Become an email subject line master in 15 minutes [Part 2 of 5]

Many, many years ago (more than a decade at this point) I bought a simple course from a guy named Peter Spaepen. (Unfortunately he passed away unexpectedly a few years ago – RIP.)

It was delivered entirely over email, one day at a time over about 50 days, and detailed "advanced" email/marketing strategies he used in his tiny but profitable businesses. (I loved this structure so much that it’s what I still use for CopyHour today.)

Every day he’d drop these tiny pieces of pure marketing gold, and the way he explained them were so simple and elegant that they completely blew my mind.

I couldn’t wait to open each day’s email.

But what happened after the course changed how I viewed email forever.

Once the course ended, Peter sent out maybe 1-2 email blasts to this list per year. The exact opposite of my "daily email" strategy. There were even some gaps of 2-3 years where I heard nothing from him at all.

But every time his named showed up in my inbox after these long hiatuses…

I was tripping over myself to open the message.

Like, I’d literally pause whatever I was doing in order to open and read that message, then continue on with my day.

That’s every email marketer’s dream.

And I’ve talked to other people who bought the same product and had the same reaction. Every time his name showed up in their inbox after the course was complete, it was like Christmas came early.

He’d trained all his readers to associate his name in their inbox with massive value. It was Pavlovian the way we’d start drooling as soon as we saw his name pop up.

(I’ve also heard from folks who worked directly with him that Peter was making $200k-$300k per year from these simple 1-2 email blasts he sent out. That ROI is also every marketer’s dream.)

And this brings me to the point of this email:

Your brand can often supersede your subject lines.

When I say "brand", I simply mean the weight that the name in your "from" field can carry.

With a strong enough brand associated with your name, I’ve found you can put complete gibberish in the subject line of your emails and still get very strong open rates.

This is a big reason that I’ve stopped split testing subject lines in my CopyHour business.

I aim to write emails that tell stories and deliver massive value – and because I put so much care into my emails, my open rates are generally the same across the board. I have a solid pocket of "true fans" who open pretty much everything that has my name on it, no matter what.

The biggest variance I ever saw in open rates?

26.54% versus…


That’s a 1.6% difference.

(For businesses like CopyHour and my list size, 25% open rates are huge wins.)

But I’ve also heard from savvy marketers working in huge direct response companies that the exact opposite can lead to massive jumps in open rates – using unbranded "from" names.

This is where you change your "from" name to something like "Stevia vs. Monkfruit" as a one-time email blast.

(Go into your spam folder and you’ll see this is what nearly all of those messages do.)

This works for these larger companies because the turnover on their lists is massive – they’re getting thousands of new customers a day and expect people to unsubscribe within a few weeks. They’re focused on blasting people as hard as possible to maximize sales for the first few weeks after they buy – and don’t have time to build strong brand recognition in that small window.

Personally, this isn’t how I operate. And if you want to run a profitable, small, low-stress business, it’s not how I recommend you operate either.

But it is something you’ll see if you find yourself on these "high-turnover" mailing lists.

The point is: before optimizing your subject lines, it’s worth optimizing your "brand" – and train your customers to be revved up when they see your name in their inbox.

And my best suggestions for doing that are:

  1. Have some kind of course that your customers choose to opt into when they first buy from you or join your list – something delivered daily for at least 2-3 weeks – and overdeliver in value. (Similar to my experience with Peter Spaepen)
  2. Focus extra hard on providing massive value in every email after that, rather than just sending low-value transactional emails. (This is what I aim to do with emails like what you’re reading now)

I know, I know, it feels a little generic to just say "write epic sh!t" (the annoying and un-actionable catch phrase of early 2010s bloggers). And what to write in these emails is outside of the scope of what I’m sharing with you now – but I’d be happy to come back to in the future if it’s something you want to hear.

But when you do overdeliver via email in this way, and train your lists to expect massive value from every email, everything you do with your subject lines will be exponentially more powerful.

Which will bring us to actually talking about subject lines tomorrow…

Specifically about what’s called the "salience network" and how you can use it to write the perfect subject line, every time.

Talk then!

  • Derek