“When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.”
Focus your subject line on the readers’ needs
Marketers sent more than 838 billion emails in 2013. As HubSpot’s Niti Shaw points out, that’s nearly three times the number of stars in the Milky Way.
So how can we write subject lines that help our emails stand out from the crowd?
Make them relevant, valuable and useful to your readers, suggest three Carnegie Mellon scientists. They found that people are most likely to open emails when the subject line focuses on “information I can use to live my life better.”
Craft a relevant subject line.
So how do you write subject lines that are filled with utility — that is, that are relevant, valuable and useful? Here are eight ways:
1. Highlight a reader benefit.
The best subject line I’ve received this year came from Portland Monthly Shop Talk. It said:
Talk to Tim Gunn | Free Kiehl’s Product | Bad Mall Photos
You had me at Tim Gunn!
Opportunities, offers and discounts drive the most opens, according to Lyris Technologies. So focus on what’s in it for the subscriber, not what’s in it for you, the sender.
2. Write in the language of service stories.
Words and phrases like how to, tips and secrets suggest the kinds of value-added service stories that readers seek.
Just check out the service story words in Dan Zarrella’s list of the 17 words that get clicked most often: tips, latest and giveaway, for instance.
And Sally Ormond’s list of 10 Words That Will Make People Open Your Email includes:
- Advice: “Advice for getting your whites white”
- Why: “Why stains will be a thing of the past”
- At last: “At last a washing powder you can trust”
- How to: “How to get whites white first time”
- How: “How you can banish stains forever”
- Which: “Which powder banishes stains every time?”
- Now: “Now you too can have whiter whites”
3. Ask a question.
When auctioneer Dick Soulis sent out an email about a new television series from National Geographic coming to town to search for objects that tell the story of our history, his subject line said:
Do You Have A Piece of History?
National Geographic Channel Wants You
When the facts are on your side, asking a question is more effective than making a statement, according to research by Daniel J. Howard and Robert E. Burnkrant at Ohio State University. That’s because people receive statements passively. But with questions, they actively come up with their own reasons for agreeing.
What question could you ask to draw readers into your message?
4. Add a number.
EmailLabs ran a split test of these three subject lines. Which do you think was most effective?
- Using Link Click-Through Tracking to Segment Your List
- 3 Tips to Improve Your Newsletter’s ROI
- Build Your List Through “Piggy-Back Marketing”
If you guessed the second, you’re right. “3 Tips” produced both higher open and click-through rates than the other two.
Why? Numerals sell because they promise quantifiable value. So think 3 Tips, 6 Ways, 7 Steps.
Oddly, odd numbers sell better than even ones. So 7 Steps is better than 10 Tips.
5. Go beyond ‘here’s the next issue.’
Generic subject lines — “Newsletter name, date” — are more likely to be deleted, says usability guru Jakob Nielsen. So don’t just run a generic subject line. Instead, highlight a key story.
Here are some of Nielsen’s e-zine subject lines for inspiration:
- Alertbox: Write Articles, Not Blog Postings
- Alertbox: Use Old Words When Writing for Findability
- Alertbox: Top 10 Web Design Mistakes of 2005
- Alertbox: 10 Best Intranets of 2007
- Alertbox: Talking-Head Video Is Boring Online
“A story is a verb, not a noun,” wrote one of the former editors of The New York Times. That means the verb is the story. So:
- Start with a verb.
- Choose vigorous verbs. Note: Announce, launch and introduce aren’t.
- Select verbs that promise reader benefits.
“Reach readers online,” for instance, is better than “Writing for the Web.”
7. Segment your audience.
Or let audience members segment themselves when subscribing to your ezines. Then you can send targeted messages to, say, buyers looking for luxury condos in the 64112 ZIP code, or commuters who want to know about Steel Bridge closings but could care less about the Hawthorne Bridge.
8. Create a sense of urgency.
Add deadlines, cutoff dates and other timely details that move people to act now. These techniques can nudge your readers to open your email message today instead of leaving it languishing in the inbox.
Pay 2013 fees for 2014 workshops: Book by 12/31
9. Study your spam.
Before erasing your junk mail, skim the subject lines for intriguing techniques. Create a swipe file of approaches that might work for you. Here are some relevant subject lines that caught my eye recently:
Join in. Gear Up. Head Out.
