Changing the Subject (Line)

One of the reasons e-mail marketing has become so huge is because it’s so darned cheap. Compared to postal mail, e-mail costs just pennies. That means most marketers can achieve a better ROI for just a mediocre e-mail campaign compared to even the most successful direct mail effort.

However, a common complaint about e-mail versus postal mail is visibility. Since most viewers choose not to have their preview pane feature turned on, they must physically open an e-mail before they can view any of its contents.

This “one-step removed” dynamic means that many people never get to see and read a marketing message that would otherwise stand out if it showed up in someone’s postal mail delivery as a postcard or self-mailer promo piece.

In this scenario, the e-mail subject line becomes a huge “gatekeeper” element. What the subject says and how it’s said can make a difference in e-mail open and clickthrough rates. But just how much?

A new E-mail Marketing Metrics Report from MailerMailer, a firm providing e-mail marketing and newsletter services, provides some interesting clues. MailerMailer has been producing these reports since 2003. This report, the tenth one issued, was developed by analyzing a sampling of ~900 million e-mail messages sent through MailerMailer throughout the year 2009.

Among the elements tracked were the words used in e-mail subject lines. MailerMailer found that the most popular terms contained in the subject lines were:

 Coupons
 Daily
 Free
 News
 Newsletter
 Report
 Today
 Update
 Week (weekly)
 Year

Notice how each of these terms conveys a sense of WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) and/or a sense of time sensitivity. Interestingly, despite a prevailing concern that using the word “free” in the subject line risks more spam filtering, MailerMailer found that this term was one of the ten most popular terms used in subject lines during 2009.

And what about subject line length? The report found that shorter subject lines (containing less than 35 characters) outperformed longer ones. That’s generally just four or five words along with the corresponding spaces between them.

And the difference MailerMailer observed was significant: E-mails with shorter subject lines experienced an average open rate of ~17.5%, while those with longer subject lines had an open rate of only ~11.5%.

The same differential was found with clickthrough rates. For the e-mails with shorter subject lines the average clickthrough rate was ~2.7% … versus ~1.6% for e-mails with longer subject lines.

The MailerMailer report concludes that while composing shorter subject lines may be difficult to do (well), going through that exercise is well worth the extra effort. The results from ~900 million e-mails prove it.

What are the very latest trends in media usage?

TargetCast TCM logoWith all of the rapid changes occurring in the media world today, it’s hard to know just what kind of impact they’re having on the media usage patterns of consumers. Now a just-released report by TargetCast Total Communications Media based on a September ’09 survey of ~900 American adults age 18-64 is providing some interesting clues as to what’s going on out there.

The report provides a host of interesting statistical figures, but I find a couple broad conclusions from the report more interesting:

 Men and women are consuming media differently. Men are more likely to adapt their usage habits to incorporate more digital and online platforms, while women are more apt to stick with traditional media forms.

 Radio, which surprised many by successfully surviving the challenges of broadcast TV in the 1940s, cable in the 1970s and the Internet in the 1990s, may finally have met its match. As a “passive” media, it’s being tuned out in large degree by a younger generation of people far more attracted to programmable MP3 players, iPods and interactive multimedia devices.

 Newspapers continue to be respected for their role in covering major news events, but they’re losing ground in the face of increasing digital and mobile news media use. What’s more, nearly three-fourths of the respondents in the survey expect their online news to be available for free. (Rupert Murdoch, are you listening?)

So overall, what media has become less popular with consumers? Answer: Newspapers and magazines, with around one-third of the TargetCast TCM survey respondents indicating they’re using these media less than one year ago. Conversely, ~40% reported higher usage of the Internet for informational purposes … and ~28% higher Internet usage for entertainment.

These findings help explain why print magazine advertising is still in the doldrums. In fact, Media Industry Newsletter reports that November 2009 ad pages are down nearly 20% from November 2008. This comes as a surprise for some people because the full brunt of the economic crisis had already hit the media by November of last year. But instead of showing flat performance or maybe even a slight rise in ad pages, the numbers tanked yet again this year – making the two-year drop-off between 2007 and 2009 a whopping 35%.

Sure, some of the blame for the sorry ad numbers can go to the continuing economic downturn. But the rest is due to the fundamental change in media consumption habits that are continuing to happen – as cleanly illustrated in the TargetCast TCM report.