Digital Mastermind: make emails your specialist subject

We all get bombarded with emails, and many get deleted before they are even opened. We just simply do not have the time to read everything that pings into our inbox. But as marketers how can we ensure that emails we send do get opened and not binned? Are there “golden rules” to follow that can increase our email readership?

Digital marketing has evolved enormously over the last decade or so. Whereas once it was regarded as something of a black art in some circles, it has now become much more a key part of any forward thinking organisation, and is personalised and tailored for that organisation and its target audiences.

So, whilst we would be cautious about claiming to cite golden rules, we offer below some general advice about effective subject lines that may well help to get your emails open.

The curiosity gap

The curiosity gap is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Whether it’s the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Pandora’s Box, or Aesop’s Fox and Hare – since time began man has been a curious creature. We want to know more. Your email subject line needs to entice people to open it even against their better judgement.

Examples include:

  • About (or Re) …
  • You’re missing out on …
  • You won’t believe this!
  • Even more effective if you include their first name in the subject as well.

Appeal to their emotions

Your subject line needs to tug at the proverbial heartstrings. It needs to evoke some kind of emotion. Any competent salesperson will tell you that people buy for emotional reasons. So it makes sense for your email subject lines to operate on the same principle. Consider including an element of empathy or urgency or authority or even fear to persuade people to open your email. Examples could include:

  • This is your last chance
  • Can I help you ….
  • Do they even know you exist?


A step further than appealing to their emotions is to include a call-to-action. In other words, tell people what you would like them to do, or what they need to do if they want to achieve specific results. This can be very powerful in terms of offering a solution that people want and need. A call-to-action subject line makes it clear that to find this solution they need to open your email to find out how. Examples include:

  • Ready to … ?
  • How to ….
  • Open up if you want to

Be specific – Get the the point!

Use specific details in your subject line wherever possible as this helps to capture attention. If you can combine this technique with a targeted marketing campaign aimed at a specific audience then you are onto a winner. You will be able to grab your reader’s attention and entice them to open the email. Being specific also gives an air of authority and credibility. Examples include:

  • A link to download something relevant for free
  • 20% savings on their regular purchase
  • New information containing a specific statistic to grab their attention

Be conversational

People are more likely to open an email if the subject line has a friendly tone and is written conversationally. Pitch is as if you were speaking to a friend rather than writing either somewhat stilted business correspondence or – worse still – putting everything IN CAPITALS, which is immediately off-putting as it is reminiscent of shouting. Examples are:

  • Check-out these …
  • Do you remember …?
  • Thanks for helping us!

A few words of caution. Whilst the above tips will help you move your email subject lines in the right direction, nothing beats knowing your audience. So carefully crafting an effective subject line needs to be done in parallel with this and be informed by it.

The content of your email also needs to be in step with the subject line. It needs to be relevant to it and contain any information promised in it: otherwise all you are doing is using clever words to get people to open rubbish emails which will end up in the Spam folder. You will lose credibility and reputation and be worse off than when you started.

If possible it is a really good idea to test your subject lines with representatives of your target audience, to see what really does and does not work. This will give you a better idea of what people are likely to respond to and will enable you to fine tune your email marketing even further.

As with all digital marketing, the key to great results and increased conversions is understanding your audience and knowing what drives them. Only then will you be able to write truly great subject lines, using content and subjects that will really grab your reader’s attention, and persuade them to put business your way.