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5 Email Subject Lines That Work and Why

As brands ramp up their digital marketing efforts, a staggering 37% are increasing their email budgets this year. While more investment in email marketing indicates its enduring effectiveness, it also presents a challenge: the competition for your prospects’ attention is fiercer than ever. 

With inboxes flooded with offers, news, and requests, standing out is crucial. The cornerstone of a successful email begins with the subject line—it’s your first, and often only, shot at capturing attention. 

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Let’s delve into the psychology and strategy behind crafting email subject lines that not only get clicked but also convert, thereby turning the odds in your favor in the increasingly crowded email landscape.

What Makes a Good Subject Line? 

The best subject lines tap into human nature. We’re talking about being personal, striking intrigue, and considering, but not obsessing over, our dwindling attention spans. And, most importantly, they don’t try to do too much.

Personalize your email subject lines 

Personalization has been a staple of B2C businesses for years. It’s what consumers want—76% of consumers said receiving personalized communications was a key factor in prompting their consideration of a brand. B2C companies, especially retailers, have rolled out the red carpet accordingly.

That desire for personalization is the expectation among B2B buyers, too, with 80% of them expecting the same buying experiences from B2B companies that they get from B2C ones.

It should go without saying, then, that your subject lines will shine a little brighter if they’re personalized. For example, if you know your prospect is gearing up for the holidays and is shifting their ad buys to OTT, highlight that in your subject line with something like, “Jenny, are OTT ads part of your holiday season ad strategy this year?” (Read: Make the subject line about them.)

Putting their name in the subject does help to capture their attention, but then having a subject line about OTT advertising, something that they value compels them to click on your email.

Create urgency, curiosity, and relevancy

People are naturally curious. They also respond to urgency. Business leaders, in particular, jump on opportunities to stay ahead of the competition (or catch up) and gain first-mover advantage. McKinsey calls these quick-thinkers “the winners” because they make “good decisions fast, execute them quickly, and see higher growth rates and/or overall returns from their decisions.” 

With those characteristics in mind, write subject lines that get your prospects thinking and wonder if not engaging with your email will be a missed opportunity. 

Here’s an example you could use in the lead-up to next year’s Super Bowl: Do you want 100mm+ people to see your Super Bowl commercial this year? 

The subject line taps into curiosity—do that many people really watch the Super Bowl?—but also creates a sense of urgency due to the annual nature of the Big Game. 

Keep subject lines relatively short (but don’t obsess over the length)

In a recent article published by CNN, Dr. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, said, “In 2004, we measured the average attention on a screen to be 2½ minutes.” She continued, “Some years later, we found attention spans to be about 75 seconds. Now we find people can only pay attention to one screen for an average of 47 seconds.” 

People don’t have the time or patience to read anything long. Case in point: 73% of people admit to skimming blog posts. Conventional wisdom would be that this dislike to lengthy content would also apply to subject lines. Especially, since people are skimming easily 100 subject lines in their inbox each morning to determine what they are going to read.

Interestingly, according to a study by Adestra, a U.K.-based email service provider, emails with subject lines of 90 characters and more produced the highest response rates. That said, subject lines with 30 characters or less also performed well. 

Our recommendation: Don’t obsess over keeping your subject lines to just a few words. If you have more to say, say it. What matters is that the subject line delivers value to your prospect. Test different length subject lines and see what gets better results for you.

5 Examples of Subject Lines to Inspire Your Own

1. [Competitor’s company name] is investing in [ad type]. Are you?

Nothing gets peoples’ gears turning more than knowing they’re not keeping up with their competition. 

Tap into this by using data and insights to let your prospect know their competition is investing in a format they aren’t, why that’s a missed opportunity, and, most importantly, how you can help them level the playing field (or get the upper hand). 

2. Will you be at [industry event]?

After a loss of $2 trillion in event revenue during the pandemic, Conferences and Trade Shows are back. Highlight that in your subject lines with a relevant event and follow up in the email with how they can make a splash or when you can connect at the event.

Fellow attendees are often willing to set up some time to dedicate to a salesperson while at lunch or some other “down time” at a conference or trade show. Often it is easier to provide their undivided attention during a conference vs. a “normal” day in the office when execs are being pulled in numerous directions. 

3. Dive Into [Video]: [Your sector] is up [35%] in [Video] Ad Sales!

In the crowded sea of emails, using numbers in your subject lines can offer up clarity and specificity. According to various studies, email subject lines with numbers enjoy a 57% better open rate compared to their text-only counterparts. The reason? Numbers are straightforward and digestible, providing a quick understanding of what the email contains, whether it’s “5 Ways to Boost Your Sales” or “30X ROI You Can’t Afford to Miss.” 

Similarly, using industry-specific terms or names can also yield impressive results. For instance, incorporating the word “video” in subject lines has been shown to increase open rates by 7% to 13%, tapping into the growing trend of video content consumption.

4. Last chance to get [special offering] on premium ad inventory

We’re all familiar with FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out. While there are downsides from a physical and mental health perspective, letting your prospects know that the clock is ticking can be an effective way to increase open rates.

If you want to add another layer to this subject line, add an air of exclusivity, e.g., “I have a special offer just for YOU.” 

5. “5-minute chat about [prospect’s company or their competitor’s] advertising strategy”

Jeff Su explained to Harvard Business, “Most of us are familiar with a generic ‘action required’ in subject lines, right? My recommendation is just to take it a step further and include exactly what you need the recipient to do and the estimated time it takes for them to do it.” 

Take that into consideration when crafting your next subject line. For example, instead of using, “Schedule a call” as the subject line, make it actionable by writing something like, “Spend 10 minutes understanding how you can appeal to [compeitior’s] advertisers.”

People like clarity and clear expectations can go a long way in getting prospects to open your emails. 

What Role Does AI and Data Play in Writing Awesome Subject Lines?

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the buzzword of the century, but the technology does have subject-line implications. 

Let’s start with what AI is not when it comes to subject lines: AI is not a subject-line generator and you shouldn’t use it as a copy-paste machine. 

AI is a thought starter—it’s a way to get your wheels turning and improve upon what you already have. At the end of the day, AI lacks (for now) the human element that makes subject lines stand out, so take what AI gives you and add your touch. Your prospects will notice.

If you want to take your subject-line game to the next level, pair AI with real-time insights and data about your prospects, and watch your open rates soar. 

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