Winning Subject Lines to help Cultural Orgs Drive Up Open Rates

Guest blogger Erik Gensler is the President of Capacity Interactive, a digital marketing consulting firm for performing arts orgs. This fall Capacity Interactive is hosting the inaugural Digital Marketing Boot Camp for Arts Marketers, a 2-day conference October 20-21 in NYC.  Conference topics include web analytics, online advertising, fundraising, social media, and the topic of this blog post, email marketing. More information

We've recently been doing a lot of client work around email strategy. And one topic of particular interest to clients is figuring out what types of subject lines drive users to open emails and take action.

We've looked through a lot of fundraising and ticket sales emails and found that the following factors help to increase open rates:

1.) Don't be vague

Many subject lines fail to clearly delineate what's included in the body of the email. An email must explain its contents.  I often see email subject lines that are very vague like this one:

Become a member today

Most people receiving your email may not even know what a membership to your organization means. In general, unless you are writing to a select group of constituents, you should assume your readers know very little or nothing about your offerings. Here is another vague subject line:

Join the music

You may think it is cute and pithy but what does this mean to a casual user? As a fundraiser for a music org it may mean a lot to you but to most readers this is very vague and therefore not effective.

2.) Make your offer feel like it is for VIPs by highlighting special benefits

The more special and exclusive an offer sounds, the more users will be intrigued to open it. If there are special privileges in your offer, highlight them in your subject line.  Things like:

Receive the best seats in the house A limited number of xxx available VIP access to a rehearsal One Night Only event

We have found that subject lines that offer VIP benefits have higher open rates.

3.) Use a deadline

Create urgency by using a deadline. Tie the special offer to the deadline.

Receive x if you act by 10/15.

Just don't overdo this or it will seem like you are crying wolf...or are narrating a TV infomercial.

4.) Make it about the user, not about your organization

Here’s a poor subject line:

Give now to help us make our end of year goal

Why? Because this subject line is all about the organization. You need to flip it to make it about the user.

Here is a much better subject line about the user:

Support XXX by 8/15 and receive a limited-edition signed cast album

Another one all about the organization:  

Come to XXX performance on 10/15

Think about WHY the user should come. What will they get out of it? Also use terms like your and you, (not us and our) to be more user-centric.

5.) If relevant, mention a high-profile celebrity

Like it or not, people are mad for celebrities. If you have a high-profile celebrity involved in your event or performance mention them in your subject. If you have a high-profile director or artistic director, experiment with emailing with their name as the sender. We see that this often lifts open rates.

6.) Cut every unnecessary word

Try to make your subject lines as short as possible. There is no magic length but generally shorter is better. Take a scalpel to your subject line and cut out every unnecessary word. Think through your subject line to see if there is a better way to construct it that may use fewer words.