective B2B Subject Line
By Debbie Weil (ClickZ 2/21/01)



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