#fastlain feature: “Flop or Fly.”

I get a lot of email. (100+ a day!)

I delete most of it, but a few grab me. Every week I will be announcing 5 winning and losing email subject lines, and why they worked or flopped. Stay tuned to soon start to seeing a pattern — and to review your own subject lines with a more critical eye.

Just checking in! How is it going with subject lines? Did you use the tips from last week’s post? Comment and let me know the progress you have made!


#1:”Stranger in a Strange Land?”

From: Buck Books

Why it works:

This subject line is a great example of knowing your audience. Since this email list is aimed at book readers, they will probably get the reference to the novel by Robert Heinlein. +1 for piquing curiosity and +1 for literary reference = HOME RUN!

How you can use this:

Make your readers feel like “insiders” by using references only they’ll get. Then they’ll feel more engaged with the topic — and more inclined to open.


#2: “You have some dirty windows…”

From: Alex Charfen

Why it works:

Curiosity at its best. It stands out and makes me want to learn more

How you can use this:

Dream up a subject line that will be one-of-a-kind. Send the email that only YOU can send. That way, you train your readers to expect unique content.


#3: “Latest episode and it’s good. Real good.”

From: Nathan Latka

Why it works:

LOVE the conversational tone. It sounds natural and, as a result, doesn’t sound like bragging. And because it’s “Real good” I’d be a dummy not to read more!

How you can use this:

Keep it friendly and positive, and deliver the goods (Warning: don’t tell people something is “real good” unless you can stand behind that claim!).


#4: “Money, power, influence”

From: Tara Gentile

Why it works:

Talk about appealing to your target audience.. who WOULDN’T open this?! Money, yes. Power, yes. Influence, heck yes!

How can you use this:

Don’t be afraid to go for the bull’s eye and hit every one of your audience’s desires head-on.


#5:“Really Ugly Book Covers”

From: Adazing Books

Why it works:

I laugh just thinking about this subject line. It’s my favorite type – curiosity + a little quirkiness with the promise of humor. It’s unique and fun, and promises some info and education, too.

How you can use this:

Play on counter-intuitive wording to give your subject line an edge. Subscribers will click because it’s something they haven’t seen before. Going against what is expected is a sure pattern interrupt that will draw their attention.


Now, the flops:

#1:“Our Mother’s Day offer has had it up to 15% off”

Why it flops:

A sales should be a “gimme” when it comes to powerful subject lines. But this went off the rails! First, 15% off is not that impressive… I’ve read previously that 25% is the minimum to make a significant increase in sales. (Here is an article from Yoast on discounts — percentage off vs. $ off, etc.). Next, the subject line is confusing. It sounds like I’m in trouble (“My mother has HAD IT UP TO HERE!”).

How you can avoid this: Remember: Clarity FIRST.

My rewrite: “Mom would be proud of you…”


#2:“FINAL REMINDER ????????”

Why it flops:

Can you say “internet marketing scam”? THEY ARE LITERALLY SCREAMING AT ME! I hit delete before I opened.

How you can avoid this:

You better be telling my my house is on fire or that I won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes if you are using ALL CAPS and a boat load of question marks!

My rewrite: “Last chance to save!”


#3:“Get A+ Zzzzz. Renaissance Hotels is on.”

From:  e-commerce site

Why it flops:

Are you as confused as I am? Confusion = no action. No action = no money.

How you can avoid this:

Remember the First Rule of #FastLain Communication: Clarity!

My rewrite: “Renaissance Hotels: The Best Sleep of Your Life.”


#4: “The Evolution Process From A Junior Level Designer To Becoming A Design Lead”
Why it flops: 

Several no-no’s here. Firs,t this is too long. It’s going to be truncated in the inbox and as a result it won’t be clear. Next, it’s not a topic I’m interested in. AND even if I read the whole darn thing, it’s not very compelling.

How you can avoid this: Keep it short. Keep it interesting. Keep it targeted.

My rewrite: “Ready for the Next Step in Your Design Career?”


#5: “Re: Greetings.,s/m”

From: a Nigerian Prince

Why it flops:

Do I need to say anything here?

How you can avoid this: Make sure you don’t look like a scammer. Avoid the “Re:” prefix. And just make sense.

My rewrite: “Give me your money.”


The upshot: The subject line is the headline for the email. If you don’t get it right, people aren’t going to read any further.

Got your own submissions? List them in the comments below!

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