Death by Subject Line: A Cautionary Business Writing Tale

January 16, 2012 | By Andrea MacLeod

It’s January and my favorite store’s e-marketing campaign is out of control. I succumbed to several of their “special offers” during the holidays, and now they are targeting my inbox relentlessly. In an attempt to clear the backlog of last season’s merchandise, they are jeopardizing future full-price sales.

I was too busy to react to my first email titled “Last Chance!!! 90% Off!!! Free Shipping!!!” I regretted losing the opportunity, but maybe it was for the best.

The same electronic promotion arrived for the next eight days. The barrage of last chances made my feeling of regret decrease—the uniqueness and value of the deal became more questionable. Each day they had lied to me about the last chance. Rather than convince me to buy, I was annoyed at the lack of space in my inbox.

This “spam” made me think of my own subject lines. In my attempt to get readers’ attention in the avalanche of e-communication, am I shouting or overselling? Or do I create value for my reader?

Subject lines are your first impression. For many readers, the subject line will determine whether or not they read the e-mail.


Tips for crafting your subject line: remember to

  • keep it brief and relevant

  • personalize as much as possible—no one likes to read a template

  • update it when responding to an e-mail

  • include any actions required with real deadlines.

That “LAST CHANCE” deal will be ignored, but by keeping your subject line reader-centered, your e-mail won’t be.