Email Subject Lines: The Worst Advice You’re Probably Taking

How believable are these statements about email subject lines? This cold email subject line earns a 34% open rate for a B2B software company: “[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” This subject line earns a 42% open rate: “Time to meet?” If you’ve sent any cold email lately, you’ll be laughing right about now.

How believable are these statements about email subject lines? This cold email subject line earns a 34% open rate for a B2B software company: “[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” This subject line earns a 42% open rate: “Time to meet?”

If you’ve sent any cold email lately, you’ll be laughing right about now. These are two of the worst performing subject lines these days …  based on my personal experience sending cold email, as well as my wider experience coaching B2B sales reps.

Yet, these claims are being made by a sales email automation software provider. In fact, these particular subject line claims come from a respected, growing software-as-a-service (SaaS) company. They’re publishing a guide book of subject line advice.

So are these subject line claims fact or fiction? It matters not. What matters is there’s a fox in the hen house.

Who Do You Trust With Sales Email Strategy?

Where do you/your reps turn for sales email best practices? How are you educating sales reps … or how are they educating themselves on email subject lines? Who do you trust with the email writing portion of your sales prospecting strategy?

Googling templates can be dangerous. You won’t find a better-than-average way to start email conversations via Google. Because Almighty G is everyone’s top go-to source for subject line short-cuts.

Most demand generation, marketing, sales enablement pros and reps are turning to software vendors claiming communication expertise. Yet 95% of folks I meet experience complete lack of success using these tips.

Here’s why: The tips and advice are garbage. There’s no other way to put it and I won’t single-out any one provider.

Yes, I admit, it seems logical … turning to vendors providing sales email automation tools. But most organizations fail to realize: trusting software vendors ensures sending sellers to market with sub-par email subject lines and messages.

In fact, it guarantees:

  • sending them to battle with messages competitors are using
  • encouraging reps to form self-defeating communications habits

You cannot afford to invest in this kind of advice. It’s free but it’s not serving your best interest. It threatens you/your team.

The Truth About Your Software Vendor

Software companies are not communications experts. Period.

No, sales automation and engagement software providers aren’t evil. I get that. Many of these tools are quite handy. But setting email strategy based on advice from software providers is dangerous and foolish. Because they are not communications experts. They are tool experts whose clients need communications expertise … to use the tools.

It’s easy (for SaaS providers) to provide communications advice that won’t hurt clients, but won’t help either. Investing in quality communications expertise for software companies is not part of the SaaS business model. Even LinkedIn has invested in communications expertise to support its larger Sales Navigator clients, investing upwards of $200,000 annually.

Yet many of these sales teams end up knocking on my door… asking for help with communications technique. They often recognize LinkedIn’s communications tips aren’t on par and, in fact, are being handed out to competitors.

Relying on software vendors ensures zero competitive edge. Your tool is great. But your tactics are outdated.

Flawed Logic and Secret Formulas

Here are just a few examples of what sales automation software providers are telling prospects and customers who use their tools. They go as far as claiming to have “secret formulas.”

Catchy, compelling email subject lines will vastly increase your email open rates and engage prospects. 

This is simply not true. Catchy fails terribly. In practice, attempts to compel also fail miserably. What software vendors don’t understand is how readers are numb to catchy, see right through such attempts. They are also spotting anyone who tries to compel them into opening. Catchy & compelling don’t work. This kind of advice is clearly coming from a marketing person.

Effective email subject lines are direct, straight to the point and crystal clear.

Wrong again. Cold email arrives without context. Prospects have not opted-in to receive it. The more specific your subject is about the message contents (and your goal as a seller) the lower open and response rates it earns. From your target’s perspective, they don’t need to open when the subject indicates, “this is a cold email about a subject that 15 sellers per day email me about… to sell me.”

They delete, without hesitation.

Performing email subject lines are personal, directly reference the company or the prospect’s name.

While this is true in a minority of cases it is a disingenuous statement. Truth is, this is an old marketing ploy that also fails to work in most B2B contexts. As time progresses this tactic is trending negative. Using a database merge from your list into the subject line is, actually, a tell-tale sign of spam for humans and machines. Prospects and spam guard tools easily find and mark these subject lines as spam. Again, not in all cases but increasingly across B2B.

