Use Curiosity, FOMO and Human Tendencies for Best Subject Lines

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Fireside Chat with BizHack's Founder ONLINE—Thursday @ 12pm


That was the subject line for the email I received a couple weeks ago from Dan Grech, founder and CEO of BizHack Academy for digital marketing. (Grech will be leading a Digital Marketing Roundtable at our upcoming Business Information & Media Summit in Hollywood, Fla. It is the same type of roundtable that's a key part of his training.)

There's a lot to like about that subject line. The free invitation, a specific time, getting to hear from the founder. And "Fireside Chat" has proven to be a very successful marketing phrase—in fact, we're calling our talk with Industry Dive's Sean Griffey at BIMS a fireside chat, even if it may be a bit warm outside (though A/C can bring a chill).

According to optinmonster, 47% of email recipients decide to open email based on the subject line, and 69% report email as spam based on the subject line. In an updated report last month, they wrote, "The best way to write email subject lines for higher opens (instead of being marked as spam) is by leveraging natural human tendencies and psychological principles."

Here are some of their categories for the most effective subject lines with our usual SIPA-fication:

Pain points. Fast Company does a good job at this. "9 CEOs on How They Prevent Themselves From Feeling Burned Out." "How to Be Ruthless With Your Time and Support Your Team at the Same Time." "I Create Videos for a Living. These Tools Make it Easy and Affordable." It's about knowing your "buyer personas," optinmonster writes. "Consume Content the Way You Want," Randall-Reilly sent out last week. "Why Your Sales Team Is Not Generating Enough Leads," wrote QCSS.

Curiosity. "Humans have a natural desire for closure—we don't like having gaps in our knowledge. You can leverage this desire for closure by leaving your subject line open-ended so subscribers will be curious, like a cliffhanger that can only be satisfied by opening the email." "Wonder what attendees think of your event?" was how Cvent phrased the subject line for a new interactive badge. Again from Fast Company: "This Stunning Storm-Chasing Video Was Filmed Across 30,000 Miles in 3 Months." And from Mequoda: "What Your Competitors Already Know Now." Ryan Dohrn wrote, "341 Downloads. I Must Not Be Alone."

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). "You can use this fear in your subject lines by adding an element of scarcity (limited availability) or urgency (limited time)... Subject lines that include words that imply time sensitivity–like 'urgent,' 'breaking,' 'important' or 'alert'—are proven to increase email open rates." I just received this one today: "Three weeks left to see Jake Gyllenhaal & Tom Sturridge on Broadway in SEA WALL/A LIFE." And here's a good phrase to use: "Flash Sale - Save Big on TRAVERSE 19 Registration."

Greed. "You may not think of yourself as a 'greedy' person, but it can be really tough to pass up a great deal... even if you don't really need the item right now. That's why sales, discounts and special offers work really well in your subject lines." From Mequoda—"Save $500: Register for Membership Marketing Secrets Today." Optinmonster does caution though that the higher the discount,the less reliable effect it has on your open rates—probably because of a thing called fake news. Two headlines they say worked well: "A Little Luxury at a Great Price" and "Get Priority Access."

Directness over Trendiness. "Sometimes, it's better to be direct and descriptive than trendy. Seasonal slogans such as 'Fall into savings' or 'Sizzling summer bargains' are popular, but don't offer a specific hook. Instead, try to communicate the benefits of your promotions, or call attention to specific deals." I've also talked about using company anniversaries and milestones which seem more specific and celebratory than the seasons."Cheers to 18 Years," wrote a PR company announcing their anniversary event.

Vanity. "To do this, you can either promise something that makes the subscriber look better to their peers, or invoke the fear of being shamed." One example she gives is, "Gift inspiration for the discerning cyclist." The use of "discerning" there—or any positive adjective—works well as a subtle compliment. I'm discerning; I'll read this.


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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…
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