Subject Lines: How Brands Can Stand Out

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Being a copywriter in the digital marketing space for the last eight years has taught me many things, particularly the importance of standing out. In today’s overcrowded world, customers expect authentic experiences and success relies on how businesses are differentiating themselves from competitors. When it comes to the inbox, the subject line is the best place for a brand to stand out and showcase its individuality from other brands. Following subject line best practices can make all the difference. However, after writing more than 20,000 subject lines for hundreds of clients, I’ve discovered that best practices, alone, are not enough to generate success.

What are best practices?

Best practices are tried-and-true methods employed in certain creative pursuits, and are particularly adhered to in the world of email design and marketing. Thanks to comprehensive analytics on email performance, little argument can be made against the effectiveness of best practices. But, if we all use the same best practices, every brand’s subject line would look the same. With that said, subject line curators should not necessarily be using the same words, phrases and punctuations repeatedly.

The Importance of Standing Out

Certain words and strategies consistently do well in relation to subject line performance, such as “SALE” and “FREE.” Highlighting current promotions can attract more clicks as well. Chances are, however, a generic line such as “Shop our sale now!” or “Free offer inside” or “Take 20% OFF” is competing with other similar subject lines. It might even mirror another line exactly. So, how can you take these effective phrases and stand out in the inbox?

A small tweak can work magic. Let’s take a look.

EXAMPLE #1
It’s SALE time – save up to 50% off. SHOP NOW!

This line incorporates proven tactics like capitalization, the use of a numeric promotional device and excitement. However, many other brands will have similar sales, so trying to insert a unique term could be the trick. Having a clearer “SHOP NOW” call-to-action could also be beneficial. If it means online shopping, highlight that.

Suggestion A:
SALE FRENZY: Summer wear now up to 50% OFF

Suggestion B:
50% OFF cures summertime blues. SHOP NOW – online!

Suggestion C:
Make the beach days last @ our Sizzling 50% OFF Sale

EXAMPLE #2
Enjoy your EXCLUSIVE [BRAND NAME] offer

You see this all the time—a brand’s name appearing in the subject line. Remember, the email sender appears in the inbox and repeating the name in the subject line is taking up valuable real estate that might be better used for more specific or promotional information. Subscribers know who the email is coming from, so hit them with what they really want! Highlight the unique or valuable offer contained within. In the case below, we use examples of a food or beverage retailer.

Suggestion A:
Yum! Savor your offer waiting inside…

Suggestion B:
Exclusive + exquisitely delish: Your FREE offer

Suggestion C:
So very, very tempting – and all YOURS. Dig in >>

EXAMPLE #3
GRAND OPENING!! You’re invited

Customers love getting exclusive perks, and even if a perk is available to all, there’s a way to make it feel special and unique. A grand opening, for instance, generates a lot of excitement and is almost always associated with free swag, refreshments, or a sale you can promote in the subject line.  Even though it’s open to everyone willing to make the journey, you can still push these benefits, as well as proximity and even employment prospects.

Suggestion A:
Goodies galore at our GRAND OPENING – you’re invited!

Suggestion B:
Meet your NEW neighbor – it’s our GRAND OPENING

Suggestion C:
★ Grand opening alert: We need STARS for our team ★

EXAMPLE #4
We’re your one-stop shop!

Email is supposed to be about convenience. It’s convenient to send, it’s convenient to open (but just as easy to delete) and it should, whenever possible, speak to conveniences the brand offers the customer. A line like the one above, however, says nothing about the brand, its personality, its atmosphere or the most basic detail: what it provides to customers. When you use a subject line, step back and think – “Can ANY company say this?” Look below – it’s car insurance with a smile.

Suggestion A:
Shopping for car insurance? HIT THE BRAKES—

Suggestion B:
The journey of a million miles starts with…car insurance

Suggestion C:
We’re warming up the driver’s seat for you…

EXAMPLE #5
Kick off the holiday season

The holidays are typically crunch time for most retailers, so crafting carefully planned subject lines can sometimes take a back seat. But stressing over your inventory and promotions if people aren’t motivated to discover them through your digital marketing won’t do you any good. Your subject lines are the hook you use to reel customers in; if it’s not effective, think of it as a potential business loss. And if it’s like every other line tossed at the same customers, it’s likely to be passed over. To that, I say BAH HUMBUG! You should shine.

Suggestion A:
FREEZE! Shop skis, snowboards & holiday gifts

Suggestion B:
Out of outdoors gift ideas? Let’s go exploring –>

Suggestion C:
Hectic holiday shopping needs to CHILL. OUT.

A Final Note—Think Before You Click
You want discerning customers who are truly satisfied with their purchases, and you should approach subject line creation with the same discernable eye. If it’s already been tested and utilized, and success is starting to decline, it may be time for some fresh concepts. Shake up the standard best practices with the flavor and personality of your brand, and those time-tested strategies will work to push your message to the front of the pack!