Marketing Creep

In most cases, marketing staff write B2B email messages for reps to apply. And/or reps turn to marketing materials, cut-and-paste into emails and press send. Marketing is creeping into sales emails and it’s not helping. For example, calls to action. We are told:

Good subject lines include a call to action.

I honestly don’t know how anyone could take this seriously… yet many folks are. Calls-to-action are inherently marketing-oriented. If you want your B2B sales prospecting email to get opened, and read, do not include a call to action. Using a call to action in your subject is a tired marketing concept, not appropriate for sales.

“RE:” and “FWD:” are powerful when used appropriately.

In other words, tricking your target prospect (into believing your cold email is, actually, part of an on-going conversation) is good practice, “when used appropriately.”

Is there ever a time to trick your prospect into believing your communication is part of something it is not? Only a marketing person could suggest this filthy tactic.

Do yourself a favor: Don’t use this technique. I know many people who do (and are successful at starting conversations through trickery) but be careful of the negative repercussions… including forming habits that, ultimately, will sabotage good communications habits. Use your precious time to start honest dialogues with prospects. Don’t insult their intelligence.

“[first name], quick call next Tuesday?” is effective at earning opens because prospects like to see their name & appreciate yes/no emails.

Truth is, in a B2B context this stopped working for 90% of us about 10 years ago. Most B2B decision-makers receive dozens of pre-mature, cold meeting requests per day. Some receive over 100 per day. If you’d like to signal, “One of the steady stream of sales reps asking for your time to sell you something” feel free to use this subject line and subscribe to this outdated logic.

Remember: You won’t find a superior (let alone effective) way to start conversations by copying everyone else, based on what you found on Google. Avoid turning to software vendors claiming communication expertise. Otherwise, what has your experience been?

Is Lying the New Marketing Normal?

There are plenty of studies that emphasize the importance of the subject line. And, with many email clients providing a snippet of the first paragraph of the email in a preview panel, somewhere a marketer decided it was okay to lie in order to garner your attention.

email“I noticed you didn’t complete your registration.”

“As I mentioned in my phone call to you…”

“You had asked me to follow up…”

These are just three of the opening lines used in emails to me lately, and while they may have been designed to be the second step in a contact strategy, the reality is: I have never had any contact with these organizations.

And, since I’ve noticed these techniques repeatedly, I have to believe they are deliberately designed to “trick” me into believing I was part of some previous interaction. But is that the right way to try and start a relationship that will lead to a sale?

With our in-boxes clogged with an increasing number of unsolicited emails (the Radicati Group claims the average office worker receives 121 emails a day), and 49.7 percent of that is considered spam, recipients are making a decision in 8 seconds as to whether or not your email is worthy of a longer look.

There are plenty of studies that emphasize the importance of the subject line. And, with many email clients providing a snippet of the first paragraph of the email in a preview panel, somewhere a marketer decided it was okay to lie in order to garner your attention.

Deceptive selling practices are certainly not a new idea. In his 1985 book “Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage,” author Dr. Paul Ekman writes, “There are two primary ways to lie: to conceal and to falsify. In concealing, the liar withholds some information without actually saying anything untrue. In falsifying, the liar takes an additional step. Not only does the liar withhold true information, but he presents false information as if it were true.”

In marketing, lying usually means manipulation and — let’s face it — advertising doesn’t exactly maintain a reputation for honesty. Who can forget Skechers and Kim Kardashian who teamed up to claim that by simply putting on a pair of their shoes you’d magically get buns of steel? The FTC didn’t buy it, and they ended up paying a $40 million settlement.

Classmates.com lied in their email when they told prospects that an old friend was trying to contact them. It cost them a $9.5 million class-action lawsuit.

So what does a lie achieve?

For starters, it completely disintegrated the credibility of DM News as they used one of the tactics I noted at the start of this blog in a recent email to me. As one of my industry go-to resources, they should know better.

The Root Cause of Prospecting Email Troubles

Whether using standard email or LinkedIn’s InMail, there is one problem I see repeatedly: Talking about the benefits of products and services too soon. It’s the most common sales prospecting email hurdle to jump, and for good reason.

EmailWhether using standard email or LinkedIn’s InMail, there is one problem I see repeatedly: Talking about the benefits of products and services too soon. It’s the most common sales prospecting email hurdle to jump, and for good reason.

