Inc. did a great job keeping its subject line brief in this example. It’s completely relevant to the subject matter of the email but is vague enough to urge the recipient to click through to get the full message.
2. “binge worthy”
Margo Aaron is a writer and self-declared “accidental marketer” whose weekly email newsletter always arrives with some subject line gold. (Fair warning, she’ll be mentioned in this piece a few times.)
In this example, she leaves you wondering, “what’s binge worthy?” “Is Margo talking about content, this email, or her latest Netflix endeavor?”
Whatever it is, you need to click open to find out.
Want to grab more eyes? Do it with something unexpected.
3. “go the $#@^ to sleep”
In another example from Margo (See?), she employs a censored expletive to command inbox attention and, once again, make you want to click in see what exactly she’s so fired up about.
While this won’t work for every audience, if your brand is known for humor and a casual tone, a little shock value may get you the open rates you’re looking for.
Laughter is the universal language. Using it (in a brand and audience-appropriate way) can not only delight your audience but make them want to click open for more fun.
4. “be the cheeseboard”
Laura Belgray is another copywriter who knows her way around a great subject line. In this one, Laura puts her trademark, oddball sense of humor on full display saying “be the cheeseboard.”
While many of you reading this may be a little confused reading this, for fans and subscribers, the humor lands and urges them to click open to see what awaits inside.
Even if it doesn’t, however, a little bit of playful confusion can also encourage readers to click through.
5. “You Didn’t Hear Me Say >>THIS<< at Latercon”
This example from Jasmine Star of Later is clickbait at its best.
It’s completely relevant to the value shared in the email as well as the audience at hand (attendees of the Latercon conference) but forces the recipient to trade their click for the full information.
6. "You definitely don't have these yet (and they're 30% off)"
This example from J. Crew leaves recipients asking, "I don't have what?"
The difference here is that J.Crew Factory combines both a sense of curiosity with a discount incentive to fuel open rates and clicks.
This helps to assure the recipient that there's something in it for them, which helps in furthering their decision to take action.
While a lot of the subject lines invading our inboxes are fairly trivial, this type of incentive is designed to grab people's attention and make them want to take advantage.
Speaking of incentives…
What’s in it for me? When it comes to requests from marketers, this is a natural question to enter a buyer’s mind.
Rather than letting them guess, spell it out to them directly in your subject line and consider sweetening the deal with a little something extra.
7. “$1 Off? Yes, please!”
Now, this is a popular tactic when it comes to retail or B2C businesses. In this example, you’ll see that Bruegger’s Bagels didn’t play coy about the treat hiding in this email. Rather, it screams, “Click here for savings!”
Curiosity aside, when people are up against a deadline, they are much more likely to take action. That’s why creating a sense of urgency with your subject lines can also be a very powerful tactic.
8. “Now you see it...tomorrow you won’t!”
Fairytale Brownies does a great job of employing two email subject line tactics in this example. Not only does it make the recipient wonder what “it” is, but also let them know that whatever it is, it won’t last forever.
Time is running out to fill that curiosity gap so you need to act immediately!
9. “TIME’S ALMOST UP [Hour Glass] Final hours for 30-50% off EVERYTHING”
In this example, EXPRESS takes a similar but more aggressive approach to create urgency by getting more specific about how much time remains and using capitalization and an emoji to emphasize the message.
Experian found that personalized emails boast six times the transactions of emails that aren’t personalized and with good reason. People are conditioned to respond to their names, and when we see or hear things we can relate to (e.g. our home state, an interest), our ears perk up.
10. “Now is not the time, Ramona”
Making her second appearance here, Laura Belgray certainly grabbed my attention by incorporating my first name into this subject line.
Though, as a marketer, I’m familiar with this tactic, it’s likely the people you’re emailing aren’t.
Seeing their first name or other relevant information makes the message feel like it was created specifically for them. It feels more thoughtful and personal. Most email clients like HubSpot make this easy to do at scale.
As marketers, it’s often our job to give buyers something to aspire to. We should highlight a state or experience that they want in their lives that our offering can help achieve. Your email subject line can help accomplish this.
11. “Become a content master”
ON24 taps into my desire to be the best content marketer possible with this simple but effective subject line. It shows me what can be achieved by opening the email; I just need to click through.
12. "What the Cool Kids Are Wearing..."
Back in 2016, Dos Equis launched its “Interesting Index” campaign, where it ranked how interesting each participant compared to the others across the world.
They used an algorithm that scraped a person's Facebook data (i.e. likes, “check-ins,” events, etc.) to determine scores for originality, thirst for knowledge, worldliness, and sense of adventure."
Their efforts were rooted in aspiration, a marketing tactic used by brands to drum up interest surround their product or service.
Old Navy's subject line above followed the same path, as they leverage the concept of "cool kids" to encourage recipients to take the next step.
This approach is very similar to the psychology behind celebrity endorsements or influencer marketing.
This is likely because people are used to using emojis in their everyday lives and are, in turn, responsive to them, or simply because visuals draw the eye. So it’s certainly worth investigating.
Here are a few examples of how you can use emojis to create both professional and playful tones.
13. “It’s time to start writing [handwriting][green checkbox]”
Here, Margo returns with a subject line that delivers a simple and direct call-to-action for her recipients.
She balances this simplicity by incorporating a bold green checkbox emoji and a hand writing with a pen. These symbols not only make the email stand out in an inbox but also effectively illustrate the subject matter.
14. STOCK UP! 20% off all your favorites [mind blown]”
In this more casual example, Ulta Beauty uses the mind-blown emoji to draw the eye and playfully show just how good this deal is.
Email first gained popularity as a way to connect with our friends and loved ones.
Today, however, our inboxes are flooded with sales pitches and cold, formal messages from people we don’t know. As a brand, you can grab eyes by cutting through this with an informal, friendly subject line like the following.
15. “what a pain - srsly”
Laura Belgray may be speaking to B2B subscribers in this subject line, but with her use of all lowercase letters and shorthand for the word “seriously,” she creates a refreshing, casual tone that makes them want to read more.
16. “Creepy AF”
Now, this last example from Really Good Emails may not sit well with all audiences, but they do a wonderful job of capturing a young, friendly voice that will resonate with their readers.
This is a phrase that many of their recipients likely would hear from one of their close friends; not something they’d expect from a company.
Let’s change the subject (line)
In the end, it doesn’t matter how wonderful the copy or offer of your email is. If your subject line doesn’t strike a chord with your audience and drive them to click open, your campaign will never get off the ground.
As you plan your next marketing email, consider the ten tactics and 16 examples above and test out different subject line options.
Think about your audience, what other types of emails they might be getting, and what will stand out to them. You may be surprised by what will catch their attention in the heat of the inbox battle.