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Ask Kara: How do We Create Effective Subject Lines?

By Kara Trivunovic
Subject lines continue to be important given mobile rendering – but how do we develop a methodology for crafting subject lines?
It is true, subject lines continue to be important in grabbing the attention of a recipient as it is one of the first elements seen in the inbox. But creating a methodology for subject line authorship is not as easy as some would have you believe. Many folks will site stats stating subject lines with 35 characters max perform best or that leading with offers will knock it out of the park, but that just isn’t true for everyone.
The reality is that subject lines need to resonate with a subscriber at a moment in time. Using a prescribed approach can result in dull, less than effective, subject lines. For example, always leading with the same prefix (Your June Statement) can result in the treatment of your message as inbox wallpaper – it just blends in and gets overlooked. So what are some key recommendations for writing killer subject lines?
Treat the Subject Line as a Message Asset:
Too often, the subject line is written at the last minute as the message is prepared to go out the door. In leaving this critical piece of your email to creation at the last minute, it typically does not get the attention it needs. 
Subject lines should be created as part of the dialogue flow while the rest of the message copy is being written. It helps to read through the message as a recipient would—from name, subject line, pre-header, headline and body copy—to make sure the copy flows and tells the right story. Be sure every element supports the next.
Keep it Fresh and Compelling:
Maintaining the same, or similar, subject lines from message to message may show some short-term positive impact on your open rates, but in the long run messages will likely get overlooked – causing engagement to wane. 
Subject lines should change based on what is happening in the world, with your brand, with your subscribers (where this information is available) and should really incite an emotion: curiosity, excitement, interest. It is important that subject lines are also descript – it should be clear and apparent what the message is about. You will see a number of brands introducing cheeky subject lines that are intended to drive curiosity. This approach does work when introduced as an anomaly to typical subject lines because it stands out from the norm of what recipients see from the brand. The point here is to mix it up – don’t be vanilla all the time.
Test in Real Time:
As previously stated, subject lines resonate at a moment in time. This is why it is critical to test subject lines in real time – allowing for the “winning” subject line to deploy to a remainder audience of subscribers. Many ESPs feature this functionality within their UI’s – but many brands do not take advantage of the feature – after all, it is often difficult enough to write one subject line – but having to write a second or third can become daunting to some. I understand you may not want to, but it is worth the extra effort.
Ultimately, this is a lot of words to say this:
Don’t try to find a short cut in creating your subject lines. Inject as much creativity in your subject lines as you do the rest of your content and you should be just fine.
Kara Trivunovic is vice president, digital solutions for marketing services provider Epsilon. If you have any questions about email marketing you would like Kara to answer, email them to her at You can remain anonymous.

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