What Are You Putting Before The Subject Line?

Copywriters know that the most important part of any piece of marketing is the headline. If they can’t work a good hook into the first line of the brochure, the sales letter or the flyer, it doesn’t matter what they write in the body of the material. It won’t be read.

For email marketers, the equivalent to the headline is the subject line… and it looks so much harder to get right.

Readers are so used to seeing email subject lines that promise them “cheap pharma,” “repl1ca watches” and worse that they glance at the subject lines and delete anything that looks like it’s selling them something. Email marketers then have to beat their heads against the wall to come up with a subject line that reflects the content but doesn’t sell, that’s personal but can still go out to thousands of recipients.

It’s an impossible mission… until you remember that the subject line is not the first contact between the marketer and the reader, and it’s not the only factor — or even the most important factor — that determines whether the email is opened.

Who is the Email Sender?

When readers look at an email they don’t just look at the subject line. They also look at the identity of the sender. Whether they choose to open and read the email depends at least as much on their relationship and their experience with that sender as with the subject of the message.

An email marketer who only sends information that readers finds genuinely interesting will have little difficulty persuading readers to open their next email. That email might be commercial. It could have the usual promo codes and links to sales pages. But if a reader benefited from an email like that in the past, they’ll want to read this one too.

On the other hand, if previous emails have been irrelevant or impersonal, have been more about the sender’s business than about the benefits that business will bring to the reader, the email is likely to be ignored.

Put Trust Before the Subject Line

That doesn’t mean the subject line should be explicitly salesy. You’ll still want to make the subject line personal and friendly. You’ll still want to create curiosity by asking questions and by hinting at giant benefits in the body of the email. But when the sender has provided something worthwhile in previous messages, readers will look past even a slightly commercial subject line to find that value again.

The real ability of a subject line to persuade a recipient to read an email then doesn’t lie in the skill of the copywriter — although he or she has a role to play. It lies in the trust that the marketer was able to build before writing that subject line. That trust is built by offering products that solve the reader’s problems. It’s maintained through good, friendly and fast customer service. And it’s deepened through offers and rewards that make the reader feel special.

Get all that right and the subject of your next email will say “You want to read this. Trust me.”

About the author
Dean Shanson is a professional marketing writer and a New York Times bestselling business book ghostwriter.