Become an email subject line master in 15 minutes [Part 3 of 5]

If you’re someone who has achieved "inbox zero", you should know that you represent like .001% of the population.

You are an anomaly.

Right now I have 24,846 unopened emails in my inbox.

This morning alone (it’s 10am now), I’ve received 32 emails that I won’t ever open.

Awhile back I got so frustrated with my email, folders and filtering that I gave up and said, "I don’t care anymore. I’m just going to scan my emails looking for what’s relevant, open those, and skip the rest."

And you know what? This is how just about everyone operates. All the people I know who aren’t entrepreneurs or marketers manage their email inbox in the same exact way. It’s not ideal or "good", but it’s the reality of the situation for the majority of email users.

Now, stop for a second to think about what this means for anyone sending emails.

If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer you only get paid (or get paid the most) when you generate results.

"Results" or sales, can only happen if people are opening your emails and clicking on your links.

And this means that you have to be one of the emails that sticks out in crowded email inboxes if people are going to stop, open and click links in your emails.

The good news is that if you are the one email sender getting read, and you’re the business owner — your business will make exponentially more than your competitors.

For freelancers, this means that the businesses you work with will be blown away by the results you’re able to generate and you’ll get more repeat business.

So how do you ensure that your emails get opened?

The best way I’ve found is to make sure your email subject line uses what’s called the Salience Network.

In his excellent book, "The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains", Nicholas Carr talks about what the brain decides to give attention to.

This decision making process for giving attention is called the Salience Network.

Very simply, our brains give attention to 6 different stimuli:

  1. Things that are novel.
  2. Things that are unexpected.
  3. Things that are pleasurable
  4. Things that are rewarding.
  5. Things that are personally relevant.
  6. Things that are emotionally engaging.

When your brain is scanning an email inbox and sees an email subject line that includes 1 of these 6 stimuli, that subject line sticks out like a sore thumb (aka, it captures your attention).

Let’s talk about how you include each of these stimuli in a subject line.

  1. Things that are novel.

Novel means that something is "new" to someone. We like "new" things.

This can mean you include the word "new" in your subject line.

It can also mean "news".

Are there any current events or current celebrity names that are relevant to your prospect right now? Those names and events will draw attention.

  1. Things that are unexpected.

"Unexpected" quite obviously means anything that people aren’t expecting to be read, right now, in their inbox.

Subject lines tend to have a similar format or look. Including emojis in the past might have been unexpected.

Another way to be unexpected is to create an interesting or unusual connection.

A golf newsletter I read had the subject line: "Baseball can fix your drives".

  1. Things that are pleasurable.

The brain gives attention to things that it thinks are going to provide pleasure.

What does your audience think of as pleasurable activities in relation to what you’re selling?

Here’s a list of 20 activities people typically find pleasurable:

  • Spending Time with Loved Ones
  • Romantic "Interactions"
  • Watching Movies or TV Shows
  • Reading
  • Exercise
  • Outdoor Activities
  • Playing with Pets
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Music and Dance
  • Eating
  • Cooking and Baking
  • Sleeping
  • Baths or Spa Treatments
  • Meditation and Relaxation
  • Learning New Skills
  • Achieving Goals
  • Playing Games
  • Sports and Spectator Events
  • Traveling
  • Sightseeing and Adventure
  1. Things that are rewarding.

Rewarding is just another way to say beneficial.

Benefits are at the heart of copywriting and marketing.

Your subject lines should often promise someone they are going to get a beneficial result from reading your email (and doing what it says or ultimately buying the product down funnel).

  1. Things that are personally relevant.

If something is personally relevant, it almost feels tailored to them or sent specifically to them.

How does your reader identify? Call it out (ie, "Men over 50").

CopyHour student Jon MacLennan just wrote a subject line: "Why a lot of intermediate players get stuck".

What are some current problems they’re experiencing? What are current things they might be thinking about?

Also, being personally relevant can just mean including the word "your".

  1. Things that are emotionally engaging.

The FBI — yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigations says that there are 7 ways we express emotion:

  1. Happiness
  2. Surprise
  3. Contempt (embarrassment or shame)
  4. Sadness
  5. Fear
  6. Disgust
  7. Anger

Your subject lines can encapsulate these emotions and/or infer a story.

You can even use the word for the emotion right in the subject line. Something like:

  • "This made me happy"
  • "I was surprised by this new range finder"
  • "My most embarrassing senior moment."

Now, the cool part is this: the 6 Salience Network stimuli are not mutually exclusive. You should include at least 1, but combining 2 or more is ideal.

Go ahead and look at the emails you skip right over in your inbox.

I’m guessing the emails you’ve left unopened either don’t have a solid brand you associate with valuable content or products. Or, the email subject lines are just straight up boring because they don’t appeal to the Salience Network.

I know this is a lot of info to digest in an email and you’re likely craving more examples.

In tomorrow’s email I’m going to send nothing but subject line examples and formulas you can use that apply the Salience Network.

Talk then!

  • Derek