The email inbox is a mysterious place.
It’s given a private address and gets hidden behind lock and key. Only a lucky few businesses gain access to it, but once they do -- it’s every brand for itself.
The average consumer subscribes and receives emails from approximately 9 different brands and when your message finally lands in a lead’s inbox, each and every one of them becomes competition.
In an inbox, industries, branding, and marketing budgets are set aside and the playing field for the recipient's attention is leveled. All any brand has to work with is a sender’s name and of course, the email subject line.
Like anyone, I check my email armed and ready to swipe left on anything that doesn’t immediately grab my attention, but the 10 emails in this article made the cut for a variety of different reasons.
Check out their subject lines below and the valuable lessons they offer for your email marketing strategy and open rates.
1) Canva: “Ever had this problem? Tell me about it.”
Why it Works: Reflection & Engagement
Canva does a great job with this vague, yet interest piquing subject line.
Not only does it make you wonder what problem they’re talking about, it also forces you to reflect on your own life and challenges. This self-evaluation makes the subject line feel that much more personal, and in turn, makes the reader more interested in clicking open.
As an added bonus, Canva humanizes their brand by making it clear that they’re looking for responses and engagement with this email. It’s not just another sales pitch; they want to connect with you personally.
The Lesson: Ask a question. By forcing your reader to reflect on themselves, your subject line is more likely to trigger an internal thought process and elicit a response.
2) UConn Athletics: “Don’t Miss The Action This Season”
Why it Works: Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)
With this email from my alma mater (#BLEEDBLUE), the UConn Athletics team capitalizes on the psychological phenomenon of “Fear of Missing Out”, or (FoMO), as it’s become known in popular culture.
Human beings are loss-adverse. Addressing what your reader is losing out on causes distress and makes them want to do whatever they can to avoid doing so -- including clicking through. Go Huskies!
The Lesson: Create a sense of urgency with your subject line. Include a deadline or phrases like “for a limited time” or “last chance” to signal to your reader that this offer isn’t going to last forever. They need to click open and act now if they want to take advantage of it.
3) Sidekick: “find anyone’s email”
Why it Works: Concision and Differentiation
Now, this one is a bit unusual. I don’t know if Sidekick’s team did it consciously or not, but regardless, their use of curt copy and all lower-cased letters caught my eye and the eye of my teammate, Christine. (We spent a good 10 minutes talking about it. Not kidding.)
While studies show readers prefer subject lines shorter than 10 characters, most that arrive in my inbox stretch across the screen and have Every Word Capitalized Like This. Sidekick broke that mold.
Visually, their subject line stands out, which is hard to do with just text. It’s different because it’s simplistic nature and it grabbed my attention by taking a more subtle approach than most others in my inbox.
The Lesson: Try the unexpected. Even if something is a little out of the ordinary in your industry, don’t be afraid to try it. A/B test different approaches/styles in your subject like (i.e. capitalization, caps, etc.) to see which your audience responds to best.
Also, remember to be brief. According to MailerMailer, emails with only 28-39 characters in their subject line see the highest click-through rates, so say as much as you can in as few words as possible.
4) Uber: “Have You Heard?”
Why it Works: Curiosity
What? What haven’t I heard? TELL ME!
Ok, maybe not every reader would react as frantically as me, but I’m sure at least one of these questions would enter their minds.
This subject line leaves absolutely everything about its contents a mystery. The only way to close the curiosity gap between what you know and what you don’t is to open the email and see where Uber takes us. (Pun very much intended.)
The Lesson: Open the curiosity gap just enough that the only way to close it is by clicking into the email. Try asking a question, making a bold statement, or using words like “secret”, “confidential”, “shocking”, etc. You can learn more about these methods here.
5) Barack Obama: “Ramona, will I see you in New York?”
Why it Works: Personalization
Not to brag or anything, but President Obama wrote this email specifically for me. See, my name’s right there in the subject line. -- At least that’s what I might think if I didn’t know any better.
