The email subject line is dead, long live the email subject line.
Few of us bother to read them, since we're so inundated with messages on email, chat, social media, and collaborative apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.
What works instead? It's better to think of an email subject line as more like a headline (for example, the one for this article). You have to get really creative.
Recently, I tried this as an experiment.
For an article about the Apple iPad, I wanted to find an analyst who can comment about whether the tablet is starting to lose momentum with consumers. (By the way, it is.) I decided to send out ten emails. For half of them, I stuck to a boring headline: "Apple iPad sales slump, care to comment?" As you might have guessed, only one person responded. Yet, it's strange because that subject line is similar to 99% of the subject lines that arrive in my inbox everyday. We have this tendency to explain what is in an email as we were taught to do when we first learned how to use email. That no longer works.
For the second batch, I got a lot more creative. And why not? In the age of social media, contributed content, and digital overload we all have to figure out how to cut through the noise. For the second batch, I used this subject line: "Apple sent me to you."
Now, all five of the recipients responded. Even more interesting, two of them responded within seconds. A couple more took maybe 30 minutes, and one took all day. The headline is 100% accurate (I've written before about why it's important not to contribute to the fake news problem these days) but punches through an invisible barrier. It sounds urgent and important, sure. More importantly, there's a FOMO (fear of missing out) element. And, I named Apple. Maybe that was the real key. We all recognize that name.
How can you change your subject lines?
I'd like to try an experiment with you.
You may work for a startup, or maybe you have a product to pitch. Doesn't matter. Take the time to create a new email with an attention-grabbing subject line. Now let's see if that leads to a response...from me. If you don't hear from me in 24 hours, assume it didn't work and try another one. (Please don't try more than two, we don't need to create an email nightmare.) I promise to be as helpful as possible.
What can we all learn?
For one, email is here to stay for a while. I hope it dies out soon. Since we all know that's unlikely, you have to figure out how to make it work, and the subject line is your key to success. If you manage to cut through the threshold, I'll be sure to reply.
Ready? Get set? Go.