Don’t Let Email Subject Lines Be An Afterthought!


Email marketing seems like it should be so simple: create a cool template, write some witty copy, build out your list, hit send and watch those sweet leads pour in.


Of course, if it WERE that easy, lots of digital marketing pros would be out of work! There’s an awful lot to consider when developing an email marketing campaign. Let’s talk about the least exciting, often created as an afterthought, yet key piece of building a better email – the subject line. 

Some real world examples of email subject lines with room to improve from my own inbox are shown below (and yes, these prove I may need a 12 step shopping program).

It’s common knowledge: Email Subject Lines Matter!

So why do we keep seeing really goofy things in our inboxes? As marketers, we spend so much time thinking about the experience a potential customer may have when opening our newsletter or promotional email – “Awesome images! Scintillating content! Shut up and take my money!” 

But what if you lose that customer before you ever have a chance to prove your worth?

Pottery Barn Kids: 

Note to the reader – I don’t have kids. I subscribed to Pottery Barn after buying a new house that needed furnishing, and was added to the full range of Pottery Barn companies email lists. I know it’s easy to adjust my preferences (it’s part of my livelihood, after all!), but since I was busy with that new house, I let the inbox build and build.


In a Perfect Storm moment, I received the emails above after some epic online shopping sessions, and directly after the announcement of some major data breaches at stores I frequent. When I saw these subject lines on my phone, I panicked. Who got my card and furnished their kids’ rooms on my dime?!? When I got back to my desk and opened the email on my computer, ready to do battle with banks and Big Data®, I saw they were trying to GET a sale, not confirm one.



More careful wording could have avoided a serious blood pressure spike. How you phrase things matters! We see a ton of articles and studies in digital marketing publications on writing clever subject lines, which we love to create, but at the end of the day, your subject needs to be clear and make sense in all formats above all else.

All the Cool Kids are Doing It! 

We’re human. And better still, we’re human marketers! We love the newest, coolest thing, and we long to stand out in a crowd. In the past few years, memes, emojis and GIFs have become a new standard in digital communication, and marketing people love to try and have fun with them. Just be sure to research where your customers are seeing your emails to know whether or not you should be using the next big thing. If the bulk of your users are on an agreeable client or device for graphics, fire away! But if you aren’t careful, your festive emoji may look less like the fun highlight you want, and instead appear as a giant error.

Neiman Marcus Last Call:



Read Your Subject and Preview Lines Out Loud. (Really.)

It should go without saying, READ what you’re saying to your potential customers. Like many office dwellers, I am well aware when a holiday that involves a day off is approaching! But if by some chance I did not know what holiday was to come, I still wouldn’t need an email to remind me 3 times in 12 words about it.

This blog doesn’t even cover how text cutoffs can lead to occasionally funny, and sometimes downright offensive, mistakes in an inbox. I have seen restaurants promoting Father’s Day that cutoff by calling Dad “Fat…” or professional associations that, well, you can imagine what THOSE cutoffs might look like!

Bottom line – a mix of great content and beautiful images mean nothing if you’ve prevented someone from opening the email in the first place. If you need help with designing your next email marketing campaign, give our digital marketing pros a call!



Rebecca Ferrell

Rebecca Ferrell is the Director of Marketing Strategy for Carbon8, bringing over 18 years of account, project and client service management to the team.

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