Skip to main content

The other day, I was speaking to a client who does a lot of cold calling. He’s a franchisee who works for an organisation that specialises in procurement and cost reduction. They are experts in what they do. Typically the franchisees rely on cold calling, but since the onset of the pandemic, they’ve been relying on email subject lines that grab attention.

With lockdown and the advent of hybrid work, more and more people are working from home. We know that to be a fact. Even though people are beginning to go back to their offices, the decisionmakers may only be going in one or two days or week. So they’re working from home. If you try to call them, the only way to reach them is through their mobile phone. So if you don’t have that number, it can be very difficult to reach them.

There was a time, pre-pandemic, when you could legitimately call the organisation’s switchboard or receptionist. They may not put you in touch with a senior decisionmaker, but they would at least connect you with that person’s executive assistant or secretary.

If you were able to sweet talk that person, you may then be able to get a slot in the decisionmaker’s diary—to speak to them at a later date. Obviously, while these people are working from home, getting in touch with them has become even more difficult.

What I’m saying—in a rather long-winded way—is that this makes email subject lines that work even more important.


A greater need for effective email subject lines

Chris, this client of mine, was saying that he’s sending far more emails. Those emails need to be even punchier, relevant and precise than before. He reckons that when communicating with most senior decisionmakers, he’s got between five and ten seconds to get their attention.

That’s not very long. So we were talking about the importance of the written word in headlines and email subject lines. Obviously, I have views on that. We talked about how an email’s success relies heavily on the quality and impact of the subject line.

Now I’d like to share with you nine techniques for crafting powerful email subject lines and attention-grabbing headlines. These are the same nine I share with people in my workshops.


Nine ways to grab readers’ attention

1.  Ask a question

A colleague of Chris’, a fellow franchisee, asked a question in the subject line of a cold email. It read, “Can we really save 20% on your fleet costs?” The organisation he was contacting operates a shipping fleet. If you ask a pointed question like that, you must then answer it immediately in the first line of the email. You’d write something like, “Yes, we can. And in fact, we did it only three weeks ago for a company very similar to yours…”.

Asking a question in the subject line is a tried-and-tested, technique. Obviously, the question you ask must be relevant and interesting to the reader. Good questions engage the reader by piquing their curiosity or sparking a mental image.

I remember the days of the .com boom and bust. I had received an email with a subject line that read, “Where have the .com profits gone?” It was very simple and effective.


2.  Ask a question and use the magic word

The magic word is you/your. I read an amazing one the other day. It said, “Do you close the bathroom door, even when you’re the only one at home?”

That’s a closed question, because the answer is either yes or no. But, in fact, it was a subject line for Who Gives a Crap, a company that supplies green and sustainable loo paper. In fact, I can fully recommend them. Their product is very gentle on the bum and gentle on the planet.

Using the words you and your make the reader feel as if we’re talking to them personally. Combining these with a question that addresses the reader directly on a topic that interests them is likely to engage them.


3.  Give a command or instruction

In essence, you’re telling the reader what to do. You’re using a verb in what’s known as the imperative mood. An example might be, “Click here to register for the course”. That’s a command or instruction. “Apply now for your early bird discount”. Notice I’ve used the magic word ‘your’. “Apply now” uses ‘now’, a powerful word. “Find out more about a career in teaching”. Again, giving a command. Or, “Fix your high staff turnover”.


4.  Quote a killer fact

These are memorable stats or statements that cut through the details and stun the reader into action…the action being that they actually read the article or email. They’re known as killers because they kill off opponents quicker than a worthy study or well-researched report.

You might write something like, “Two works of man are visible from space: China’s Great Wall and the Amazon fires”. Sadly and tragically, you could also say, “The California fires” or “The U.S. fires” or “The Greece fires” or the “sudden Spain fires”.

Another one might be, “A child dies every four seconds from preventable causes”. I’ve seen this approach deployed a lot by voluntary charity organisations.


Grab attention with email subject lines that work

There you have four ways to grab attention with headlines and email subject lines. We can ask a question, ask a question with the magic word, give a command or instruction, or we can quote a fact that will shock, surprise, intrigue…or give them something to disagree with or rub up against.

That’s only four of the nine ways we can write attention-grabbing subject lines and headlines. For the other five, be sure to read part two, Best email subject lines.

If you haven’t heard, I will be conducting workshops that include valuable writing information such as this, plus new and exciting content. The best way to stay informed about all that’s happening at Write for Results is to Like and Follow the Facebook page. Join the conversation, learn to write Human and get the results you want!

I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write.

Leave a Reply