March 12th, 2008 | 5 MIN READ

Do Your Email Subject Lines Deliver?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

4 PersonalitiesWe learned from our recent webinar Jon Stewart or Oprah: What's Your Website's Personality Type that different people experience and interact with your website in different ways depending on their dominant personality type.

These 4 buying modalities have been described as Competitive (fast and logical decision-making), Spontaneous (fast and emotional decisions), Methodical (slow and rational) and Humanistic (slow and emotional). (Read this summary if you're not familiar with the 4 modalities.)

You may have a tendency to make most of your decisions a certain way - that's just who you are. But different buying situations can throw you into a different mode. For example, a typically spontaneous person must take a slow and rational approach when evaluating software vendors for a major ecommerce project, even though he may download iTunes tracks on impulse several times over the same period.

Personality Types and Email Marketing

If you had an email account that was purely ecommerce offers (no messages from work, friends or Nigerian ambassadors), you would see the majority are vying for your attention like: SALE! UP TO 50% OFF! NEW STOCK! ONLINE ONLY! EXCLUSIVE! FREE SHIPPING!

These headlines appeal more to the Competitive and Spontaneous. And that makes sense, because when a customer is scanning his or her inbox - anyone in Methodical mode isn't going to be impressed by all the exclamation points, and the Humanistic is going to look for personal emails from friends, family and co-workers first.

Slow Decision Makers

The decision to click itself happens in such a short time frame, you must be in Competitive or Spontaneous mode to respond - most of the time. There are exceptions to this theory: a Methodical may be thrifty and has been waiting for the end of the season. Your email promising 75% off ski jackets is a timely reminder to visit your store - after which the Methodical carries on in a slow and rational way.

Likewise, Humanistics who value others' opinions and like to shop for gifts may respond to subject lines like: "Oprah's Book of the Month: We've Got It - 25% off" or "Our Top Reviewed Gifts for Father's Day." Or, like these examples from my inbox:

Humanistic Subject Lines

Email Marketing to Humanistics

When your subject line has a Humanistic appeal, it's important the email itself (like a landing page) is consistent with the subject line in design and copy if you want a click through to your site. Let's see how well the above emails are doing this:

"Hop To It! Great Easter Gifts"

Williams-Sonoma gets 2 thumbs up for this email. Humanistics are interested in others, right? This copy speaks right to the Humanistic who loves to give gifts, entertain and create memories for others:

Williams Sonoma Email

"There are still 13 days to make this an Easter filled with surprises. Our cookies and candies arrive beautifully packaged for sharing as gifts or completing an Easter basket. Decorate the table with fanciful touches like our Fuzzy Chicks and Mini Easter Totes, and make it a day to remember."

The design uses a large image of fuzzy chicks that make the Humanistic go "awwwww, how cuuute." There is still sale messaging for extra incentive, but it's not prominent. The main message is emotional.

It's hard to see, but at the bottom left of the large graphic it says "Exclusive Fuzzy Chicks Set" which may also be a motivator if this Humanistic has a bit of Competitive in her.

"Enjoy Life with these Deals from Comp-U-Plus"

Compuplus Email

"Enjoy Life" is emotional messaging, but there's nothing emotional about this grid of products (I'm only showing 4 of 14 offers). Portable storage and digital picture frames, eh? This is living!

The introductory paragraph emphasizes time-limited and email-only offers. This email could be salvaged by tweaking the headline to include "time-limited" or "email only" to make them more compelling to Competitives and the Spontaneous. Or the email itself could show the products in context - the whole family surrounding the digital photo frame with excited faces - a true "Kodak moment" for all to enjoy for the Humanistic.

Did you notice the search box within the email? Brilliant! Competitives are going to love this...

"Preferred Customer Sale: Starts Today!"

Making a Humanistic feel valued and even preferred is a great idea. (The logical might suspect everyone's preferred!)

Best Buy Email

Best Buy's copy and design is fine, but really this is a one day only sale, sent the day of the sale. A slow, emotional decision maker is not going to resonate with this email. Unless he/she wants to share the love through the "email a friend" link - but then it's no longer a preferred customer sale, now is it?

"It's All About Our Classic Tees."

This might be pushing it, but "Classic Tees" could appeal to the Humanistic as "classic" infers these t-shirts are liked by many people and will always be liked by many people. Plus, "classic" makes you feel secure and safe about the purchase, it's not about being the first to sport the look.

Abercrombie and Fitch Email

I'm not a fan of this Abercrombie postcard, and not just because it's a drab black and white. Although the shirt on the human shows the product in context (as it should be used) - we only get a good view of the model's shoulder. Her eyes are looking right at you, which we know is not the best shot because the call to action links are below. Instead, your eye tends to follow along the girl's arm and stop at the back of the guy's head or cheek. (Read why models eyes should be looking at the call to action).

So next time you send an email blast, ask yourself if you are using the right subject line for your email design, or the right design for your subject line. But first, you have to determine which buying modality would be most interested in your offer. It might not be all the types, that's okay (think Williams-Sonoma). The key is to speak that person's language consistently - and yes, that also includes your landing pages!

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