Are You Making it Difficult For Customers to Find You? Take The Quiz
Raclette Tonight, Teutonic Tasting Tomorrow, 12 Gift Ideas
Winter Wineland Invitation — Sip, Shop & Savor along the Wine Road!
80% Off Denim | The $55,000 Backpack | Huge Holiday Pop-Up Shops
5 Reasons “Everyone” is Not a Target Market
Learn a new language while you drive your car.
Learn how to shine in media interviews — Dec. 10 SNN teleseminar
Make the most of your subject line.
Some 35 percent of email recipients use the subject line to decide whether to open a message, according to a study by DoubleClick.
Which means that this teeny-tiny piece of copy does the heavy lifting when it comes to getting your email opened and read.
So make the most of your 50 characters: Show that your email is relevant, valuable and useful to your readers.
Sources: Loren McDonald, “March Intevation Report Subject Line Test — Obvious Wins,” EmailLabs, April 1, 2004
Jakob Nielsen, “Email Newsletters Pick Up Where Websites Leave Off,” Alertbox, Sept. 30, 2002
Reach readers online
Want to get the word out on the Web?
- Get it off your desk: Bring Ann’s team in to write Web copy for your organization.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Web writing workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to polish your Web writing skills with one-on-one writing coaching sessions. And find out about Ann’s upcoming webinars on writing for the Web and social media.
- Learn more: Read Ann’s Web writing learning tools. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
- Join the club: Get the whole story in the latest issue of Rev Up Readership. And find dozens of tipsheets on reaching readers online at RevUpReadership.com.
“Absolutely the best money I've ever spent. I learned more about writing for my audience from Ann in one day than I have in any other seminar.”
Carie Behounek, marketing communications coordinator, COPIC Companies
Learn to move people to act — in print and online
In all economic times, the communicators who thrive — and those who help their organizations thrive — are the ones who know how to write copy that sells: not just products and services, but programs, plans and positions, as well.
Let’s face it: Organizations can’t afford to communicate just to get the word out. They need communicators who know how to move the needle on the bottom line.
Sadly, most communicators were taught to report and inform, not to write copy that moves readers to act. In fact, many of the standard practices in business communication and PR writing today actually do more to put readers off than to persuade them.
But now there’s a way to become one of the small minority of communicators who know how to write copy that catches readers …
In April, just 60 writers will have a chance to write copy
that catches readers at my two-day Master Class.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
- Get readers to 1) pay attention to your message, 2) understand it, 3) remember it and 4) act on it. That — not merely getting the word out — is your four-part job description. You either achieve it or you don’t.
In this class, you’ll learn to ditch outdated writing practices that actually annoy, rather than attract, readers. You’ll leave with fresh techniques based on relevant research that you can use to reach and sway your audiences.
- Build your business or boost your career with top-level writing skills. As I work with communication departments throughout North America, I hear executives rant about the dearth of writing skills in business communications.
When your management team meets to discuss cutbacks or promotions, do you want to be the communicator with the most Pinterest followers — or the one who knows how to write copy that changes reader behavior?
- Slash the time it takes to write. Writing isn’t a matter of talent, it’s a matter of tricks. The more tricks you have, the more confident you are. The faster you can make decisions, because you know what works. The less time you spend agonizing over your copy, knowing something’s wrong but not knowing how to fix it.
In this class, you’ll stuff your writer’s toolbox with tricks and techniques, systems and formulas. They’ll help you write better, easier and faster.
- Stop spending your life begging for approvals. Communicators struggle with the approval process in part because we aren’t very good at explaining the art and science of writing. (Isn’t that ironic?) The ability to talk about what works and why — and to back that talk up with proven, scientific evidence — is one of the best ways I know to gain more control in the approval process.
In this class, you’ll learn about relevant research you can use to support your points and sell your approaches to management.
In two days, you’ll have time to cram your writer’s tool bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will make your copy more persuasive, make your writing decisions easier and give you the information you need to have a successful conversation with management about what works in writing and why.
If you’re a good writer, this Master Class will quickly equip you with a bigger, better bag of writing tricks. If you’re struggling, the program can give you the tools you need to get up to speed almost immediately.
