Hunting back through the many marketing emails I’ve received over the last few weeks, one in particular stood out. It was from Sony, and, more specifically, related to the Playstation 3. As introductions go, they’ve pretty much got everything right.

In particular, the subject line was a killer: “Take a trip down memory lane with Playstation”, it read. Instantly, I wanted to know what they’re talking about. They’re seizing the moment with their new console, the Playstation 4, just a few months from release. They are also aware that, if there’s one thing gamers like doing, it’s looking back. Retro gaming has exploded in recent years and, while this email doesn’t promise to go back quite that far, its subject line will have struck a chord with most subscribers.

They haven’t stopped there, either. We like imagery in email marketing, but it has to be used effectively, and Sony have once again hit the nail on the head. The main image is inviting, attractive and, with several well-known characters on display, instantly engaging. A small, well-constructed piece of copy floats on top of the image and the orange call-to-action button is inviting.

But back to the subject line. Without wishing to add any further fuel to the fire, Gmail’s new tabbed inbox has prompted an even greater emphasis on email subject lines. To get noticed in the ‘promotions’ tab (the one in which you will inevitably end up as an email marketer, unless you instruct your audience to move you elsewhere), you need to shout loud. Sony’s email above will have performed very well in a Gmail user’s inbox and would easily have stood out from its spam-based neighbours.

But what makes a good subject line? Firstly, it needs to be honest and convey what is on offer within the email itself. That’s not an easy trick to pull off when you’re working in such a tight space; the rise of mobile email consumption has prompted many experts to suggest a maximum of 30 characters for subject lines. Every recipient will look at your email with one question in their head: ‘What’s in it for me?’. You need to answer that quickly if they are to continue reading.

Email subject lines should be thought of as news headlines. How many times have you picked up a newspaper and been immediately drawn into the front page because of the words printed on top of it? As email marketers, we can learn a lot from Fleet Street. So, today, we’ve got 6 tips for writing killer subject lines:

  1. What’s the benefit? Offering something in return for a subscriber clicking the call-to-action button within your email should never be considered a cheap way of increasing engagement. It is absolutely crucial if you are to ensure they stay a subscriber and it’ll increase their advocacy to your company. We’re all consumers, and we all value extra treats from companies.
  2. Learn from soaps. No, not the kind you bathe with – soap operas. They know how to leave everyone wanting more at the end of an episode, and the subject line for your next email campaign is your own soap episode. Make it actionable, so that the subscriber knows what they can do once they open the email and provide a sense of excitement when they read the subject line.
  3. Personalisation – be careful. I recently blogged about retaining the personal touch in email marketing, and adding personalisation to your messages by including recipient names is a huge part of that. This is a practice often carried out in subject lines, too, but you need to be cautious when doing so. If you get the name wrong, for example, you would have been far better off not using personalisation at all. If it isn’t forced, it will work well. The use of  subscriber locations and recent purchases, for example, can work really well.
  4. Don’t be too narrow. It is important to keep emails concise, but if you are in the business of selling products and you only feature one offer in your email newsletter, subscribers to whom the particular product doesn’t appeal might assume the entire email is irrelevant. Sometimes, it’s best not to focus on one offer – look for something else within your email which you can highlight.
  5. Don’t tease. Once again, another one for the soap fans. A cliff-hanger is not the same as a tease, and the latter should be avoided just as much in email as it is in Albert Square. Subscribers aren’t daft. They’ve got busy email inboxes, and they’re busy themselves, therefore they are unlikely to be fooled by clever-cloggs copy. They need an immediate reason to open your email – make sure they get it!
  6. Urgent! Finally, and perhaps most importantly, create a sense of urgency. This very much relates to the tip above – we live in an increasingly busy world. No matter how much the way in which we all seem to hurry through the week could be frowned upon by past generations, it is a reality. Time is of the essence and as email marketers we can use this to our utmost advantage. If you can, tie your subject line to a particular date or event: ‘This Sunday only!” or “Don’t miss out this Easter!”, for example. Similarly, if you have a sale starting, don’t be afraid to email your subscribers a couple of times about it, raising the sense of urgency with each send.