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What Subject Lines and Fishing Have in Common

by Jason Lorentz  |  
April 1, 2013

I’ve been fishing since the invention of the Sony Walkman. My father started me catching fish in a bucket with a string and a coat hanger, and I was hooked (pun intended) ever since. Through the years, I have evolved into a very formidable foe to anything with gills and fins.

One lesson I've learned from my fishing experience is that presentation is everything. If you don’t offer the bait correctly, all you have is a wet line.

Now, I am applying my fishing skills to email campaigns. I have been implementing and analyzing email campaigns for the past five years as sales solutions manager here at MarketingProfs. Optimizing open rates is one of my main goals, and I have done extensive research to raise the percentages. Sure, internet providers and email clients play a major role in open rates, but I firmly believe that your subject line is the most important aspect of catching your prize.

Here are some things fishing and subject lines have in common.

A.) You have to use the time you have wisely.

Picture this: An 8-inch trout swimming around waiting for something to eat, and you are ready to catch it. You feel fully prepared to reel this one in, as you toss a 10-inch lure made for a shark at its head. Splash! The lure just about knocks the fish unconscious… and that fish is never to be seen again.

That image is not far off from a wordy long subject line. People cherish their time and are very particular where they invest it. Don’t scare them off with long, time intensive subject lines. The best subject lines are ones that use that space wisely, and keep it short, concise and informative. The highest open rates came from subject lines with average of 46 characters or less (see below C1); while the lowest open rates came from subject lines of 57 characters or higher (see below C2).

B.) Your lure needs to fit the situation.

Imagine the same scenario as above—except this time we do have the right size lure. We are definitely catching the trout now, right? Not necessarily.

So, you’ve got the right size lure, but you tied it on with fluorescent pink line and used grapes for bait. Most fish don’t like pink line and grapes. Now, the fish is just annoyed that you’ve invaded its space. You obviously don’t belong where it is.

What I believe to be the most important part of a subject line is what it says. Tie your ideas neatly together; make your subject line enticing. Make it belong. Don’t annoy or confuse the reader with vague, unrelated information. You have something for them, so use this chance to tell them exactly what you have. Once considered an email no-no, the word “free” is a great way to start. "Free" is enticing, exact, and appears in almost all of the highest open rate email subject lines: free content, free webinars, free events, etc. (See below C1).

Conversely, the word “free” did not appear in any of the lowest open rate email subject lines. (See below C2.)

C.) Know how to reel in a great catch.

Now that you have your email recipients' attention, hook them with a solid finish. Example C1 shows a great way to do this. You know you are getting free instruction on how to create great webinars. All the information is tied together and nicely presented.

Free Webinar: How to Create Great Webinars (26% open rate)
That subject line is a good example  of  A (42 characters, tells you what it is, and what you will be learning) and B.

C2. The State of Social Media Marketing and Social Scoring for Marketing Goals ( 17% open rate)
Unfortunately, that subject line doesn't meet the requirements of A (74 characters, doesn’t tell you what it is), and it is a very broad vague topic. What goals? I have a million of them. Nor does it match the description of B.

I would love to see some examples of subject lines that convinced you to open, and some that made you swim the other direction. Feel free to share them in the comments section!

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Jason Lorentz is the Sales Solutions Manager of MarketingProfs, which means he handles all the behind-the-scenes action for the sales staff and their clients. He lives with his wife and their 4-year-old son in Delaware.

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  • by Joel Mon Apr 1, 2013 via blog

    The parallels between fishing and marketing are very similar aren't they. You have to present them the offer with the right bait for the right fish (customer) in order to catch your target fish (customer) and convert them into the fish bucket (cash register). Good parallel you make.

  • by Genevieve Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    I know you would never............ (Subject line)

    forgive me if I didn't remind you to send in your registration form so that you can start accruing points/$$......................................etc..... (Body of email)

    I often send this style out to accounts via email and recieve pretty good response. It reflects how I actually speak with them. Works for me.

  • by John Tue Apr 2, 2013 via blog

    Emotion is the best trigger to taking action and fear is one of the strongest triggers. A subject line that elicits "you'll miss out if you don't read this email" typically drive strong open rates.

    On another note, I've read many times that using the word "free" triggers SPAM filters. I'm wondering how the delivery rate was for those emails containing "free" in the subject line.

  • by Patrick Zuluaga Fri Apr 5, 2013 via blog

    I like the comparison between fishing and marketing and I will it quite often in my presentations to get the audience to understand the importance of who you are reaching out to!

  • by Jason Lorentz Mon Apr 8, 2013 via blog

    Hi Joel. Thanks for the kind words :-) Glad you enjoyed the read! Best, Jason

  • by Jason Lorentz Mon Apr 8, 2013 via blog

    Hi Genevieve. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. It means a lot to me that you would invest your time with us here at Mprofs. I'm glad to hear that your emails are receiving good response. Best of luck with all your efforts. Sincerely, Jason

  • by Jason Lorentz Mon Apr 8, 2013 via blog

    Hi John, thanks for reading the post and taking the time to comment! You are correct that emotion is a strong driver of a persons actions, however I strongly believe that being more upfront with the reader will have a better outcome in the end. Too many times have I seen subject lines that are more persuasive than informative and straightforward which end up having poor conversions. The reader ends up with a sense of let down or misdirection, as the offer is typically never as dire as the SL lead on. You want your reader to feel a sense of trust in you, and that you delivered exactly what you said you would. To the word "free", this was definitely a true statement in the past. Today, "free" is generally an acceptable word. Spam filters of email clients like gmail and yahoo, etc are very sophisticated and look at several factors of an email to determine whether to can it or not. A more important factor is your reputation, and the readers continued interaction with your sends. If your readers aren't opening your emails, that will more likely get you spammed than having the word "free" in your subject line. This goes back to the what you are offering and delivering. If the reader feels trust in you, they will continually engage your emails keeping you in the inbox :-) Best of luck with all your marketing! Jason

  • by Jason Lorentz Mon Apr 8, 2013 via blog

    Hi Patrick. Glad you enjoyed the post! Best, Jason

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