Wherever you are on the learning curve, you’ll be a much better writer when you walk out the door at the end of this class. See you on April 29!
“I have a bachelorette degree in computers.”
Use marketing writing best practices
When my sister was looking for a new job, she and I worked together to rethink her resume.
We applied best practices we already use in our marcomm writing, including:
- Focus on what the reader needs, not on you and your stuff. (That’s right: even in a resume. Especially in a resume!)
- Lift your ideas off the page with display copy. Use headlines, decks, subheads and bullets to position yourself against the competition.
- Use contemporary design techniques. If your resume looks like you typed it on a manual Remington, you’re not presenting yourself as well as you could. And don’t forget color!
- Report outcomes, not inputs. It’s not the job description, but what you did with the job that makes the difference.
- Drop resume 101 approaches. Do you still have an “objectives” section at the top? Your objective is to get the job you’re applying for. Target your objective to that particular job, and put that targeted objective in your cover e-mail, not on your resume.
Here’s how to rethink your own resume:
1. Start with a headline.
Your name is not a headline. Nor is it a benefit. It’s definitely not a compelling reason to read more.
Instead of using your name, write a headline that summarizes your most compelling position in the field. Lynn and I used this formula:
- Who? State your targeted position. Sales & marketing executive …
- Does what? What skills and successes set you apart from the competition? … develops creative solutions to meet customer needs …
- To what end? What would your potential employer get from these skills and successes? … to multiply sales to major retailers.
Sales & marketing executive
develops creative solutions to consumer needs
to multiply sales to major retailers
2. Write a deck.
Here, you have a chance to highlight another element or two that might grab a hiring manager’s attention. Lynn focused on her awards, a previous brand-name employer and her two most important skills.
Award-winning Hallmark Cards marketer
combines product development expertise
with proven closing skills
3. Introduce yourself.
Now that you’ve whet the recruiter’s appetite, give them your name and current title. Remember, you and your stuff are way less important to this audience than what you can do for them.
Unless you have your own brand name in your market, your name is the least interesting thing about you. Even if you’re as bright and accomplished as Lynn.
LynnWylie Marketing Vice President | Sales Vice President
a address p phone
e email w website
4. Summarize and synthesize.
Instead of the 1990s-era career objective, offer a career profile. What are the three, five or seven most fascinating, mouth-watering, tantalizing things you bring to this position?
That’s your lead.
- B2B and B2C marketing and sales executive with 25+ years experience in both large corporations and entrepreneurial startups
- Award-winning marketer for Hallmark Cards, Inc.
- New product developer focused on customized solutions for major customers
- Proven closer who’s consistently scored double-digit growth with Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and other key accounts
- Expert in developing new markets/channels; strategic planning; licensing; contract negotiations; serving as national media spokesperson
5. Get to the meat.
A few keys to the body of your resume:
- Develop an information hierarchy for section heads, company names, titles and dates. Especially if you’ve been around for a few years, as Lynn and I have, these headings and their sizes, colors, formats and positions should signal career advancement and also be easy to use and understand.
- Focus on outcomes, not inputs. We know you had the job, but what did you do with it? Name names and number numbers to really sell your accomplishments.
- List your accomplishments. Use bullets instead of paragraph form.
- Make your list parallel. Best bet: In your mind, think “At this job, I …” Then use the rest of that sentence as your bullet. [At this job, I …] Scored double-digit growth in revenue … (Hint: Every bullet should start with a verb.)
- Limit your list. Choose three to seven bullets per job.
