For E-mail Subject Lines, Tell Rather Than Sell

Jun 01, 2006 1:08 AM  By

As the sages of Spinal Tap knew, it’s a fine line between stupid and clever. According to a study by e-mail marketing software provider MailChimp, that’s true of e-mail subject lines as well.

After analyzing more than 40 million e-mails sent from its customers, MailChimp found those with the highest open rates (ranging from 60% to 87%) had the most-straightforward subject lines. Those with the lowest open rates (1%-14%) tried to be clever—and while they might have succeeded, they didn’t succeed in encouraging recipients to read further.

Among the most effective subject lines: * [Company name] Sales & Marketing Newsletter * Upcoming Events at [company name] * Invitation from [company name]

And among the least effective subject lines: * Need More Advertising Value from Your Marketing Partner? * [Company name] Pioneers in Banana Technology * It’s still summer in Tahoe! * You Asked for More…

But creativity doesn’t automatically translate to low open rates. “The difference seemed to be in the expectations that were set for the e-mails,” reported MailChimp. “For example, e-mail ‘newsletters’ are for ‘soft selling.’ They build relationships with your customers, and they’re great if your products have a very long sales cycle. Use them to slowly soften your customers for the sale or to make them feel really good about your brand. If your recipients signed up for these kinds of e-mails, don’t expect them to be very enthusiastic when, out of the blue, you send an e-mail with a subject line like ‘10% Discount! Open Now!’”

Conversely, among e-mail subscribers who signed up to receive news of promotions and sales, a subject line trumpeting that same discount may result in much higher open rates. “They’ll be expecting a ‘hard sell’ from you,” according to MailChimp. “It’s when marketers send promotional e-mails to their entire ‘newsletter’ list [that] things go wrong.”

In a nutshell: Segment your e-mail subscribers by the type of messages they expect to receive from you (informational vs. promotional), and then use the subject line to state what’s within the e-mail. “The best subject lines tell what’s inside,” according to MailChimp, “and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.”