May 13, 2016

Getting Attention in the Inbox

Editor’s note: We have been looking at email marketing basics this week. A ‘basic’ in my book is something I thought everyone knew that apparently not everyone does. Links to previous ‘basics’ articles are at the end…

I play Squash once a week with Andy. Andy is an economist; a relatively rare occupation in Sheffield. One week after squash Andy told me he can receive up to 150 emails in a day.

150 emails in a day, and he has to respond to… all of them!

While Andy spends a lot of time looking at email getting his attention is hard. It is hard enough simply trying to organise a game of squash.

Attention in your prospect’s inbox is given in the following order:

1. Sender name

When a new email comes in we first look at who sent it before making any further decisions.

An email from somebody who is trying to sell you something will not be given much attention, unless that person has a good track record of providing valuable information.

An email from your business partner or managing director will be given more attention.

An email from an important client who has gone quiet for a few weeks will get 100% of your focus.

When an email comes in we make a quick mental association with the sender’s name. Do we know him or her? Or them?

Bear in mind that we have 149 other emails to get to this morning…

Your challenge is to improve the association your reader has with your sender name so that when your email arrives your recipient stops whatever they are doing to read. They do this because self-servingly they know that reading will be a good use of their time.

Reading is a good use of your recipient’s time if your email entertains, educates, or challenges their thinking in some way.

You should consider also that any positive association you have built up with your readers will quickly fade. Emailing once in a while at irregular intervals is unhelpful. People forget who you are, fast.

To go back to the deliverability article you should be using a consistent sender name. If you have been sending emails using your own name then suddenly switching to a colleague’s name or your company name is not a good move.

When you change your sender name you force your recipient to think. Thinking harms your chances of getting attention.

2. Subject line

A lady on your email list has received your email and glanced at your sender name. She formed a positive mental association with your name, and has decided to proceed further.

Where does she look next?

Her eye scrolls next to the subject line.

Every marketer seems to want to know what the best subject lines are. Or if you’re on the American side of the pond, which subject lines are crushing it.

I remember looking in my Aweber account a few years ago to find the email with the highest response rate was the one with no subject line at all. It wasn’t a mistake, I deliberately set no subject line. The email arrived with the subject line ‘(no subject)’.

This works as a one-off stunt because it looks like a personal email. Surely no competent marketer would send an email with no subject line… (duh)

Someone once told me that ‘test email’ and ‘insert subject line’ also work well as one-off stunts. I have never been brave enough to test these.

In general however a good subject line will:

  1. Hint at a benefit your reader will get from reading your email. Self-interest is always a strong incentive to read on.
  2. Hint at something your reader will get from your email.
  3. Evoke curiosity. ‘How to’ subject lines can do well. As do unexpected subject lines.

A few years ago Bob Bly collated 38 examples of good subject lines. You might like to read them.

3. First few lines of the email

We’ve passed the first two hurdles. Our intrepid reader has seen our sender name, and become sufficiently curious to open the email.

The third most important part of your email is the first few lines.

If the first few lines of your email contain a large branded banner image you are making an extremely bad use of space. You worked so hard to get your reader’s attention… why show her your logo? She doesn’t care about your logo!

Bear in mind also that some recipients will still read your email in the Outlook preview pane, which shows about six carriage returns before you have to scroll. Outlook does not download images by default, so if you choose to fill this space with a banner image you will probably show your reader a box with a small red X.

Images not loaded

The correct opening is to start with a short paragraph that leads the reader in to the email.

The most important thing about the first paragraph and the first sentence in particular, is it should be short. Your reader has 149 other emails to read. Be nice to her!

The easiest sentence to read is eight words. (The[1] easiest[2] sentence[3] to[4] read[5] is[6] eight[7] words[8]).

The average is 16. Anything above 30 is entering the snooze-zone.


Previous Email Marketing Basics articles:

Why use a paid email marketing service
Rob’s guide to email deliverability

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.