Most sellers are stuck. “What else is there to talk about at this point anyway?”

That’s why we take the easy way out. The lazy way. Talking about solutions to customers’ problems.

And that’s why we fail to earn replies. Instead, we talk only about their problems — not your solution. Not yet.

Yes, there may be other problems sabotaging your cold email, such as:

  • A subject line that is too “telling” about your message
  • Length of your message and/or lack of a provocative element
  • Use of words that subvert your goal, don’t trigger an immediate reply

But the issue of breaking the ice is the most common problem when prospecting using email. How can you start a relevant conversation when you don’t know what to talk about?

How to Break the Habit
The fastest way to break the habit is to take action right now. Literally. First, let’s put the problem into context.

Talking about benefits with your prospects isn’t the problem. The problem is your entire approach style. The premise of your approach.

Your first touch email must not:

  • Attempt to earn a meeting, appointment or demo
  • Take longer than 20 seconds to read
  • Reference you, your client list, products nor benefits

Do not try for the meeting in your first touch. Asking for what you want, too soon, will fail.

Instead, attract the prospect to the idea of talking with you. First, get invited to discuss a challenge, fear or goal your prospect has.

The meeting will come. Trust in it.

Be brief, blunt and provocative.

Talk About This Instead: Real Life
If you’re not in touch with the day-to-day nightmares, problems, hidden challenges, big opportunities and nagging suspicions of your customers, nothing will help you. Period. You must be willing to research, understand and know your prospects inside-out.

No exceptions.

Email Creative That Demands an “I Do”

So my big sister is getting married in July! I’m the maid of honor, which means somewhere along the way I signed up for one wedding planner website or another. Obviously, this means my personal inbox has been overflowing for the last six months with everything from florist promotions to caterers to personalized cufflinks.

So my big sister is getting married in July! I’m the maid of honor, which means somewhere along the way I signed up for one wedding planner website or another. Obviously, this means my personal inbox has been overflowing for the last six months with everything from florist promotions to caterers to personalized cufflinks.

Promotions for pretty much any object or service you could ever even vaguely imagine at a wedding have made their way into my inbox. Half the time I’m too lazy to unsubscribe from all these lists, but it turned out for the best because now I get to focus a blog entry on it!

Thought I’d just give you a little taste of a few bridal-centric emails I thought really caught the bouquet. In the spirit of wedding themes, I’m using an age-old nuptials adage as a guide. To be honest it’s probably going to take a little creative fudging to fit my choices into these categories. Work with me here, planning a wedding is stressful.

SOMETHING OLD
From:
MyGatsby.com
Subj.:
10 Days Only: Enjoy 40% OFF Wedding Invitations
Why it’s an “I Do”: Subject line cuts to the chase and gives a clear time frame to act within. 40% is an appealing offer for anyone shopping around for invitations which, like all things matrimonial, can lighten your purse quite a bit. The email itself has a nice, clean, elegant look as well.

SOMETHING NEW
From:
J. Crew
Subj.:
Exciting wedding news…
Why it’s an “I Do”: Big fan of the ellipsis in subject lines, I fall for them regularly, just can’t handle the suspense. Beautiful HTML design that makes it easy to quickly find your fashions—the full email had a section for the groom and groomsmen too.

SOMETHING BORROWED
From:
www.BellaPictures.com (From line: Nicole Reilly)
Subj.: Touching base about your wedding
Why it’s an “I Do”: First off, this one’s a Something Borrowed because apparently I’ve borrowed my sister’s name and her role in the wedding. News to me! So they get a few points docked for not looking at the “I am the __________ in this wedding” response on whichever form got me added to this list. That said, the subject line, text-based copy, and conversational tone were all on point. It really does feel like this is someone you’ve already chatted with, making their studio more appealing. The casual question about venue in the beginning is a nice personal touch.

SOMETHING BLUE
From:
David’s Bridal
Subj.: Bridesmaids, Get Your Lace On!
Why it’s an “I Do”: When it comes to fashion, sometimes it’s best to let the image do the talking, such is the case here. The few lines of text above and below are just brief and easy-breezy enough to give the extra nudge—plus, of course, a free shipping offer. Not to get all color-psychological on you, but maybe worth noting that pale blue like the shade they chose for this email is by and large considered to be pleasing and calming to the human eye.

