Email has been evolving continually in the last decade. For many marketers, email will continue to trump other communication channels. Or at the very least will be a crucial component of their marketing mix. It allows marketers to quickly test ideas and positioning statements, launch products to customers in a quick, reliable fashion, and build loyalty and communication lines over time. It is deemed by many as trustworthy, relevant, strategic and allows cross-channel coordination.

Now, the format of an email has been essentially standardised since its use became widespread. Especially since its adoption as a powerful marketing tool. The basic layout will be familiar to all. A ‘From’ line with the sender’s details, the ‘To’ line with the recipient’s information and most importantly of all: a ‘Subject’ line.

It is the Email Subject that concerns us today. As well as the reasons why it should be of utmost importance.

Over the last two or three years, most of the popular email marketing services have adopted various mechanisms to effect how the subject line impacts the reader. This includes (but is not limited to): The option to choose a number of subject lines for any given broadcast, the ability to customise and thus attract the attention of the reader and various features that allow detailed results analysis to assess the efficacy of any one subject line. We even have more sophisticated ones that can assist with marketing automation and send a follow-up email to someone who opened or clicked on a link in the first email. This creates new ways of engaging with prospects and customers alike.

Does it work?

There is no question that these mechanisms do indeed work and will assist the marketer in achieving the results desired. In the end, that does mean one of 3 key objectives: saving time and money, creating sales, and building relationships. Seems simple enough, yes?  Ironically, this 3-prong approach is generally understood but often not achieved because marketers fail to address the most basic task:

First, the email must be opened.  And for this the Subject is crucial.

Of course, our main objective should never be just Open Rates. However, we’ll talk a bit more about that in later blogs.

Today it’s about The Subject. The inspiration for each email must come from the marketer. There is no single handbook that will tell you exactly how to construct an email that will engage your unique audience with your unique message-of-the-day aka CTA.

Constructing subject lines

One thing that does apply is that one must treat the construction of subject lines as a priority that should be worked on and honed. There is no single formula to get this right. However, once the email campaign goals have been established and other elements have fallen into place: such as image placing, layout and content structure, the Subject will come quite naturally when you look at the campaign in its entirety.

Quick Tips

Subject Lines must be responsive (emotively and tech-responsivity wise) …

The Perfect Email Subject Line: Desirable or Essential? - image - graph Consider the graph on the left, it is increasingly obvious that consumers are turning to their mobiles to view their email and consequently marketers must ensure their email strategy caters for mobile viewing.

And when the consumer is viewing the email on their mobile, whether it be phone or tablet what is going to stand out first and foremost?

Of course it’s the subject line, there is little room for anything else until the recipient opens the actual email content.

What does this prove?

Strong relevant subject lines are a real key to gaining opens when sending to mobiles.
The line as a whole must intrigue and excite enough to trigger further interest. If Twitter dictates brevity and the successful tweeter is one who can compress succinct meaning (and therefore entice interest) into 140 characters, then the subject line composer must do much better. After all, the screen on a mobile allows fewer characters than that.

Recent research suggests that…

…28 to 38 characters get the highest click rates – That and more in this Infographic on Crafting the Subject Line that Gets your Email Read.

An example

Although this wasn’t originally from an email, it was mentioned by Stephen Fry in a BBC documentary. It makes the point that brevity can be meaningful. In the US state of Kentucky, two of the main activities they are famous for are horse racing and the production of Bourbon whiskey. The state slogan, which has had an unprecedented response rate in the State’s email campaigns is, ‘Unbridled Spirit‘.  It says it all really, at least for Kentucky. Subject lines have to be worked on with similar flair and creativity, they simply have to be a ‘perfect’ reflection of you.

And now something else is about to change things yet again…

and, arguably, make the search for the ‘perfect’ subject line even more important. The Perfect Email Subject Line: Desirable or Essential? - image - drawing of phone with lettering

For a while now, there has been a move by some email apps. This is ntended to make the management of emails on mobiles a lot simpler, quicker and much more intuitive.

And Marissa Meyer, of Yahoo, asked at the very recent Goldman Sachs Technology Conference, “How many of you have read an email on your phone and marked it unread so you could read it on your PC later?” Thus highlighting the mess many mobile inboxes have become. It creates a frustrating and time-consuming delay for email management.

Over the next few weeks, a new email client promises to revolutionise the process of ‘triaging’ emails. This is by the use of ‘gestures’ rather than ticking boxes to move emails into folders. Mailbox, the new email client, claims that once the user becomes accustomed to using the gesture system, cleaning up the inbox becomes a matter of moments.

And this is where it affects email marketers…

The quicker the users can triage the inbox, the less time they will have to note the purpose of the email. This means the less time they will have to read the subject line. Each email marketer in each company will have to consider how to deal with this. Shorter snappier perhaps, heavily accenting the brand name might be an option.

If Mailbox takes off, and though it will only be available for the iPhone to begin with, remember that the IOS platform is and above the most popular to view emails. Others apps will follow and the time email marketers have between a user noting a new email and junking will shrink rapidly. Working to create the ‘Perfect Subject Line’ is now beyond desirable, it is essential.

Finally, a caution:

There is a huge amount of advice on a regular basis, daily even.  Although one must always be aware of any technology or CAN-Spam Act and International Privacy laws related to email marketing, some core truths will remain unchanged. Your message is a reflection of your company and your subject lines must be compliant sure; but they must be absolutely relevant to your brand, your audience…AND to the time and place of your email broadcast date.

Published Thursday January 24, 2013