Dynamic Confections | Maxfield Candy Co., Salt Lake City, UT
Vice President-Marketing (January 2004-April 2012)
Vice President-Sales & Marketing (April 2012-March 2013)
- As vice president of Marketing, also took on sales to key accounts: Walmart, Target, Trader Joe’s, Aldi
Scored double-digit growth in revenue with these accounts by developing new product formats designed to meet specific retail needs
- Promoted to Vice President of Sales & Marketing — delivering 53% of company revenues with 3% of customers. As top salesperson, sold more than the next two salespeople combined
- Developed custom private-label programs for new customers/markets: Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi
- Managed Mrs. Fields licensing relationship and brand in the confections category — a multimillion-dollar confections brand in 10,000+ FDM channels in the United States
- Led product development and retail launch of Mrs. Fields Cookie Dough Delights, the market’s first shelf-stable cookie dough
Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, MO (1984-2004)
Vice President-Hallmark Licensing (1999-2004)
- Negotiated multimillion-dollar licensing contracts to extend the Hallmark brand and creative content into new businesses and channels, including Procter & Gamble, Hasbro, Fannie May Chocolates
- Responsible for $54 million in wholesale revenues
- Led cross-functional team of 14 marketing, creative, finance, sales, operations, and business services professionals
Hallmark Keepsake Ornament Collector’s club (1995-1999)
- Doubled club membership to 250,000 through consumer loyalty marketing programs — making it the largest collector’s club in the United States
- Helped drive ornament revenues from $169 million to $255 million a year
- Promoted ornament sales in collectibles industry through TV/radio appearances as national corporate spokesperson
- Received two “Homerun Awards” — annual honor recognizing Top 10 Hallmark marketers for significant business contributions
6. Wind down.
I’ve been in the workplace for 30 years. I see my age and experience — and yours and Lynn’s, as well — as a benefit, not as a handicap to hide.
That said, some of those early jobs may not be that interesting.
Instead of hiding them, I’d just taper off like Lynn does here. She starts by summarizing eight years of product development positions into one heading and three bullets.
Product Development –
Various positions in Hallmark Greeting Cards & Gift Wrap
(1987 – 1995)
- Developed new ribbon format (Curl Cascades) that delivered $16 million in new business — representing 40% of total bow/ribbon sales in launch year
- Named marketing lead to develop and launch first-to-market line of personalized greeting cards — launch year sales reached $10 million, exceeding plan by 10%
- Developed and launched new greeting card line (Just How I Feel) that exceeded $25 million in launch year revenues.
- Managed overall product development of 587 SKUs
Then, just list those early, not-very-interesting jobs. They show progression and fill in the timeline.
Product Manager – Gift Wrap
Product Manager – Greeting Cards
Product Development Strategist – Greeting Cards
Sr. Product Planner – Greeting Cards
Promotions Planner – Licensing
Special Events Coordinator
7. Cover the basics.
Unless you graduated summa cum laude or have a Phi Beta Kappa key or learned to speak Mandarin (or are a recent graduate) just list your school, degree and date.
No details necessary.
Kansas State University
BA, Journalism (1983)
The result should be a simple, two-page resume for even the most accomplished job searcher.
Good luck with your search.
Lynn not only landed a job with this resume, she landed three. (And accepted two!)
Here’s wishing you the same success with your job search.
Rev Up Readership
Want to reach more readers by revitalizing your publication, website or blog?
- Get it off your desk: Bring Ann’s team in to write readable copy for your organization.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Rev Up Readership workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to polish your writing skills with one-on-one writing coaching sessions.
- Learn more: Read Ann’s Plan Powerful Publications learning tools. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
- Join the club: Find dozens of tipsheets on planning powerful publications at RevUpReadership.com.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Make up words with this cool naming tool
I was working on a story today when a writerruption occurred: My brother sent me photos of The Cutest Kid In the World, aka my niece. I got distracted and missed my deadline.
Not really. But don’t you love the word writerruption?
I made it myself, with the cool tool Wordoid. This site is designed to help you find a catchy name for your business by auto-creating new words. But you can also create words to use in your copy, as well.
Just plug in a word or word fragment, click a button, and get your Wordoids. Here are some of the results I got when I plugged in the words edit, coach, consult, rewrite and train:
February writing contest: Create a Wordoid, define it, use it in a sentence and send it to me by March 1. If yours is the best entry, I’ll send you my favorite wordplay-themed gift.
“What’s another word for Thesaurus?”
Steven Wright, American actor, writer and stand-up comedian
‘That was so Rob Fordian’
In the December issue, I asked you to transform a name into a descriptor. (One of my clients, I mentioned, had just asked me to “Wylie-ize” part of her website.)
Here’s what you came up with:
Rob Fordian adj., describing short-sighted decision-making or immature behaviour by a public official, often accompanied by childish outbursts, binge drinking, admissions of smoking crack cocaine and/or politically incorrect remarks.