Actually, that last one gives me an idea for testing the same copy and creative with varying color schemes. Look out for that in a future post, maybe. As always, feel free to comment if you have more to add about these picks, or if something landed in your inbox you’d like to share.

In the meantime, I’m knee-deep in shower planning and the wedding isn’t until July but I’m already having nightmares about writing my speech. I’m not sure any amount of email marketing analysis can help me there. Wish me luck!

My Inbox Knows the Season Better Than the Weather

The famous poet Percy Shelley once wrote, “O wind, if winter comes, can spring and a million emails using flower puns and references to April showers be far behind?”  I’m pretty sure that was the quote anyway. Or it should have been

The famous poet Percy Shelley once wrote, “O wind, if winter comes, can spring and a million emails using flower puns and references to April showers be far behind?” I’m pretty sure that was the quote anyway. Or it should have been.

Ladies and gents, break out your Vivaldi, Spring is officially here! Though the weather here in Philly hasn’t quite gotten the memo, my inbox makes it unmistakably clear. As is the case for any distinct time of year or holiday season, marketers love to use springtime as inspiration for subject lines and creative. Some of them we’ve all seen and used before, but some are as colorful and refreshing as the season itself.

I took a quick peek through my own inbox as well as the trusty Who’s Mailing What! database to find a few stand-out spring-themed promotions. Check out my bouquet of fresh spring pickings, in no particular order. (You can see images of the emails themselves in the media player at right.)

From: Brighton Collectables
Subj.: Adorable Spring Charms
Why I like it: The subject’s straight-forward enough, we get exactly what it says on the tin. Once I opened, it’s the cutesy rhyme and clean but eye-catching pastel “Easter egg” design that had me chirping. In the original email, the egg basket charm actually opened and closed as well.

From: ZOYA
Subj.: Fill Your Easter Basket With ZOYA
Why I like it: Another spin on the “fill your Easter basket” idea, this is another email I just really like the look of. This is definitely my kind of Easter basket, and just looking at the colorful display would tempt any polish fan to stock up on spring shades. And of course, a good coupon code is always hard to resist.

From: FeelGoodStore.Com
Subj.: Never fear a puddle again
Why I like it: This one’s approach to the spring theme is a little more subtle (much like the approach of spring itself if you live in the northeast. Ha.) The creative is simple and nice enough, but it’s the subject line that really made the grade. In the half a second it takes to skim over a subject line, I was certainly intrigued enough to open, wondering why puddles no longer pose any threat to me.

From: IKEA
Subj.: We’ve got #SPRINGFEVER for smart style!
Why I like it: Always love a good hashtag in a subject line, first of all. Second, IKEA knows we have spring cleaning on the mind and they’re taking full advantage. An email like this one, including links to ideas and tips for affordable springtime organization and rejuvenation, could easily spur a reader into action.

From: DogVacay
Subj.: Going on Spring Break? Get $10 Off Pet Sitting.
Why I like it: Here’s another subject line that I think works because it serves as a reminder and an action item—Oh, I did forget to make arrangements for Fluffy next week, good thing I’ve got this link and discount offer right here! The playful, sunny imagery and large, bright CTA button tie it all up with a bowwow.

Honorable Mentions

From: Rejuvenation Lighting & House Parts
Subj.: SAVE 20% ON WINDOWS AND WALLS + 6 ways to spring for green
This email followed up its 20% offer with six green product suggestions such as a green lamp, throw pillow, and tumbler to help get you in the spirit of spring and get you using the offer code. While something of an afterthought in a long subject line, it was an effective way to let the reader “window shop” before diving in.

From: OnlineShoes
Subj.: We can see spring, and it looks amazing
The email itself is a fairly basic design, a pair of sandals and a simple call to action. I’m a fan of this subject line though—catchy, conversational, and got me curious enough to want to take a look at the “sights of spring” inside.

From: Appleseed’s
Subj.: We’re Bringing Spring – Shop Top Styles!
Two rhymes for the price of one! It might be a little bit of a tongue twister, but it’s also short, punchy, and every bit as cheerful and perky as the season. An effective attention-grabber.

