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5 Important Email Marketing Lessons from High-Performing Subject Lines

By: Andrea Panno

People receive emails around the clock, so making sure yours stand out is highly important. That’s why it’s important to choose a subject line that accurately represents your email’s content and that won’t end up ignored or sent to the spam folder. Subject lines can either start or continue a marketing conversation.

For B2B companies especially, which tend to send more informational versus “buy now” content, the right subject line can make or break the effectiveness of an email, and highly affect its open rate and click-through rate. Fortunately, platforms like HubSpot make it easy to keep track of these metrics, and to test different subject lines to see how they impact an email’s performance.

In the same way subject lines give recipients a sense of an email’s contents, trends in subject lines can inform marketers about what’s effective and what’s not. We’d already looked at the do’s and don’ts of B2B email marketing, but we wanted to take an in-depth look at our own most successful subject lines here at Sagefrog to glean some lessons about email marketing best practices.

Here are five things we learned about email marketing strategy from our highest-performing B2B emails and subject lines.

Lesson #1: Deliver Requested Content

With chatbots and live chat options on companies’ websites, people can get their specific questions answered before ever opening their email inbox. With that in mind, a general subject line that simply introduces your company isn’t really going to catch any attention. Rather, emails need to continue a conversation that’s already been started. They’re about entertaining, delighting and delivering.

Of the most successful emails reviewed, none were initial touchpoints to cold leads who had never heard from the company. 80% of the most successful emails were “thank you emails” that either delivered requested content for download or simply—as the name suggests—thanked users who had already downloaded content from a website and recommended related materials.

Why? People expect follow-up emails. They want what it contains because they specifically sought out that content. For that reason, the subject line need only direct them to what they requested. The subject line should reflect their personal desire for the material.

Example Subject Line: We think you’ll like this.

When composing your thank you email subject line, it’s important to:

  • Remind the recipient of the desire they expressed for the material
  • Stir the recipient’s excitement for the enclosed content
  • Use words like “your” to demonstrate that the recipient owns what’s inside

It’s not always fair to judge the success of other email subject lines against thank you emails without looking at the larger context. These emails, by nature, will always be more successful than others because rarely would someone request content then not open the message containing it.

This consideration itself proves to be an important lesson in email marketing: the messages that non-thank-you emails contain are important, but just aren’t being received as often. This means it might be time to consider delivering your company’s initial message in a different way, which leads us to lesson #2.

Lesson #2: Follow Up Fast with Leads

Data and our experience as marketing professionals suggest that quick follow-up to a lead is one of the most important aspects of making a sale. Emails are a fast and easy way to get in touch with a prospect as soon as they express interest in your product or service—and receiving an email right away helps the person know the process is moving along.

It’s important that your emails reflect:

  • the way a person found your company
  • what they may be looking for
  • why you’re glad they’re interested

Using your subject line to acknowledge the connection a prospect has already made with your company is crucial because:

  • The prospect has entrusted you with their contact information, and, by sending them a useful, personalized email, you demonstrate that they were not mistaken to do so.
  • The subject line sets the tone for the rest of your communications. This is the reply that turns a prospect’s outreach into a dialogue.

Example Subject Line: We noticed you’re curious. Maybe this will help.

A marketing email used to be the digital equivalent of a hardcopy mailout: composed, formatted and identical from recipient to recipient. Now, an email is a tool to continue interactions with prospects and customers. If there’s something to click to continue the recipient’s engagement like a deal, download or a question for them to answer, then your emails can be short, sweet and to the point.

The same logic applies to subject lines. Our most successful emails by far were simple and established that something inside the email was of interest to the recipient.

Lesson #3: Reinforce Connections & Interaction

Of the top-performing emails analyzed, every single one included some variation of the word “you.”

From emails with subject lines that began with “Your Download” to “We Think You’ll Like This,” the word “you” always proved to get the right kind of attention. It’s no surprise that as people crave more personalized experiences from companies, they respond better to more personalized language.

The word “you” directly addresses the recipient and sparks feelings of involvement, grabbing their attention and making them feel that they are part of the conversation. One of the hallmarks of smart conversational email marketing is asking questions; a direct question in the subject line can be a great way to get an email opened. Then, within the email, offer a way for the question to be easily answered using a link or a button for “yes” or “no.”

Example Subject Line: Are you happy with your experience?

Lesson #4: Segment Your List by Industry & Role

B2B marketers know the key to success is getting personal. Market segmentation is crucial in personalization, and a good starting point is with industry specificity. People in one industry will tune you out, or worse, feel overlooked if they’re constantly getting messages geared toward another industry.

Fortunately, the best email marketing services allow you to segment your contacts and send separate emails to the different segments you’ve created. This will ensure each recipient gets the content most relevant to them. HubSpot allows you to store your email contacts along with information about each contact that lets you easily segment by industry, job role, and along other lines.

In addition to industry segmentation, you can categorize your recipient by job title and type and send them information that directly alleviates their role’s pain points. Here are some common examples:

  • For CEOs and CFOS, send content that speaks directly to business growth and saving money
  • For CTOs, send information about technology integrations, efficiencies and outages
  • For managers, send tips about managing people, teamwork and communication

Including the industry or target audience of your email in the subject line lets recipients know this message is specifically relevant to their needs. Even if you’re sending out a mass email, you can use the subject line to highlight parts of the email relevant to the recipient’s industry.

Example Subject Line: The new CFO secret for saving in 2019.

Lesson #5: Choose Your Words Carefully

Subject lines with special characters and words like “discount” may seem attention-grabbing, but they run the risk of getting filtered into an email spam folder.

Sometimes it takes a bit of clever wording to avoid “spammy” verbiage, but it’s worth it to make sure your email ends up in the right inbox. Instead of “discount” consider “offer” or “reward.” Avoid stating the percentage of a discount you’re offering in the email itself or consider typing out the word “percent” rather than using the symbol. Clickbaity subject lines tend to be ignored, anyway.

Example Subject Line: Here’s an offer just for you.

Once you make it to the inbox, make sure your subject line appears as-intended across all devices, including mobile. Your great subject line won’t have the same impression if it’s cut off at an inopportune place on a recipient’s screen. Brevity is a priority in making sure your email subject line isn’t cut off by mobile platforms. One way around the restriction of creating a mobile-friendly subject line is to use preview text, or the text snippet that appears after the subject line.

Summing Up

Successful B2B email marketing is about creating a conversation, and in most cases, your email subject line is your conversation starter. Face-to-face, you start a conversation by addressing someone personally, explaining why they need to know what you’re going to tell them and expressing your own excitement for what’s ahead. The same rules apply in email.

In analyzing our most successful B2B marketing emails to find commonalities between subject lines, we ended up learning a great deal about email marketing in general. Email marketing is about following up, delivering what people are looking for and personalizing the subject to make them feel engaged. If you’re looking for more ways and insights to make your B2B marketing emails strong, we’d love to talk.

Contact Us

Are you interested in B2B marketing services? Contact Sagefrog Marketing Group today.