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Sender name or subject line: which one matters most?

by Stu Elmes

There’s a debate raging across the email marketing world.  

Increasingly crowded inboxes and ever more jaded consumers have made the way in which marketing emails display in subscribers’ inboxes more crucial to email marketing success than ever before. The quest for a more effective ‘inbox display’ – the three important email elements (sender name [or from name], subject line, and subheader [or preheader]) that are visible in a recipient’s inbox before an email is opened – has driven many email marketers to take a deeper look at the true impact that each of these elements has on email marketing performance. 

The question is: which of the three elements that make up the inbox display matters most to actual email marketing subscriber engagement? 

Most experts agree that an email’s subheader (while still important!) is the least crucial of the three. On the topic of the relative value of an email’s sender name versus its email subject line, however, opinions begin to diverge.      

When it comes to generating the opens, clicks, and conversions that drive email marketing success, does an email’s sender name have the biggest impact on actual performance, or does its subject line? These are the questions that keep email marketers up at night. 

So, let’s dive in and resolve the question once and for all, so we can have a nice, peaceful sleep at last… 

The case for the sender name (a.k.a. ‘from name’)

Numbers vary, but it has been reported that as many as 68% of email users say that sender name is the most important factor in their decision to open an email (or not). This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If previous emails from a particular sender have offered you value in one form or another and have been worth opening, why wouldn’t you open subsequent emails from that same sender? 

Conversely, if your previous experience with a particular sender has been less than satisfactory – i.e. didn’t deliver what was promised, offered nothing of value, or turned out to be dishonest/misleading – you would probably be much less likely to open subsequent emails from that same sender, right? 

Your sender name identifies your brand. A subscriber’s perception of your sender name represents their past experience with your brand – and its emails. Familiarity drives a sender name’s importance. It’s the one element of every email you send that can’t (or at least shouldn’t) be changed to any significant degree. 

The case for the subject line

It has been reported that as many as 47% of email users make the all-important decision of whether or not to open an email based on its subject line alone. A further 69% say they’ve reported an email as “spam” based solely on its subject line. 

With numbers like that, it’s easy to see why some of the world’s biggest brands have been investing in email subject line optimization tools.  

While a marketing email’s sender name evokes both the recipient’s perception of your brand and the memory of past interactions with your brand’s emails, its email subject line offers an opportunity to evoke the emotions that generate actual opens and drive the interaction forward toward a sale or conversion. 

Better still, unlike your sender name, the language contained in your email subject lines can be changed significantly from send to send. This language can be tested and optimized at scale to push up overall performance, and the additional revenue-driving value of such optimization should not be underestimated.  

The verdict

The truth is that the very premise of the email subject line versus sender name debate is fundamentally flawed, since it assumes a zero-sum approach. It’s a little like asking whether you prefer oxygen or water – both are pretty important. 

Brand reputation and the quality of email history are paramount to establishing baseline open rates. These elements determine the overall value of a brand’s sender name. Once trust and quality have been established, however, the email subject line becomes the determining factor in driving open rates beyond that baseline. 

In addition, the quality of the email subject line language that a brand uses can have a significant positive or negative effect on user perceptions of a brand’s sender name over time.  

Using boring, spammy, or misleading subject line language can damage the trust and sender perception you’ve worked so hard to establish with your subscribers, eroding the baseline open rates that your sender name offered in the past. 

Using engaging, honest, on-brand language, on the other hand, reinforces positive subscriber perception of your sender name, and offers the promise of better engagement and fewer unsubscribes for your brand over time. 

Get synergetic

The total number of business and consumer emails sent and received per day is forecasted to grow to over 333 billion by yearend 2022 [Source: The Radicati Group, Inc.]. The fact is, the majority of these emails will never get opened. This hard truth lies at the core of the relationship between any brand and its email subscribers. The sender name and the subject line will be the only part of many of your brand’s emails that a subscriber will ever see.  

The micro-marketing moment when a subscriber scans over your email on a busy morning has value. Every touchpoint is a branded moment, even an unopened email! Every unopened email a subscriber sees in their inbox impacts the way that subscriber perceives your brand now and in the future.  

Using quality email subject lines adds value to a brand’s sender name and a brand’s sender name adds weight to the language in its email subject lines. That’s just one of the many reasons why implementing new and innovative strategies and tools to optimize email subject line language for your brand’s audience is so crucial to email marketing performance over time.   

Luckily, such tools and strategies are easily available in 2019. Book a discovery session with Phrasee today, and find out how artificial intelligence technology has broken the humble email subject line down to a precise, revenue-driving science… 

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