Here’s hoping you found a few blossoms of inspiration in some of these, and also that spring is springing a little more dutifully for you than it is for me. Feel free to let me know in the comments if you have any good examples to share! And I promise not to desecrate any more classic British poetry in my next entry.

The Problem With A/B Testing

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

For our Mobile Users campaign, we dropped in an actual screenshot of every recipient’s website as viewed on an iPhone 6 (see image), because we knew this level of personalization could add a sizeable bump to engagement. It’s one thing to tell a recipient their website looks awful on a mobile device; it’s another thing to show them.

At the end of the campaign, we will have sent under 10,000 emails, but before we get to the balance, we felt it was important to know which of the two subject lines would perform better. All of us want to have the very best chance of success, so this was a necessary step. Ensure our subject line would foster a higher open rate.

For our initial test, we sent 600 emails, half to each subject line. One subject line performed best with opens, the other subject line performed best for clicks to the form. What that means is we now have a new question: is it better for us to get more people to open and see the message, or is it better to get fewer people to open, but to have accurately set their expectation about what was inside so they would click?

The open rate differed by more than 10 percent, and the CTR by about 2 percent.

Should I stop my analysis here and answer the only question I started with (which subject line should we use), or would it be better to take a look at other factors and try to improve the overall success in any way we can? For me, the problem I see with many marketers’ A/B tests is they ask one question, answer it, and then move on. In fact, many email automation systems are set up in precisely this manner: send an A/B test of two subject lines, and whichever performs better, use it to send the balance. What about the open rate and the CTR combined? Isn’t that far more important in this case (and many others)? Let’s take it one step further: what about the open rate, CTR and form completion rate combined? Now we’re on to something.

There are many factors at work here: time of day, past engagement, lifecycle and more. The subject line is a good place to start, but I can’t afford to ignore what we’ve gleaned from other campaigns.

This then becomes the hardest part of testing—be that A/B or multivariate—isolating what we’ve actually learned, and that usually means I cannot analyze just this one campaign. It must be an aggregate.

For our campaign, I took our test results and put those into a spreadsheet of 2014 campaign results and started to look for patterns. We’ve all read Thursday mornings are good (as an example), but does that hold true for my list? Were my open rates affected by time of day, by date, by day, by business type, by B-to-C vs. B-to-B? These are all analytics we track because we’ve found each of these does, in fact, influence open rate.

So, yes, we did learn which of the two subject lines performed better for opens, but what we also learned is that a repeat of the test to another 600 recipients on Tuesday morning instead of Thursday morning resulted in almost exactly opposite performance.

A/B tests can be hard. If they were easy, everyone would do them. Our simple one-time test was not enough information to make decisions about our campaign. It took more testing to either prove or disprove our theories, and it took aggregating the data with other results to paint the full picture.

We did find a winner: an email with a good subject line to get it opened, good presentation of supporting information inside, that led recipients to a form they actually completed, and all sent on the right day at the right time, from the right sender,

While you’re not privy to all of the data we have, on the top of the subject lines alone, which do you prefer?

Focus Group of One

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

Most of us have a least a bit of familiarity with A/B testing and have integrated it into some of our deployments. Testing subject line A against subject line B is likely the most common test, but with A/B testing you can go so much further—both simple and complex—for instance:

  • Best time of day for sending each of your email types (e.g., newsletter, offers)
  • Best day for sending each type of email
  • Frequency of sending each type of email
  • Length of subject line
  • Personalization within the subject line
  • Personalization within the message
  • Squeeze page vs. landing page
  • Conversion lift when video, demo or meeting booking are included
  • Diagnosing content errors
  • Challenging long-held behavior assumptions
  • Calls to action
  • Color
  • Format and design
  • Writing style (casual, conversational, sensational, business)
  • From name and email address (business vs. personal)

A/B and multi-variant testing enable you to learn what makes your prospects, leads, subscribers and customers tick. When you adopt a consistent testing process, your accumulative results will provide you with the knowledge to implement dramatic changes producing a measurable impact across campaigns, landing pages, websites and all other inbound and outbound initiatives.

We have a client whose singular call to action in every email is to discount their product, and each offer is more valuable than the last. When I asked how well this worked, they admitted, the bigger the discount, the more they sold. When pressed, however, they could not tell me the ROI of this approach. Sure, they sold more widgets, but at the discount level they offered, they also made far less profit.

