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Kick-ass subject lines and how to write them - How Perks Works

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Print Article: Kick-ass subject lines and how to write them
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Published: November 30 2011
Kick-ass subject lines and how to write them
By Kara Trivunovic
Kick-ass subject lines and how to write them
Can I have your attention please? Yes, you! As marketers, we shout out to customers in an attempt to grab
the readers' attention and get them to engage with, buy from, and talk about our brand. Cutting through the
clutter is not an easy task, and there are several components that have to be in place for your email
message to work successfully. Getting your message delivered to the inbox is part of the equation. But the
ability to get your message across at all really starts with one simple thing: your subject line.
Subject lines are typically the determining factor of whether the recipient opens your message, so you better
make it good. As basic as the concept is, this age-old conversation has continually confounded marketers,
particularly as mobile, social, and other trends have shifted the way people attack their inboxes.
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While subject lines are among the most widely tested components of an email message, what works for one
company doesn't necessarily work for the next. Even more explicitly, what works today for you might not
work tomorrow. Subject lines are very -- well -- subjective. They either work or don't work for a particular individual, at a specific moment in time.
So how do you write a subject line that is so kick-ass that your audience simply can't pass it up? Consistently coming up with good subject lines can be an art in and
of itself, so here are a few tips to get you started.
Research suggests you have about six words to get your point across in the subject line. Therefore, keep it short and simple. Clearly indicate the purpose of the
email. Remember, you are competing with dozens of other emails in the inbox, and the reader is scanning to see what is intriguing or relevant to him at any given
time. As demonstrated in our first example below, some of the most effective subject lines are straightforward and (dare I say) boring.
Organization: Southwest Airlines
Subject: All California destinations on sale
Why it kicks ass: If someone recently searched for a trip to California on or indicated California as one of his preferred destinations,
this email could motivate the reader to book immediately through Southwest.
As a general rule of thumb, shorter subject lines -- 40 characters or fewer (including spaces) -- perform better. Of course, what works for one group might not work for
another. To that end, the reality is that most of the time, success has more to do with what you are saying as opposed to how many characters in which you say it.
Front-load important content
Subject line truncation is an important consideration in the email space as smartphone adoption steadily grows in the U.S. and abroad. eMarketer projects that the
number of U.S. smartphone users will increase from 90.1 million in 2011 to 148.6 million in 2015, representing 46 percent of the total U.S. population.
We know that widespread mobile adoption is inevitable, so here are a few technological considerations we can use as a guide. Most email clients display only the first
50 characters in a snapshot view of the inbox. Many mobile devices clients show only 25 characters, and BlackBerry subject lines show only the first 15 characters.
That said, get in the habit of front-loading your important content. Putting what's important at the beginning of your subject line ensures that crucial information doesn't
get cut off in the inbox.
Play peek-a-boo
Crafting a kick-ass subject line means speaking the language of your audience. Pay attention to the searches run on your website and the organic searches from
search engines. Consider using words from the most popular searches in your subject lines. Also, mine the subject lines of your closest competitors to get ideas for
words and phrasings.
Organization: HubSpot
Subject: [New eBook] Top 5 Mobile Marketing Case Studies
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Why it kicks ass: Mobile marketing is a hot topic right now all over the digital marketing press. While I can't say for sure what search terms drive
individuals to HubSpot, I can guess that "mobile marketing case studies" is a hotly searched phrase.
Get up close and personal
There's nothing more effective in getting your customer's attention than delivering a personalized message at just the right moment in time. The subject line is a
perfect opportunity to flex your personalization prowess and instigate a spark in the recipient's eye. How, you might ask?
You've got to do your homework. The "easy" part is populating the subject line with specific data elements, such as first name. But the practice has proven to become
less effective over time. You need to take it a bit further. Show customers how much you "understand" them by crafting subject lines for particular audience segments:
younger athletes, mothers on the East Coast, students interested in video games -- you name it. Find the common thread within a certain group -- geography,
interests, age -- and jump on it.
Many times this comes down to business history. Referencing a specific brand or product with which the customer has an affinity ($40 Crocs) as opposed to sending
out a message to everyone about the "$40 shoe sale" will increase your chances of getting the open that you want.
Organization: Mountain Dew
Subject: Rachel > Get Your Game Code for Double XP from DEW!
