Rumors about the death of the email come and go, but one thing is clear: it’s alive and kicking.

The 2012 Obama campaign set new standards for email communications with their infamous subject line ‘Hey,’ helping them raise more than $500 million in online donations. Edelman’s own grassroots team in Washington, D.C. is pushing the limits on issue advocacy, and always asking, what gets people to read our content? More importantly, what drives people to act? First, it’s important to think through a few basic principles:

-       Each audience is different and requires you to know what interests them.

-       Consider tracking open, click-through and action rates to give you clearer results and data driven answers.

-       The sender can be even more powerful than your subject line. The name or organization can go hand-in-hand with your subject line, especially as the sender’s name is larger and more prominent on mobile.  

With those principles in mind, here are five ways to get people to open your email:

1. Expressing urgency

When a sense of urgency is coupled with an issue people care about, they are more inclined to act. Timing is also an important factor – emails at night at the end of a campaign work well with urgent messaging like, Urgent Action Needed: or Only 48 hours left: are you with us?

2. Timing can be everything

Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and ask yourself, where will they be when opening the email and what device will they be on? Launching at odd hours of the day including early morning, late at night and weekends can be highly effective.

3. Keep it personal

Speak directly to your audience as if you’re sitting across the table from them. If you have the ability to do so, insert their first name in the subject line or even something like their state or city. It’s an easy way to personalize any subject line.

4. Keep it simple

Remember, you aren’t trying to get a person to understand your entire message in the subject line; you’re just trying to get them to click to open. You can catch their eye using RE: or FWD: on resends. You can have great success with this tactic, but do not use it frequently as that may take away from the authenticity of a forwarded message.

5. It’s not just about the subject line

Many times these are what the reader’s eyes skim to first. At times, they’ll read the first few words in their email preview, without even opening the email. Remember that you only have a few seconds to grab their attention, and this sentence is what decides whether or not they will read the rest of the email. Bonus: It’s best to make it personal with the use of “you” within the first seven words, if possible.

Ultimately, to get people to do what you want them to do; think through the ‘big picture’ and your overall strategy, writing solid content and getting your point across in a clear and concise manner.

What would get you to open that next email?

Image credit: Robert Scoble

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