How NOT to write subject lines for your marketing emails

Tuesday teardown – In summary:

  • If you’re selling a complex product to a busy consumer (i.e. B2B) then email marketing is one of the best strategies for reaching potential clients
  • Open rates are an important measure of subject line success and content : audience alignment.  Your aim should always be to maximise long term average open rates (rather than looking for one-off spikes)
  • Don’t ever “bait-and-switch”: using a highly provocative subject line that’s ultimately unrelated to the content that you’re delivering

Transcript of this teardown:

Hi. I’m Steve Pell from TLP. I’m here to do another one of our Tuesday Teardowns, where we pull apart some well-known digital marketing examples to improve the way that you go about marketing and selling online.

Now, today I’m going to talk about email subject lines. If you’re in B2B, of if you’re selling to a sophisticated busy consumer then email marketing is one of the best strategies for reaching those people every day of the year in their inbox.

With email marketing you own the list and you own the ability to market to that list. It’s a strategy that despite the fact it’s been around for a long time… there is still nothing that gets quite close to the effectiveness of email marketing when it’s done really well.

What I’m going to talk about today is a question that I’ve got for you, which is: “Is a higher open rate always better?” A lot of people who do email marketing are very, very focused on their open rates. This is an example that I’d like to show you where a higher open rate might not necessarily be the best thing for your marketing, for your sales strategy long term.

Now, the example I’m using is Jeff Hyman. Jeff was the CEO at Retrofit, he is now the chairman. He has also started up this consultancy called “Startup Therapist.” They do talent consulting, recruiting consulting for start-ups, and the email that he sent here that really caught my attention had the subject line “OMFG! I have a quick question.”

For me, this is really a good example of click bait in a subject line. This catches attention, using OMFG in the email, but what’s happened is, the subject line doesn’t align in any way to the article. It’s a classic bait-and-switch. When this bait-and-switch happens, that is, for me, what click bait really is.

If his article delivered on this promise that it was a massive question that he just had to ask me right now – instead of a promotion for his new eBook this subject line would probably be fine. But instead he has given me the bait-and-switch. He has used a very, very provocative subject line that would have seen great open rates, probably a 50% open rate on this, but he has damaged his long term relationship with me as a reader, because next time I receive something provocative – and if you look through the emails that Jeff sends, he does do this a bit – next time I receive something provocative I just don’t open it, because I know that he is doing it to get me to open with the bait-and-switch. The article I’m going to read or the content I’m going to read isn’t what was promised in the subject line.

As soon as you break your promise to your subscribers – to the people who are reading your emails – your open rates will be damaged long term. So, I’d say, always think about the long term. What you want to do is maximize your long term open rates, get the maximum number of people who are long term engaged with your content. Don’t fall into the boy who cried wolf trap of getting all the attention you can right now and sacrificing the long term engagement and trust of your list.

I’m Steve Pell. That’s been another one of our Tuesday Teardowns. We’d love you to comment or share below. Thank you so much.