Why it kicks ass: It's fun! People can purchase specially marked cans of Mountain Dew and Doritos that will boost Double XP codes for multiplayer
time spent in the video game Call of Duty. This email is targeted to those who expressed interest in video gaming (presumably, as this information is
collected in the preference center). The subject line incorporates:
First name personalization
An enticing call to action (get your game code)
The value you get from it (Call of Duty double experience points and other sweepstakes prizes)
A current event (Dew sweepstakes and promotion that leverages Call of Duty game launch this fall)
Keep it real, man
When considering subject lines, talking about real life, current events, hot topics, and the like can be a real attention-grabber. I have seen many marketers attempt to
display keywords from each newsletter article or brand item on sale within the subject line -- but that is not always a good approach, especially given the fact that
most subject lines of more than 40 characters will be truncated. Instead, sum up the message content with the email's most compelling feature, top story, or primary
promotion to entice the reader to open it.
Organization: Conservative News Alerts
Subject: Video: Justice Clarence Thomas Speaks Out On Obama's Birth Certificate
Why it kicks ass: Tapping into a major news topic and the endless speculation on where Obama was born grabs attention for those who are
subscribed to this newsletter. It gets them to open and potentially read more articles.
In fact, in the spirit of personalization, try referencing a different "top story" for different audience segments depending on their past readership habits.
Get creative
A kick-ass subject line does not always have to be daring, but indeed there are times when a little creativity helps. Go outside the box and experiment with actionable
and informative subject lines to determine the best one for each message that you send.
Organization: J&R
Subject: Free Shipping DAY? People Puhleeze, We Have Free Shipping All Holiday Season!?
Why it kicks ass: J&R pokes a little fun at other retailers while announcing its holiday shipping promotion. It's playful and communicates the entire
message right there in the subject line.
Another example:
Organization: Eddie Bauer
Subject: 90 Years in Seattle - We Know Rain!
Why it kicks ass: Eddie Bauer humorously promotes wet weather gear during the rainy season and uses its heritage to demonstrate expertise of the
product line.
Just a word of caution: You might want to do a little pre-campaign testing on highly creative subject lines to ensure your entire audience does not get a message that
Give 'em the goods
Sometimes you have to spell it out. Describe the benefits of what you're offering and include value statements that your audience associates with your brand.
Highlight a particular topic of interest, belief, or attitude -- and don't assume that your entire audience feels the same way. Be sure to change the subject line
depending on differing values of your unique audience segments.
Organization: The Nature Conservancy
Subject: Eat Local and Support the Planet
Why it kicks ass: It provides an Earth Day action item to eat food grown close to home and emphasizes the importance of eating local and seasonal
ingredients. It focuses on The Nature Conservancy constituents' interest in the environment and uses motivating words that demonstrate how someone
can participate right where they are.
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This subject line could be even stronger if the local region was referenced in the subject line (e.g., Eat Illinois-grown food and Support the planet).
A little flattery never hurts
Go on and do it -- you know you should! Make your email recipients feel like you value them and want to offer nice rewards or elite status because they are such a
valued customer.
Organization: Goldstar
Subject: You're Now Eligible for Red Velvet Member Status
Why it kicks ass: It highlights Goldstar's new invitation-only service for "members who go out the most." It makes the customer feel like she is part of a
new, exclusive, vibrant, and fun group. Where do I sign up?
You knew it was coming. Testing is a crucial part of email marketing success, and most marketers embrace subject line testing as an easy, effective strategy for
optimizing campaign performance. In fact, MarketingSherpa reports that 72 percent of marketers test subject lines, and 35 percent find it to be a very effective
Subject line testing is typically an easy feat, which is a good thing. But keep in mind that deriving a long-term methodology out of a single subject line test is a
dangerous course of action. Are you forever going to include your company name at the front of your subject lines? It might work for the time being, but the
effectiveness may diminish over time. Rather than taking your learnings and automatically applying them to all of your email subject lines, the most effective strategy
is to test in real-time to determine what the right subject line is for one specific message at any given moment.
Take Travelocity, for example. It had a relatively mature email list with a significant percentage of users who had not had any email or website engagement in the past
12 months. It could have just launched a win-back email but instead decided to do a little bit of testing in order to optimize it first.
Subject line A:
"Save an additional 10 percent for a limited time only."
Subject line B: Winner
"As our valued customer, get an extra 10 percent off for a limited time only."
Customers responded to the "you're a valued customer" message over the generic one by about 10 percent. Not only did the pre-campaign testing help improve
results for the rest of the campaign emails that went out, but Travelocity also learned the point discussed above: A little flattery can go a long way.
So what can we learn from all of this? Writing subject lines is a skilled craft, and there are a number of ways to attack it. Using relevant, personalized information is
the start, but testing is the key to figuring out what resonates with your audience at any given time. A good subject line stands out in the crowd, but a kick-ass subject
line is like a diamond in the rough -- getting you that open and one step closer to an active, engaged reader.
Kara Trivunovic is global director of strategy at StrongMail Agency Services.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
Homepage image sourced from xJason.Rogersx.
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