Subject line winners & losers by Carolyn Nye @CareNye


Subject lines are one of the basics in any email marketing program. Writing an effective, compelling and relevant subject line sounds easy, but can be one of the hardest challenges for any email marketer. Crafting that small sentence to persuade customers to open and become engaged in your communications is difficult, and emails can only be effective if they are opened in the first place. So what really works out there for business to consumer sites?

Looking past the open rate and evaluating all metrics is important to understand the true effectiveness of the subject line. The email itself also needs to be relevant, create value, and hopefully lead to conversions and revenue. I took a long look over the past year and evaluated emails on all levels including open rate, click through rates, conversion and revenue. Because every site, business, and customer base is so different, what works best for one audience won’t necessarily work for another. After hundreds of campaigns, here are my top 5 most successful subject lines for the year and why I think they worked:

Winners:

1. You have $7.62 waiting for you:

Why it worked: Personalization combined with the ‘earning’ aspect led to the appeal of this subject line. The ironic part of this email was the dollar value was the same for every recipient in the list, however because of the dollar value it creates a personalized specific feel, even if it really isn’t personalized. Yes, it is a little sneaky and misleading, but this campaign had almost double the opens then any other campaign for the year. And of course if you can dynamically populated information unique to your subscriber that creates value for them, it can be very compelling.

2. Oops, we goofed! Take 20% off any order

A recent twitter conversation brought out some interesting thoughts regarding the ‘oops’ approach even when there was no actual ‘oops.’ Consumers love it when retailers make mistakes, and no doubt those who have sent out a real oops message saw the great response and may have picked up on using the strategy on a real campaign.  We ‘accidentally’ gave 20% off instead of only 10%. This email had a phenomenal open rate, but it also delivered on some incredible revenue as well. In part because the offer was strong- 20% off no min. When we tested this in an A/B versus a less appealing offer, this email delivered more than double the contribution dollars. It was a win on both fronts. As more and more mailers go this approach however, consumers will undoubtedly ‘figure it out’ and will lose part of its appeal.

3. Yikes, we did it again! Free Shipping on $39: This subject line was another play off the oops theme, using slightly different language. And who doesn’t love a free shipping offer on a low dollar threshold?

4. Holy Cow – That’s 20% off everything: In another life I was friendly with one of the artists who drew ads for Building #19 Stores, which are a chain of discount stores in New England. They are well known for their corny cartoon ads.  They were full of old-school jokes which I never understood, but for some reason they worked. I thought I’d try my take on an old corny joke. This particular email featured a cartoon cow saying “Holy Cow that’s a good deal!” The follow up reminder subject line “Moooove it or lose it 20% off” It didn’t crack the top 5, but it came close.

5. Seriously: Not your everyday Clearance Sale: Frustrated with a way to exemplify that the sale truly was, not an everyday clearance sale I just went with how I’d probably naturally say it in a conversation with someone. It really beats “EXTRA 25% plus SUPER AMAZING EXRA CLEARANCE SALE 180% OFF!!!!”

My Losers:

Which campaigns had the worst open rates for us? The bottom 5 all belong to our monthly informational newsletter. Subject Lines:

1-5: Your (month) Issue of Fun & Learning Newsletter: BORING. I use the same subject line every month, and every month is has a dismal open rate. I should know by now that referencing the newsletter issue number or month is out of date and offers nothing to the reader. Referencing the content inside and how it benefits the reader is really where to focus on newsletter subject lines.

Your turn: What subject lines worked best for you for 2010?

Takeway: Your email marketing won’t work if they don’t open and that means you need to put real thought and effort into your subject lines.

Meet the author:

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn Nye

Carolyn is Email Marketing Manager for USAData, providing businesses with consulting, data and technology solutions. Previously she was Marketing Manager for S&S Worldwide a direct marketer of arts & crafts and educational supplies for over five years. She is responsible for the planning and implementation of email marketing programs and has developed a wide variety of highly successful triggered and transactional email campaigns designed to engage customers, drive sales, improve service and overall customer satisfaction. In addition to email marketing, She is an occasional speaker and contributor at industry conferences, featured in trade articles and webinars. Carolyn holds a BS in Marketing from Umass Dartmouth and currently pursuing an MBA in E Commerce and Global Marketing from the University of New Haven.

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