Personalizing content with your reader’s name, job, home town, or any other relevant information you have about them, instantly makes it more likely to resonate with them.
Our brain’s are wired to react to hearing our names. By addressing someone using their first name in your subject line, you will create the impression of a more personal, intimate experience and grab their interest right off the bat.
The Lesson: Evaluate the information you already have about your reader and explore ways to incorporate it into your subject lines. For example, you can address them by their first name like the example above, or reference their location. This will make the message appear more relevant and in turn, more appealing.
6) Panera Bread: “Ramona, come on in and get rewarded.”
Why it Works: Motivation (Adding an Incentive)
Like POTUS, Panera starts strong by personalizing its subject line, but this one earned my click for another reason.
The restaurant chain’s subject line works because it offers a clear and direct incentive. If I click, I’ll find out how to get rewarded. If I don’t click, I won’t get rewarded. It’s as simple as that.
The Lesson: Big or small, offer an incentive and make it clear in your subject line. Even if they don’t end up following through, at least you motivated them enough to click through and learn more about your campaign.
7) Redbox: “A scary good movie night starts here.”
Why it Works: Direction
Redbox’s subject line makes for an enticing (and clever) proposition. In many ways, it is a call-to-action, giving me direction rather than just a sales pitch.
If I click this email, a great movie night awaits me. The catch is, I need to open the email to find out how. Not a bad cliffhanger, Redbox.
The Lesson: Give your reader a clear plan of action or path to conversion. Like CTAs on your website, when your subject line conveys value and a simple way to achieve it, people are more likely to follow through with the action.
8) Moe’s Southwest Grill: “Queso, Queso, Queso, Queso, Quesopalooza”
Why it Works: Humor
Welcome to Moe’s! For regular patrons of the Southwestern chain, the humor and quirk of this subject line comes as no surprise. It’s a little random and not really descriptive, but it makes you laugh and curious to see what lies inside.
The Lesson: Make ‘em laugh! Don’t be afraid to incorporate humor into your subject line copy. Humor is humanizing and using it will help decrease any friction or reluctance your reader feels about opening your email.
9) Forever 21: “LOOKS WE ❤”
Why it Works: Connection
From this subject line, it’s clear that Forever 21 knows its buyer persona.
Emojis/emoticons are basically a second language to millennials, the company’s primary audience. They associate them with fun, friends, and technology -- aka the Holy Trinity of most teenagers.
By literally incorporating a little heart into this subject line, Forever 21 appeals to these positive connotations and reinforces to their audience that they understand their lifestyle and the way they express themselves.
Unlike the word “love” they used inside the email, Forever 21’s emoji resonates with the audience on a more personal, visual level and lets them know that the contents of this email may very well be something they’ll “❤” too.
The Lesson: Speak the same language as your audience. Use words (or even symbols) that they will connect with on a personal level. Consider trying one of these unusual methods to find the right phrasing for your copy that will resonate with your audience.
10) Godiva Rewards - “Your Sweet Afternoon Meeting”
Why it Works: Addressing Pain Points
Afternoon meetings are the worst, and the sophisticated team over at Godiva knows that.
Recognizing this pain point, the delectable brand uses their subject line to position its email as your ticket to an afternoon meeting you’ll actually enjoy. It’s just one click away.
The Lesson: Turn a negative into a positive. Know your persona’s pain points and find a way to align the value in your email as a solution. If your email can help make your reader’s life or job better, there’s no reason for them not to hit open.
Subject lines, in many ways, make or break a marketing email. If yours doesn’t hit the right buttons for your reader, they’ll never make it to the meat of your campaign or complete the action you want them to so give your subject line the time and attention it deserves.
When it comes to your next campaign, use the lessons above to put your best foot forward and ultimately, generate the most leads possible. Come up with a bunch of ideas, then A/B test your very best ones on a small group before sending it out into the wild.