When it comes to online marketing, e-mails are still the most used and the most effective online tool businesses leverage.    Bloomberg Business Week recently did an article on exactly that topic based on some of the results coming out of the Obama campaign.  For people who have already bought in to A/B testing of e-mail campaigns, calls-to-action, landing pages and headings, this is old news.  But it may come as a surprise just how many dollars the differences can translate to.  The millions of dollars in fundraising outcomes driven by the various headings underscores just how important choosing the right subject lines can be.

E-mail Subject Lines Matter

Here are four quick lessons learned that the Bloomberg article summarized from the Obama campaign and some commentary on each of them.

  1. Winning headlines aren’t obvious.  So many of us believe that we can predict winners.  We do it all the time in sports, and we think as marketers and business people, based on experience, we can extrapolate or use history to get to the right answer.  The bottom line is that nothing works better than testing.  And, just because something worked the last time, doesn’t necessarily mean a variation on the same theme will work again, particularly if you’re e-mailing to the same audience.
  2. More e-mails don’t necessarily equal more unsubscribes.  Now I know I’ve unsubscribed from many newsletters when my inbox started overflowing.  But you know what, I didn’t unsubscribe from the ones that really matter – only the marginal ones that I didn’t really need or had just subscribed to as an fyi.  Even though I liked the content — I didn’t have time to read it. The lesson learned here is that if your potential clients or customers value the information they are receiving, they won’t unsubscribe — even if you are sending out a lot of e-mails.  People don’t want to unsubscribe from information that’s important to them.  Make sure you are delivering something of value to your customers.  It doesn’t mean that every e-mail will appeal to every person, but they need to believe at least one e-mail that’s coming in the future is going to contain some information that’s relevant to them.
  3. Casual headlines work better than formal ones – Now this is an interesting one because I wonder if it translates to other businesses.  It’s certainly a testable proposition.  How casual can you get?  The Obama campaign used something as simple as “Hey”.  I am still amazed that “hey” performed well.
  4. Profanity in the headline can increase click-throughs – Again, I’m not sure that this is a good tactic for every business, but I bet it will work for some.  If you have the guts, you might want to try it.