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Monday morning copywriter: e-mail subject lines



Subject lines are the make-or-break of E-mail success.


Some E-marketer will be relearning a hard lesson from their Friday pm mailing. Without so much as a verb, the subject line of an outbound E-mail (mailer’s name withheld for courtesy):

1. States the event’s title,
3. Uses the infinitive (“to”) vs. action form of verb, and
2. Does not prompt response.

Here’s how the syntax reads visually (parsing).

<Award title> | <infinitive> | < explanatory copy / award title>


No wonder that perfectly good e-mail content hangs in my mailbox glum and unopened while I’ve moved to another window and sit blogging to you on Monday.

Don’t let this happen to your E-mail subject lines!

E-mail breakdowns like this are often symptomatic of:
•    weak composition,
•    tactical fatigue, and
•    ego.

Let’s go through point-by-point, re-learn what we can, and avoid the mistakes of others.

Weak Composition — An event title, by definition, tells and sells, explains, engages and persuades all in one quick nano-breath. For example, what subtitle could ever enhance The Greatest Story Ever Told?

Remember the Interest and Desire in AIDA?  In this case, support copy needs to be powerful, kinetic and persuasive. Ideally it should flow from the action verb.

Tactical Fatigue — In over-describing the event, the subject line forgets to call for action. Even worse, it dis-engages my attention. As a copywriter, it’s my job to check and double check that the call to action is explicit, clear, and (hopefully) inviting.

Consider the strategy/tactic. What kind of story are you bringing to the reader’s attention? Are you promising to tell an enticing story of:

A.    <Award title> | <action verb> | < exclusivity>

B.    <Award title> | <action verb> | < value>

C.    <Award title> | <action verb> | < urgency/narrative>

When you know the pulse point that’s most likely to engage the reader to open and click through, you’re well on  your way to telling a story they’ll follow to the end.

Ego Hate to say it, but as writers we can slip back into writing to ourselves, the deadline, and not the reader. Always ask yourself, “What does the reader need to see in their mailbox?”


Not sure?

Send a variety of posts to yourself and to your creative team members. There’s nothing better than an informal, in-house a/b split to get a fresh pair of eyes.

In the battle of cleverness (ego) versus clarity (customer), cleverness fails every time. E-mail copywriters need to set their sites on getting noticed (positively) as a first step to getting opened. (Do a search to learn more about the importance of e-mail open rates as a first-indicator of success.)

Let’s refresh on these points together.

For editing copy, there’s nothing better than William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. And throw in some Strunk (and White) for good measure. In fact, you can bookmark Strunk’s original edition of Elements of Style on

For E-marketing basics, browse The Engaged Customer, Hans Peter Brondmo.

Note: this post originally appeared on EAM Creates


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