Email Subject Lines: Digital Conversation Starters

Email marketing is all about getting people to open your message. And nothing affects open rates more than your subject line. In fact, 35% of recipients open an email based solely on the subject line! There is a whole host of issues when creating an email marketing campaign, but getting the subject line right is absolutely essential.

I like to think of email subject lines as conversation starters – there are ways to pique interest and there are ways to turn people off. Our goal as email marketers is to catch the attention of recipients with engaging and creative conversation starters.

The Conversation Starter Test

I’m no great conversationalist, and so I know that there are more ways to kill a conversation than there are to nurture one. And the same applies to email subject lines. There are a thousand ways to do it wrong and only a few ways to do it right (for example, 69% of email users will report a message as spam based on the subject line alone).

When writing email subject lines, I like to apply the ‘conversation starter’ test. To do this, I imagine someone coming up to me at a party and saying the subject line as a conversation starter. How would I respond? Would I try to escape? Get upset? Be intrigued?

The conversation starter test is a good way to judge the effectiveness of your email subject line. Nobody wants a sales presentation at a party – and nobody wants an unsolicited sales presentation to pop up in their inbox. Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to apply this principle to my email subject lines and have come up with a few basic guidelines to help – but in an effort to always be improving my own technique, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Conversational Guidelines

The conversation starter test has led me to a few guidelines that I apply to all my email subject lines. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but they have helped me to put some intuitive feelings into concrete systems:

  • Don’t be (Overly) Sales-Driven: I know, we all have something to sell. But the sales pitch comes after laying the groundwork for a real relationship. Email is the getting-to-know-you stage of the relationship, so don’t come out too strong with the sales pitch or you’ll look desperate. Don’t be the desperate, creepy guy (or girl) at the party – build a relationship the old-fashioned way: slow and steady
  • Be Human: What else are you going to be? Sloth? Centaur? Part-human, part-monkey chimera? Not really – what I mean by being human is avoiding the robotic tone of many content writers. Conversations are no fun when they’re full of facts but no personality. In other words: don’t be boring.
  • Don’t be Spammy: Similar to not being overly sales-driven, it is always a good idea to avoid any semblance of spam. The number one feature of spam is that it over promises and under delivers. We’ve all met this guy at a party – he sounds intriguing at first but you quickly realize he is all fluff and no substance. Today’s customers are highly spam-aware and will balk at any hint of spam. In fact, SendGrid found that emails with ‘free’ in the subject line suffer from significantly lower engagement rates.
  • Be Clear and Concise: We all know a rambler. Don’t fall into the trap of saying more than you need to – you’ll just end up turning people away from your message. Figure out what you want to say – what message you absolutely need to deliver – then work on cutting that message down to an easily digestible size. Email, like all marketing, is a conversation and no one likes a conversation hog. Keep it short and simple.
  • Appeal to Emotions: People respond well to emotional sentiments (especially positive ones). Ever watch the show Dexter? The guy had no emotions and was a total dud at parties (but really good at vigilante justice). Try to create feelings of urgency, curiosity, excitement, and joy in your subject lines. I know that is easier said than done, but try injecting a little emotion into your next email and see how it performs!

Email Marketing Success

When it comes to email marketing, it is easy to see the thousands of pieces of conflicting advice out there and give up in frustration. But finding success doesn’t have to be that complicated.

You just need to know your business, know your customers, and be yourself. You’re offering something of value – don’t let convoluted marketing advice twist you up. At the end of the day, we are all people trying to market and sell to other people. So, take your marketing efforts off the pedestal and treat them like you do your everyday conversations.

Be yourself, be genuine, be human and let the results grow from there! If you need help getting your business’ email marketing up and running, contact us today for a consultation. You can have email marketing success, and we can help you get there!

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