Refreshing News About Email Subject Lines

Last week Adam Holden-Bache from Mass Transmit and I were interviewed by Refreshing News, a Coca-Cola publication for the food and beverage industry. The topic was email marketing subject lines. They were gathering tips on how to increase the likelihood of an email message being opened.

They were especially in the market for unique and unconventional tips, and examples of earth-shattering campaigns. I’m sure that what we discussed wasn’t exactly what they were looking for because the truth is: getting a single message opened should NOT be the end goal. Here’s the bullet-points from the interview:

What you should focus on

  • Recognition, Interest, Action. — Not just on Opens.
  • Consumer Experience and long term revenue — Less on single-instance Open Rate

Research and experience tells us…

  • Short subject lines works best, but don’t sacrifice on message just for the sake of it.
  • Subject lines with company names in them do better, at least in the short run but does that work for you?
  • Don’t use First Name personalization, instead use product or content preferences, interests, past purchases, web site activity to make message more relevant to the unique end-user.
  • The best performing subject lines tell what’s inside.
  • Lead but don’t mislead.
  • Preview-text is a powerful tool, and great place to use first name personalization.

Try these tactics

  • Instill a sense of urgency, it drives action. “Order by Midnight: Save 40%”
  • Use data, such as known demographics and customers history.  “Men’s Cardigans – BOGO Sale”
  • Use emotion. “Your wife will LOVE this cardigan”
  • Use controversial Headlines. “Cardigans Linked to World Peace”
  • Use teasers (from time to time). “What’s our most popular cardigans?

Real world examples


  • Find your voice, but mix it up (remember too that clutter is an issue, especially during the inbox busy season)
  • Getting a single email is one thing, a sustainable email program is something else.
  •  Always test! Use the available tools or do it manually, but test. Put your best foot forward but don’t assume.

I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts and see more examples, please comment and contribute!

– Scott | Indiemark


  1. Great tips for finding subject lines that work. I know that some of those do work.

    As ever what works for one person doesn’t for another so I’d also add never be afraid to try breaking a ‘rule’. The key of course is to use these as tips when creating split tests for subject lines.

  2. Great examples Scott.

    With todays inbox getting so cluttered ( not always the Brands fault..after all we will insist on signing up for everything) the subject line is often vital in getting the recipient to go that one step further and look at the preview panel or open the email.

    And consumers have long memories. If you have short changed them before by not following through the subject line into the actual content you’ll be ignored going forward. Remember the wise words of Aristotle

    gianfranco cuzziol

  3. Today I capitalized on the internet’s affinity for cats… and sales.

    “Warning: Email contains 200% more cats + 25% more discounts.”

    Open rates are kinda awesome so far. Click through is looking nice. Now to monitor sales.

  4. I disagree with “Don’t use FirstName personalization”. The subject line my team and I use perform extremely well in getting responses and ones that lead to opportunities especially in our nurture programs. Also, many of these examples are clearly B2C but some good insights that can apply to B2B. “Video Conferencing Linked to World Peace” may have to try that one soon. Thanks Scott!

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