Lead with news — not process

The cardinal rule of journalism is to lead with the most important thing you have to say. I practiced it as a newspaper reporter, and I harp on it as a college newswriting instructor. So it’s not, “The North Carolina Legislature met Wednesday to consider the state budget.” It’s, “The North Carolina legislature slashed spending on public education Wednesday instead of extending a special sales tax — over Gov. Beverly Perdue’s veto.” We lead with news, not with process.

This is a precept that translates perfectly to the strategic communications I create for my consulting clients. I see giant enterprises waste this opportunity every day by choosing process-oriented subject lines for marketing emails instead of using that opportunity to convey news and interest the recipient. This is crucial real estate for an email campaign, as you have about a quarter of a second to get the recipient to click to open and read it rather than delete it. The first thing we all look for in our email inboxes are notes we can delete unread.

Here are some examples of subject lines begging readers to delete the note unopened:

From: Sara Waters; Subj: Shakori Hills News
From: Dragon Naturally Speaking; Subj: Dragon newsletter
From: Sony Rewards; Subj: Your Sony Rewards newsletter for June is here

Oh goodie! I love newsletters! They are long and take a lot of time to read. Let me invest that time right now with no expectation of getting anything valuable out of it!

From: Buy.com deals; Subj:Dell Computer w/ 500GB $199.99, Star Wars Alarm Clock $24.99, SD Card $5.95, TomTom GPS $79.99, 23″ LCD Monitor $139.99,..
Woah! Way too much. It’s just a jumble of punctuation at a glance. Choose one deal (and this being email marketing, customize it to my interest) and sell me on that.

From: Captain D’s; Subj: Your Father’s Day coupon from Captain D’s
Okay, the from tells me it’s from Captain D’s; you don’t have to repeat that in the subject line. And you are underselling this in a major way. I’m thinking the coupon will be Fish and More for $4.99 or something. Inside the note, a graphic proclaims “Free appetizer for dad.” Now THERE’S your subject line. Telling me what I’ll get free hooks (I know — groan!) me right away.

And to illustrate how effective an email subject line (and sender name) can be if done well, I’ll offer a single example:

From: Barack Obama; Subj: Dinner?

The email was offering me the chance to enter a drawing for dinner with the president if I contributed to the campaign at a certain level. I know — I opened this one and read it. Click the headline or READ MORE to leave your comments

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