Case Study: Creativity vs. clarity in email subject lines
Editor’s Note: One of the prizes of winning the MarketingSherpa Reader’s Choice Awards is the chance for a guest post here on the MarketingSherpa blog. Today’s post is by Amanda Gagnon of the AWeber Communications blog, chosen as best email marketing blog … by you.
It’s critical for any marketing email to be labeled with an appealing, even gripping, subject line. Since the subject line acts as the email’s introduction, if it deflects attention, the rest of the message never gets seen.
The question is, what do consumers find appealing? What grips them?
The AWeber team investigated results from recent email broadcasts promoting posts on our blog to find out.
Test: Clarity vs. creativity in email subject lines
Subject lines written to appeal with creativity were identified, as well as subject lines written in a clear, straightforward manner.
Subject lines written creatively included:
- AWeber’s AWesome Anthony A.
- Getting Earth-Friendly Beyond Email
- Threadless’ Frequency Alert: Hot or Not?
Subject lines written with clarity included:
- Grow Your Email List 99% Faster: How One Site Did It
- 43 Free Animated GIFs For Your Email Campaign
- Email Timing: A Look At 6 Marketers
The test was run across 20 subject lines, sent to a list of over 45,000 subscribers. The clear, straightforward subject lines gathered far more response than their creative counterparts, surpassing them by:
On average, each channel garnered 541% more response from the clear subject lines.
Analysis: Why does clarity work in subject lines?
An email’s subject line has three objectives:
- To get the brand in front of consumers
- To get the email opened
- Failing that, to communicate a key message from the brand to the subscribers
The first objective — getting the brand in front of consumers — happens during routine inbox checks no matter what the subject line says.
The second objective — getting the email opened — depends on several factors: the appeal of the subject line, the past relationship between the brand and the consumer, and the frame of mind the consumer is in.
The more rushed or detached the consumer’s frame of mind, the higher the subject line’s appeal needs to be.
So, clarity is paramount.
“If your emails are going to your target audience, your readers have requested what you’re sending,” says Justin Premick, AWeber’s Director of Education Marketing. “Telling them in the subject line exactly what it is confirms for them that they want it.”
While the ideal outcome is to get the email opened, there will inevitably be subscribers who won’t see the main message inside. That’s where the third objective comes in — getting a key message across to those subscribers.
A clear subject line, of course, can get that message across, even if it’s abbreviated. However, this raises a question:
If the subject line gets the key message across, why would people bother to open the email?
The stats above show that opens don’t stop; in fact, they’re higher when the subject line is clear.
The answer lies in the nature of the key message. A subject line shouldn’t give away all of the information inside. Instead, it should clearly explain what that information is about.
For example, if a tea shop were celebrating a new location’s grand opening, its email’s subject line wouldn’t read, “Tea Party at 4 p.m., 9/12/12 at 8 Main St.”
That’s not clarity — it’s throwing itself at readers.
And, it wouldn’t read, “The Mad Hatter on Main.” That’s creative, but it doesn’t tell subscribers what they’ll find inside at all.
Instead, it might read, “Your Invitation to Our Grand Opening Tea Party.”
This clear subject line, with its promise of more details inside, would get the opens.
Findings From MarketingSherpa: Relevancy is Key (via AWeber Communications blog)
MarketingExperiments Research Directory (contains A/B testing case studies with explanation of lessons learned)