Email Marketing: The Subject Line Paradox

It’s 8:30AM on a Tuesday morning and from across the office Graham asks, “what are the subject lines?” He’s on fire this week with picking winning subject lines and I’ve been swinging and missing.

It’s the funniest part of our day as it get’s ‘real creative’ sometimes – quotes from Ricky Bobby seem to come up in every session. It’s also the most important work we do. The subject line is easily argued as the most important part of your email campaign – if it’s not interesting enough to open the email, the sales opportunity is lost and ROI declines. 

It’s a daily exercise in the Chatterbox digital marketing department. The creative has been approved; copy and images uploaded. ‘Sends’ have been run through Litmus over and over again for inbox optimization. The databases are uploaded and segmented. The sender profile ready to go with an authority from the winery that resonates with the consumer. And now the real work begins. What the hell is the subject line?

Your subject line is arguably the most important part of your email campaign; *33% of email recipients open an email based on the subject line alone (ref: Convince & Convert via Salesforce). A beautifully written and designed email that never gets opened is digital art. Which poses the question, “why spend the time building it if they never open your email?”  The answer is simple. Email is the marketing channel with the potential for the highest ROI when it’s done right. 

So let’s talk about what it takes to write a successful email campaign subject line.

The subject line is essentially the announcement for your email. It’s a brief introduction to the content of the email and as you compete for the consumer’s attention in their already packed inbox – that headline better have enough stickiness to create interest in opening the email. Therefore your job is to create intrigue within the psyche of the customer. The catch – on desktop you’ve got 41-50 characters (which includes spaces) to create your message. In a mobile setting, in portrait mode on bigger handheld devices (Samsung Galaxy) the maximum display is limited to 33 characters. You thought Twitter was tough to get your message across at 160 characters. Email marketing is a whole different ball game. 

Here’s a few tips on writing a subject line that will reward you with a high open rates

One: Be prepared to write 10 ideas (minimum) down on your white board. Let it all hang out, just let it flow because you will never know when one decent idea will combine with another for a really strong subject line.

Two: Flip through subject lines with high open rates in the past – the higher the stats, the higher the chance you might want to stay in that same tone or vein.

Three: Say it straight, then make it great. Avoid trying to be too fancy when you are really reaching.

Four: Create a sense of urgency, Mailing List Only or Offer Ends XXX or Not On The Website.

Five: Test, test and test again. We run A/B tests on most campaigns sent. Testing an email with two different subject lines against subsets of your targeted mailing list will render the highest open rates on your email campaigns.

Writing subject lines that get high open rates is not just an art form – it’s practice too. In the time that we’ve been running the ‘click to call’ campaigns for wineries, we’ve seen open rates range from 12% to 68%. Every day isn’t a homerun – but practice does make perfect – just ask Graham. Shoot for an open rate benchmark. Call it 30-35% open rate and then adjust from there. If you make it a game, it will be fun and some of the most creative work you do. Better yet, it sells wine.

It’s now 9:35AM. While writing this blog post and going back and fourth with subject lines – our whiteboard is full. We only need two before we push send – right now Graham is batting 800% on winning email subject lines. But we shall see – this email is queued up for an 11AM send – it’s an A/B test with the criteria set for Subject Line vs. Subject Line. At 6AM tomorrow morning I might have my first hit this week.

email marketing, Wine Sales, A/B Test,
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Based in Napa, CA and founded in 2009 – Chatterbox has been instrumental in accelerating direct to consumer wine sales conversions the old-fashioned way; over the phone.

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