I suggested an A/B-laden drip campaign offering no discounts, and instead providing links to testimonials, case studies, demos of their product, book-a-meeting links, and other inbound content. In this way, we were changing their position from asking for the business to earning the business. While I admit this usually lengthens the sales cycle, it also means money is not being left on the table unnecessarily.

For this client, the change in approach was simply too dramatic and they found they couldn’t stick with it long enough to gather the data needed to make long-term business decisions. The limited of data they were able to collect in the first few emails did show, however, an inbound approach deserved strong consideration by their organization.

Not all A/B testing need be this dramatic—we could have started them off with a less-committed approach. My takeaway was: You don’t have to learn it all now; A/B testing can be integrated in a small way. Whether you go all out or an occasional test, A/B data is useless if you do not set measurable goals. Measurable goals mean you will establish:

  • Required return on investment
  • Vehicle (email, direct mail, other)
  • What to test
  • Audience
  • Time frame
  • Testing protocol
  • How to integrate what you’ve learned into future campaigns

If your email application does not support A/B testing, you can use a more automated approach. Simply create two versions of your marketing campaign and divide your list randomly in half—unless, of course, what you’re testing is something within your list, such as gender or locale.

I often am in search of information well beyond opens, clicks and visits, so I turn to Email on Acid for email heat maps and Crazy Egg for landing page and website heat maps. While these are effective on live pages and campaigns, it’s not required you deploy A/B testing to a live audience. Testing can be just as effective with a small focus group, just be sure it’s not a focus group of one.

When All Hell Breaks Loose

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further?

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected.

After auto-sending many emails to clients in the span of a few hours, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further? Do you stop all communication until the recipients have been given enough time to forget you spammed their inboxes? Do you remove them all from your list entirely? Do you respond to the dozens or hundreds of hate emails? Lastly, what do you do to salvage unsubscribes?

Many of my peers believe you should always apologize when you make a mistake in your automated program—be that a simple typo, an unfortunate parallel (when your marketing message inadvertently aligns with an unfavorable situation, e.g. “Retailer Apologizes For ‘Unfortunate Timing’ Of Isis Lingerie Line”), or, as in this instance, when your automated program goes haywire and sends your subscribers 37 emails in the span of 14.6 minutes (or something like that).

If this happens to you, remember to keep the gravity of the error in perspective. Panicking will not help you, but this checklist may.

  1. Evaluate the extent of the damage: For most errors of this type, you can get a feel for how angry your constituents are by reading the reply emails. As you do this, keep in mind not everyone feels the same way. Don’t let a vocal few represent the entire list, but do give these responses careful consideration and use them as a guide to gauge the overall impact. Take a look too at opens, clicks and unsubscribes. Though irritated, your list may have actually engaged with the content to an acceptable level and this should help you to decide next steps.
  2. Choose an appropriate response: With a clear understanding (and some best guesses) at the level of damage, think next about what you would say to these recipients. Don’t draft a response to the most annoyed and most vocal, deal with those persons individually and separately in more personal emails if the group is small enough to do so. Your response should instead target the group just below the most angry; those who are smoldering in silence. Pick up the phone and dial one or two of your best customers and ask how they felt about receiving three dozen emails and in what way could you best show your concern for the event and desire to lessen the impact. For best results, act quickly, be frank and forthright about what happened, do not make excuses, and do apologize.
  3. Choose a response method: You may learn sending another email would only worsen the situation, but everyone has likely been the recipient of more than just your wayward program. A simply apology with an offer designed especially for them may do the trick. If you’re not retail, perhaps a small gift card at a local coffee shop or Amazon.com (which typically has a very low redemption rate) might be in order. Find a vendor that charges you only for gift cards redeemed. If another email is not recommended, try reaching out through social media or direct mail. Admit your mistake, take it in the chops, and perhaps add in a bit of self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood as you extend the olive branch.
  4. Distill the analytics. Go beyond opens/clicks/unsubscribes and look at visits to the landing page, form completions and more. This is a golden opportunity to learn something, so don’t consider the entire event a disaster. Even tornadoes leave a trail useful for educating storm chasers about patterns and other types of data, which can influence prevention and protection.

