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The future of email subject lines

by Stu Elmes



The origin of the email subject line is inexplicably difficult to trace. Here’s what we know:

Details are foggy, but at some point, back when email was in its very infancy, some forward-thinking digital dynamo realized that as the world’s inboxes began to fill up, offering users a brief clue about what each email contained could make everyone’s digital lives just a little bit easier. That forward-thinking dynamo’s solution? The email subject line. A single line of text summarizing an email’s contents, inviting and tantalizing the recipient to investigate further by opening it.

Since that fateful day, the humble email subject line has become an indispensable component of email communication, no matter which platform it is sent (or received) on.

For brands using the email channel for marketing purposes, subject lines have become increasingly important with every passing year. With the world’s email inboxes becoming ever more crowded and only 13.6% of consumers reporting that they open every marketing email they receive, engaging users through their email inbox has never been more difficult.

While an email’s “sender name” remains the number 1 factor in email users’ decision of whether or not to open a marketing email, its subject line is number 2. This fact, combined with plummeting channel-wide email open rates, has caused many brands to rethink their email subject line strategies in recent years, kicking off an email subject line arms race that continues to this day.

Where is this “arms race” leading us? Let’s take a look…



The message in the medium

There’s a hard truth that every brand needs to accept about email marketing: the vast majority of marketing emails that you send out will never get opened. Data from Mail Chimp indicates that the average open rate for marketing emails across all industries is just a touch over 20%.

That means that for almost 80% of the subscribers you send a campaign to, the sender name and email subject line will be the only part of your email that they ever see. For these finicky folks, all the fancy design, dynamic content, and interactive elements in the world will have exactly zero impact. Does that mean you’ve wasted your time sending it? No. As we at Phrasee like to say, every touchpoint is a branded moment. The time each subscriber spends scanning their inbox and reading subject lines to decide what to open is a marketing opportunity, even if they decide not to open your email.

As brands come to terms with this hard email marketing truth, the need to make sure that every email subject line is engaging, on-brand, and non-spammy will become increasingly clear. Investing time and resources into making sure that your brand’s email subject lines always represent your brand voice and are optimized for your audience is indeed worthwhile.

The days of the email subject line being relegated to “afterthought” status will soon be over (or at least they should be!).



AI optimization

Artificial intelligence technology is having a massive impact on the way marketing is done. This fact is already proving to be as true in email marketing as it is on any other channel.

As the positive results continue to pour in and make the benefits of AI optimized email marketing increasingly clear, more brands than ever before will be implementing this game-changing technology into their email marketing strategies in the months and years to come.

It is reasonable to expect that in the very near future, artificial intelligence-driven email marketing will soon go from being a “nice to have” strategic advantage to an absolute email marketing necessity for any brand.



Find your voice

Between December 2017 and December 2018, smart speaker ownership in the US grew 78% to almost 120 million devices. While some have dismissed voice technology as little more than a fad, many more see potential for the smart speaker/voice-activated assistant to upend the current human-digital interface completely.

If the history of digital technology has taught us anything, it’s that while the arc of technological adoption may be long, it always bends toward convenience in the end. And, as there is little doubt that these technologies can and will be used to make everyday digital tasks (like reading emails) more convenient, it behooves any brand to consider how this could impact email marketing in the future.

As current iterations of voicetech’s email features prominently feature email subject lines being read aloud, learning how to write voice-optimized subject lines could soon become an urgent email marketing imperative.



A brave new subject line world

While predicting where any aspect of the digital marketing game is headed in the long-term is often little more than an exercise in futility, it’s a safe bet that the way brands write and optimize email subject lines is about to shift significantly.

And, as with all such shifts, the brands that stay ahead of the curve will reap the benefits while those that don’t will do so at their own peril.


Interested in learning how artificial intelligence can help your brand stay ahead of the email subject line curve?

Book a discovery session today, and see what Phrasee can do for your email marketing strategy!