Rob Fordian is somewhat related both to “Palinesque” and the earlier “Dubba-yah,” both of which are more widely seen in the United States.
— Ken Anderson, vice president, Delta Media Inc.
Shermanize (after my own moniker, with a military “General Sherman” twist): To armor up language to combat the war against word boredom. Launch a surprise attack against blasé writing and Shermanize it! (Tank you.)
— Joan Sherman, owner, Joan Sherman Marketing Communications LLC
Volfed Recently I ran a business-writing course for an Australian bank. One of my students, Volf (pronounced “Rolf”), confessed that he loved writing in concise bullet points, but struggled to write flowing sentences. Another student said he had the opposite problem; he found it hard to write bullets.
So we practiced writing bullets. Whenever someone wrote some great bullets, we said they “Volfed” it! It was a running joke the whole day. People were telling each other to “Go Volf that copy!”
— Paul Jones, CEO, Magneto Communications
And the winner is …
I’m attracted to Ken’s subject (and I’d love to see you use “Christie-ize” in a sentence, Ken). Paul’s story is fun and visual. But I’m going with Joan for the nice extended analogy.
Joan, watch your mailbox for a little wordplay gift from me.
And thank you all for playing!
Play With Your Words writing workshop
Wordplay can help you captivate your readers, get the media to steal your sound bites and make your messages more memorable.
The good news is that wordplay doesn’t take talent. It doesn’t take creativity. Instead, it takes techniques, tricks and time.
In this writing workshop, you’ll learn techniques you can use to come up with the best headlines, leads and sound bites you’ve ever written. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Go beyond twist of phrase to diversify your wordplay. Soon, you’ll be flipping phrases; compressing details; subbing soundalikes; listing, rhyming and twisting — even coining new words. The more techniques you master, the more sophisticated and satisfying your copy will be.
- Work your word tools. There are so many great online resources for wordplay, busy writers need hardly trouble their pretty heads to write dazzlers. In this session, you’ll get links to some of the best sources — as well as ideas for how to use them.
- Get inspired by some of the world’s most creative headlines.
- Lead better brainstorming sessions. You’ll learn a simple step to add to the process that will help your group dream up more bright ideas.
- Stop writing groaners. Are you still cranking out clichés and -ing headlines? Learn techniques that let you come up with surprising lines — and leave the boring approaches to the hacks.
Interested? Contact me to schedule your on-site writing workshop.
“Great session for experienced communications and novices alike. A solid mix of anecdotal information with the statistical data and industry resources needed to help me improve my writing and counsel executive to improve their communication.”
Courtney Williams, senior manager, Internal Communications, Exelon
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.
But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- Anchorage on Aug. 6: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Alaska
- Atlanta on Feb. 26: Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for PRSA
- Lincoln, Neb., on April 17: Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for IABC Lincoln
- New York City on Dec. 8: Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
- Overland Park, Kan., on April 29-30: Catch Your Readers, a two-day master class, open to the public
- Salt Lake City on May 15: Think Like a Reader, a 90-minute preconference session, and Cut Through the Clutter, a 90-minute keynote, for the Salt Lake City PRSA chapter’s Spring Conference
- Tacoma on Aug. 20: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
- Toronto on June 8-11: Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid, a breakout session for the IABC World Conference
- Your own home or office on April 15: Write for Social Media, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
- Your own home or office on June 3: Content Marketing Writing, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Anchorage: Aug. 6
- Atlanta: Feb. 4 & 26
- Glen Rock, N.J.: Mar. 20
- Honolulu: Feb. 18
- Lincoln, Neb.: April 17
- Los Angeles: Mar. 26
- Napervill, Ill.: April 22
- New York City: Mar. 21 & Dec. 8
- Overland Park, Kan.: April 29-30
- Salt Lake City: May 15
- Tacoma: Aug. 20
- Toronto: June 8-11
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Helping Direct Energy’s employee communicators use their employee magazine to meet business goals
- Presenting writing workshops for Toyota Motor Sales
- Presenting webinars for the Public Relations Society of America
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.
Keep in touch via:
- ComPRehension, PRSA’s blog of public relations strategies and tactics
- Wylie Communications feed, click RSS
- Wylie’s Writing Tips