You are not alone. Even software/hardware giant HP apparently experienced issues with its automated program and sent a few too many emails to subscribers. HP sent an email apology with oops in the subject line and title. As a side note, this is the subject line I receive most often, and for me it’s effective. Short and sweet, and though I don’t have statistics to support this, my guess is it elicits good open rates—even when tempered by the influence of the multiple emails preceding it.

If you choose to promote your oops in social media, know that some people who did not receive the multiple emails will also use the discount code, but that’s probably a good way to turn a bad situation into a redeemable fiasco. That’s not such an awful thing—is it?

Email Marketing: To Open or Not To Open …

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

For many of us, choosing the from name is a simple task. We send it from the person to whom we want the recipient to respond or connect, but hold on … did you test that?

One of our clients sends more than a million emails daily to their subscribers. They have built their list using a variety of resources, one of which was to purchase three million self-identified target recipients, but they also used co-registration with a daily newsletter offer to acquire another million names over a span of a few months. The co-registration names were a double-opt in so ideally should have produced stellar results and highly qualified names, but that didn’t actually turn out to be the case.

After sending to the purchased list, we tossed it completely due to the very high number of spam traps we managed to trigger in our first two sends. With those names eliminated, we focused on the co-registration list, which we segmented into large groups to receive the daily message they had been offered. This was done through more than a dozen different ESPs.

As we saw it, job one was to validate the email addresses were deliverable, not spam traps, and were—at best—being opened. As we suspected, a number of them were spam traps, so we dialed it back and a great deal of time to a deep-cleanse effort of sending in very small batches (about 200 per day per ESP) in order to more easily stop the cycle if we irritated more spam sensors. (It takes a long, damn time to send to millions of recipients at the rate of 200 per day.)

Using this process, once we reached 250,000 verified emails, we sent to those in larger groups through our three best-performing ESPs—those with whom we historically saw the best deliverability rates. We continued these two steps with the balance of the names and applied the deep-cleanse process for new names still coming in through the co-registration sites (about 500 names per day).

The combination of the deep cleanse and slow send improved our results drastically. All emails were deliverable, unsubscribes were low, but open rates were still lagging. Since this was a daily message to which the users had specifically subscribed, we were pretty sure there was room for improvement even though the list was growing faster than the combined attrition rate (unsubscribes + undeliverable + spam complaints), and traffic to this site was flourishing.

While our client does not sell anything on their site, they do sell ad space in the daily email, monthly newsletter and on their website. The number of views for these ads is critical to our client’s revenue. Emails going unopened, being marked as spam, or gaining an unsubscribe are not generating revenue in a click or impressions ad placement.

Regardless of which email application the subscriber uses, there are two things they see: from and subject line. Some email applications will also show the preheader text, a preview, or other snippets to give the recipient more clues about the content. We chose to tackle first the sender information, and then work on the subject line. After all, there’s only so many ways we could say, “Here’s the daily email to which you have subscribed.”

The target audience for this daily email is largely male—not all male, mind you, but nearing the 85 percent mark. I suspected males would rather receive emails from women, so we started there. We also used tried other sender names and email addresses:

  • Company name
  • Site owner’s name (she has some visibility in this space, so we tried to parlay that recognition into opens)
  • General email address
  • Mature-sounding woman’s name
  • Young-sounding, woman’s name
  • Sexy woman’s name
  • Mature-sounding male name (in line with the target audience age group)
  • Young-sounding male name

We didn’t just change the from name, we created a matching from address for continuity and credibility (rather than use a system address such as newsletter@companysite.com). For instance, if Brittni Jones was the from name, the address was brittni@companysite.com

What we found, and what I’m sure you already know, is sender matters—in a big, important way; at least for this client.

I was right on one front: This primarily male constituency did open far more emails from Brittni than Edith, but they also liked getting emails from Trevor, a very close second. They didn’t read nearly as many emails from Bob, though Bob was more popular than using the company name. The actual statistics for this campaign are not important; your company would experience completely different results. The takeaway here is about testing and being relevant—even at the sender name and address level.

If your opens are suffering, think first about whether or not John Smith is convincing enough to get me to open, then remember: test, track, tweak. Repeat.