B2B Email: Your subject line can kill your pitch (or, Hi, I want to talk to you about … uh, stuff)

Posted by Robert Celaschi on Mon, Sep 14, 2009

By Robert Celaschi

mail mark junkSomething strange happens to people when they send marketing email. They’ll take a powerful, persuasive marketing message, and torpedo the whole thing by slapping a lousy subject line on it.

What makes it really strange is that the email might contain a press release or other message with a really great headline. The sender could have cut and pasted it. But no, instead they type a vague or garbled mess of words that makes me shrug and move on.

I’ll confess I’m sometimes guilty of sloppy subject lines. I’ve struggled and sweated to craft the right message. I’ve set the right tone. I’ve targeted the right people. I’m ready to press the “send” button and then — oh, yeah, gotta put some kind of subject line on this puppy. Zip-zip-zip, done. Instead, I should take even more care with those precious few words that may determine whether the email even gets opened.

Let’s look at a half-dozen real subject lines that real marketing people emailed to me in the past month.

Subj: New Dilemma For Small Business Car Leases After Unemployment

Huh? Let’s see: I gather that there’s a new dilemma of some sort. For whom? Small Business Car Leases After Unemployment. Uhhhhhhh, sorry, does not compute. This one would work better with a simple colon after “Business.” Not great, but better. The story is about businesses transferring the leases on company cars, because they’ve laid off so many of the workers who used to drive them.

Subj: Non-Profit

That’s it, just “Non-Profit.” There are a lot of nonprofits out there. They do a lot of different things. I had to dig way, way down to discover that this nonprofit is a foundation that helps children. They are holding a fund-raiser this month in Miami. If I hadn’t picked this as an example for the blog post, I wouldn’t have bothered to find out any of that.

Subj: Survey: A Quarter of Firms Scaling Back Training

A direct hit. Tells me everything I need to get started. Now I’ll open the email and find out the details. Whoops — turns out that while 26 percent are cutting back their training programs, 28 percent have expanded. But, hey, they got me to read it.

Subj: Boston – Social Media Capital?

I don’t like questions for subject lines. Why are you asking me? Don’t you already know? If not, go do some more research and get back to me.

Subj: Time for Change in Credit Card Game

Maybe it is indeed time for a change in the credit card game, but since I have no idea what this means, it’s hard to say. The easy fix here would have been to condense the first line of the enclosed press release: Consumers now can say “no” to credit card interest rate hikes.

Subj: July home sales increased 12 percent; median home price declined 19.6 percent

This one delivers. I feel like a double winner, because I learn about sales volume and about price. This is about the California housing market, by the way. Bad news if you are a seller with a fat mortgage.

Your turn!

OK, you get the idea. Now take a look at the email you’ve sent in the past month. If someone didn’t already know your message, would they get the right idea from the subject line?

Robert has been a business journalist for 22 years, both as a reporter and an editor. He joined Business Communications Group in 2005.

Robert has been a business journalist for 22 years, both as a reporter and an editor. He joined Business Communications Group in 2005.

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Topics: Performance, Fun, Lead Generation