Monday, June 8, 2009

The Golden Formula for Career Changing Subject Lines - and why it matters now more than ever

Author's note: (This post took on a life of its own once I started writing...so if you don't care about the context and just want the goodies, scroll down until you see a picture and start around there.)

Let's face it - while we all maintain several lead gen channels, few receive as much of our blood, sweat and tears as our email campaigns - and for good reason: Not only has email proven to be one of the most effective lead gen channels (when well executed), but best practices like leveraging an opt-in strategy place you squarely in the realm of permission-based nurture marketing - a virtually invaluable position in today's over-exposed, over-spammed, over info-mercialled culture. And if you're managing email in-house, then it's likely a fixed-cost as well, meaning that there's little or no incremental cost associated with new campaigns.

So why isn't EVERYONE using email non-stop? Why isn't everyone hitting their lists 2 or even 3 times each month? The answer is - they are - and now more than ever. I've read countless articles and blog posts lately that reveal that as b2b marketers are pressured to help get sales back on track - and also to do so at a minimal cost - that email rates have gone through the roof. And the evidence is in my own inbox. I've never received so many marketing emails in all my life.

And the inevitable reaction of the recipient, is that with the exponential increase in noise, comes an equally exponential decrease in attention. If you're like me, then you've started hitting the delete button, if not the unsubscribe button with an enthusiasm and alacrity of previously unknown proportions. And guess what? Your contacts are doing the same thing. And the more you currently rely on email as your primary lead gen channel, the more terrified you should be.

So what option are you left with? Other programs typically mean incremental dollars, and you are very unlikely to achieve such targeted reach - so what can you do?

Given all of the dynamics at play, your only option may very well be to make your email marketing programs effective, despite the noise and tuned-out constituents, by figuring out how to get people to actually OPEN your email. Simple right?

Well it may be easier than you think - thanks (as usual) to some guidance from the world of b2c marketing. As I've stated previously - we're all marketing to human beings - not businesses, but for some reason, most b2b marketers cling to the notion that their marketing must be more sophisticated, more polished - and ultimately more highfalutin than that of their peers in the b2c space. But here's a newsflash for you: Your peers in the b2c space are EXPERTS at marketing to people. Just look at the success of the snuggie - Seriously.

In my experience, the subject line is the single most critical element in determining the ultimate success of any email campaign. If they aren't opening your email in the first place, then the other metrics (like click-through or effective rate) are going to be dismal anyway. So last year, I began researching effective subject lines, and eventually found salvation in the most unlikely of places: Cracked.com.

For those of you who aren't aware, Cracked.com is a humor website, most notable for their outrageous, but entertaining lists, like 5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen, or 7 People From Around the World With Real Mutant Superpowers.

So when I found their article, The Top 7 Secrets to Writing a Cracked.com Top 7 List, on the front page of Digg, I knew I was on to something. I'd recently been hearing more and more about the effectiveness of lists in marketing content, and even using some, but without much success, so I was anxious to see what I was doing wrong.

Suffice it to say, that out of the 7 secrets listed, I only remember one - but it was so impactful that it has become an integrated part of our email strategy over the last year, with the result that our open and effective rates are up to such an extent, that without a significant change in email frequency or distribution, we are on target to equal our 2008 lead gen number in July of this year - roughly a 181% increase over the same period last year.

That secret - as ridiculous as this may sound - was #7 Use the Golden Formula. So what's the Golden Formula? Did you notice any patterns in the lists I mentioned above? Here it is:

"The" + (Number) + "Most" + (Over the top adjective) + (Subject) + Of All Time (Synonyms like "in History" or "Ever" will also be accepted) = Popularity

That's it. It really is that easy. Take the formula, and apply it to your b2b content. Count the number of items in the table of contents if you have to, then simply plug in the appropriate words for your subject line, and I guarantee that you will see a marked improvement in your open rates. If the article or whitepaper is of the same name - even better - your effective rate and lead capture will increase as well.

So the next time you send an email, instead of "Great Deal on Software or Widget XYZ", try "The Top 7 Ways XYZ Will Save Your Job" or something equally audacious and see if it works.

Then when it does, just lather, rinse, and repeat your way into the marketing hall of fame.

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  1. The Golden Formula...as its own subject line would be rather intriguing. But boiling this philosophy down to effective eblasting is a massive disservice to those who wish to market their products and services via more traditional mediums. In the bigger picture, The Golden Formula is really about selling value. The classic Benefits vs Features model. Clearly illustrating value to the consumer will nearly always lead to increased open rates, leads, sales, foot traffic, etc.

  2. A 'massive disservice'? That's a bit much, no? How does showing an applied practice in any way 'dis-serve' anyone interested in applying the same model to other vehicles?

    But fair enough - you're ultimately agreeing that the overarching philosophy is sound. And in my experience, most folks are looking for effective tactics - not a reiteration of age old (classic) dogma, so I shared an effective tactic that simple and easy to implement.

    That said, I'd welcome your case study on how you've leveraged the same philosophy through other mediums.

  3. You give the consumer way too much credit. Value? Really? The Sham-wow? Nope, it's big pretty pictures and simple POW-ness. That's not to say value doesn't matter to a CEO when he is considering - say - software. However, in a B2C world, not so much.

    I think the author is simply implying that those concepts CAN be applied in a B2B world and it may be valuable to consider whatever they consider to be "gold". The results seem to speak for themselves.