The Email Subject Line Worth $2.6 Million

Those who predicted the death of email spoke way too soon.

According to McKinsey, email crushes Facebook and Twitter when it comes to acquiring customers. In fact, email is 40x more effective at customer acquisition than the two social media platforms combined. That’s huge. Plus, 91 percent of US consumers still use email every day.

Still, if they don’t open your email, what’s the point? One of the most effective ways to get more opens is to craft the perfect subject line. How does an email - in the space of a few words - convince recipients that it’s worth opening?

Instead of guesswork, let’s look at how real world, winning emails did it and drill down into their method for success.

Obama Election Campaign

There’s been a lot written about how the Obama Presidential Campaign raised $690 million online, most of it from email. Let’s dig deeper into the psychology of why his emails were so effective. The campaign’s most successful subject line of all was:

I will be outspent

How much did this email generate? It’s estimated that if it had been sent to the entire Obama list, this email would have raked in $2.6 million. Not too shabby.

Why did this particular email work so well? First of all, presidential campaigns are competitions, and every side wants to win. Plus, there’s a suggestion of urgency which improves in the message. “I will be outspent” transmits the imminent threat of loss which led to a fundraising rally. Additionally, the email content provided a message that also spoke to the spirit of competition. The result was explosive.

Competitive Spirit + Imminent Loss

This subject line style works great for social causes and nonprofits. Even retail brands can tap into these emotions. The combination of competition and urgency is compelling. For instance, you might try subject lines like:

  • We’re quickly falling behindWe’re quickly falling behind
  • This can’t be happening
  • We need to rally now
  • They want to hold us back
  • Bottom of the 9th & we’re down

Later, we’ll look at how to make these kinds of subject lines even more effective. But first, let’s consider other ways to boost opens.

Tell It Like It Is

You might think that vague, cryptic, hyper-creative email subject lines will entice people to open, but the research doesn’t always back this up. With so much spam and hacking threats today, people are more careful about opening emails than ever.

Instead of being mysterious, clearly descriptive email subject lines might work better. So a vague title might be:

The secret potion for email list euphoria

Now compare this to a title that explains exactly what to expect:

Grow Your Email List 99% Faster: How One Site Did It

The second title gives concrete facts, a number and explains that there will be a case study to follow. In one study of 40 million emails, some of the highest rates of opening were very simple descriptions such as:

(Company Name) (month) Newsletter

The reason subject lines like this work is due to transparency (the company name) and telling it like it is (you’ll see a newsletter). The open rates for these straightforward subject lines can be upwards of 60 to 80%.

Invite Them Into Your World

Invitation emails can also be highly effective. For instance,

  • (Company Name) party invitation
  • Invitation from (Company Name)
  • Come to our party

Everybody likes to be invited to a party or gathering. Plus, when you mention your brand name, it’s more transparent.

When Creative Works

Don’t throw creativity out the window, but make it more personal. For instance, this cold-call email subject linegarnered a 70% open rate:

Instead of being mysterious, clearly descriptive email subject lines might work better. So a vague title might be:

Your AMAZING photos

This headline used flattery to win opens. The recipient might be thinking, “Who is seeing my photos, why do they think they’re amazing?”

Here’s another creative example that had an open rate of over 50%. This one was sent to newsletter subscribers that weren’t opening their emails:

Were we boring you?

Another example is a play on a dating theme to gain traction, such as:

Is it over between us?

Help Avoid Embarrassment

Nobody likes to be embarrassed or humiliated. Email subject lines that speak to this worry can work very well. For instance:

  • DO NOT Commit These Instagram Atrocities
  • BEWARE of these social media reputation killers

These headlines use capital letters to draw attention and speak to a person’s fear. People and brands obviously don’t want to look foolish online. Then make sure your content shows them how to avoid this.

Pull the Trigger

Trigger emails are among the most effective emails of all. These are emails you send based on customer action. They can get sent out as:

  • Response to signups
  • Confirmation
  • Purchase receipt
  • Cart abandonment notice
  • Welcome
  • Thank you
  • Other transactions

Trigger emails enjoy open rates as high as 49% (95% higher than traditional email open rates). Plus, click through rates are almost double that of other marketing emails. Forrester found that trigger-based email marketing campaigns can generate 4x more revenue and 18x greater profits.

The power behind this kind of marketing is based on an upsell strategy. For instance:

  • Thank you or purchase verification can include an additional offer or newsletter signup.
  • Customer retention emails are sent to those nearing the end of a subscription. Besides offering renewal, you share news about exciting upcoming events or offer an upgraded plan.
  • Loyalty emails send out free gifts, discounts or valuable content to subscribers. These gifts then contain an offer for new products or services.

One reason trigger emails work so well is that the audience is already engaged with your brand. They appreciate this kind of communication, and it helps continue the user journey.

Make It Personal But Leverage It

If at all possible, include the recipient’s name in the subject line. First names work better than last names. Personalized emails rack up a 22 percent higher email open rate and a 41 percent unique click-through rate compared to non-personalized emails according to Hubspot.

Now while this might be obvious, you can level up this strategy by combining it with the other methods mentioned previously. For instance, for urgency and competition you might use a line like:

  • Hey Sally, we’re quickly falling behind
  • Hey John, this can’t be happening
  • Sally, you need to rally now
  • They want to hold us back JohnThey want to hold us back John
  • Bottom of the 9th & we’re down a run Sally

You can combine personalization with nearly any other tactic. When someone you know sends you an email, the open rates reach 100%. If a brand mentions your name, this creates familiarity and confidence. Nothing will get them to open your emails more than recognizing you as a trusted voice.

Set up a personalized email campaign and watch your open rates soar. Start your free trial of MailMerge for Outlook365 today.