Why the Best Email Marketing in My Inbox Doesn’t Feel Like Marketing

Chris Watkins on Email Marketing

In email marketing, one of the most vital tips to creating a well-liked campaign is to practice the art of subtlety.

We no longer live in a world where blatant, in-your-face ads do the trick. The “scream to be heard” mentality worked for a while, but now consumers would rather be talked to than sold to.

Especially when this communication is happening in their email inbox.

Try to think of your email marketing as if you were actually handing the email to someone.

Have you ever been walking down the street when someone shoves a flyer into your hand? It’s really off-putting and generally results in the flyer ending up in the trash without ever having been looked at.

The same can be said for flooding your subscriber’s inbox. Make the wrong move, and you’re thrown away.

So what can you do to help keep your emails in the hands of your subscribers rather than in a trash can somewhere? Be thoughtful, candid, and above all a value-add to your subscriber’s day.

The Best Email Marketing Requires Thoughtful Subject Lines

The first thing a person will see when getting your email is the subject line.

But in a world where the average person gets over 120 emails per day, getting your emails noticed without using bold, capitalized, multi-colored text can be difficult. 1

Over time, people will come to recognize your emails and, if you’re doing things right, will open them out of genuine interest. Once this happens, you will have much more freedom to play around.

Personally, I love punny subject lines from brands I trust, but until I’m familiar with a company, I’d prefer to know what I’m getting into.

So what can you do to help make your subject enticing to recipients?

  • Avoid promotional language: Using words like “free”, “instant access”, and “prizes” are a great way to get picked up by spam filters. People are also quick to pass them by. I get far too many promotional emails to check every one; the majority go straight to trash.
  • Use variety: Have fun with your subject headers. If every email body is different, make every subject different as well. Don’t let creativity get in the way of your message, however. Break this rule if you offer a recurring incentive. For instance, if you regularly offer early access to blog posts but also send out weekly newsletters, you may want to flag your early access emails to differentiate them.
  • Be accurate: Let your recipient know what they’re getting into. If you continually send emails with subjects that don’t pertain to the body copy, people will lose trust in you and either trash everything or unsubscribe entirely.
  • Be concise: Remember, these are subject headers not novels. Be short and to the point, or risk losing someone’s interest.
  • Personalize them: Adding a name to your email subject is a great way to grab a person’s eye. In an inbox full of junk mail, seeing your name listed can be really attention-grabbing.

Currently I have two emails in my inbox from companies that sell discounted outdoor equipment. One of these has a significantly better headline than the other:

best email marketing subject lines

One company gives me a long list of brands and nothing more. The other, uses a short and simple phrase that tells me what’s inside.

Personally, I have struggled with traveling with bikes in the past, so seeing that topic resonates with me. Guess what was waiting for me on the inside? A short article with great tips about getting bikes on a plane.

After the article, they slipped in information about on-sale items with a call to check out their site.

Which I did.

Use Your Email Marketing to Provide Value to Your Subscribers

The body of your email is going to vary a great deal depending on your purpose, but one thing should be consistent:

Don’t let the recipient feel like they are being marketed to!

The best way to avoid this is to provide genuine value to subscribers, generally in one of three ways:

Give Great Information

The best way to avoid your email marketing feeling like email marketing is to offer valuable information.

This doesn’t have to mean a discounted deal or give away. I opened the previous email because it promised information on a topic I was interested in.

Just by providing pointers on how to get my bike on a plane, I was hooked and went on to click on the email, and even further on to look at their site and browse their sales. This was a job well done.

The idea is that subscribers don’t want to be sold. They want to be entertained.

While you can, and should, market yourself in emails, the focus of your emails should be offering value to the reader. An informational article gives them a reason to explore the email, and gives you an honest opportunity to market yourself with subtlety.

Introduce Products and Services

In another email in my inbox, The Art of Manliness took the previous idea of utility and built on it. Not only did they reel me in with a great article, but at the end of the email, they gave me an opportunity to explore another aspect of their brand.

introducing products in email marketing


The subject line is, “Everything You Know About Cholesterol Is Wrong.”

Now, I’m not the most health-obsessed person in the world, so I could have easily passed this article up. But, I am the sort of person that likes to be proved wrong (and to be able to later prove others wrong), so I opened it.

The body message gave me exactly what I expected. There was an article dispelling the myths we’ve all thought about cholesterol high diets. It was a really interesting read.

What The Art of Manliness did right in this email wasn’t just the use of a provocative subject line.

After the article, there is a write-up about a podcast that they’ve produced. Personally, I’ve never listened to their podcasts. I never actually knew they even had podcasts. But, because I was already interested in the email, when i finished the article, I kept reading.

To reel me in on their podcast, the email broke down the episode into highlights that quickly grabbed my interest. Before I knew it I had the podcast open in a different tab and my work came to a halt.

By providing a valuable article, The Art of Manliness was able to get me into their email where they were then able to market their podcast to me. And I never felt like anything was being pushed onto me.

Offer Condensed Overviews of Website Content

Satirical news specialists The Onion have been been publishing, on average, eight pieces of content for their site each weekday. Knowing that this was a lot for readers to consume, they came up with a weekly newsletter. Their newsletter goes out once a week and highlights the five most successful articles from that week.  

The incentive The Onion provides to subscribe to their email list is time. Rather than reading 40 articles, I can read the five best. By promoting the week’s best, the likeliness that a reader ends up back on their site is higher than if it were just a random selection.

This gives The Onion a very easy opportunity to keep readers engaged week after week. They don’t even have to generate new content!

More Ways to Better Your Email Marketing

  • Segment your Emails: Depending on the information available to you, you can segment your email campaigns to specific audiences. Be it by locations or demographics, segmentation allows you to cater your content to your subscribers by making sure that what you put in their inbox is going to be as interesting as possible.
  • Use Humor: From subject lines to body content and beyond, people relate to humor. This can be a great way to make your brand seem more personal. Groupon has always been great at creating funny content for their brand and they have one of my favorite subject lines to date: “Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”.
  • Use Social Proof: When marketing yourself, try to use statistics or customer quotes to show off your selling points. Consumers are more inclined to believe the hype if you have numbers and references to back it up.
  • Include a Referral Program: Uber has done a spectacular job with this one. At the bottom of each emailed receipt is a share code. By sharing this code, you and anyone using your share code can get free rides. I like free rides and Uber likes free marketing.
  • Avoid Asking for Credit Card Information: In these emails, you are working to market yourself or a product. You are not selling anything directly. As such, a person should not need to enter their credit card information to access a promotion you are offering. This is a fast way to scare people off and lose subscribers.

The Best Email Marketing Builds Brand Recognition

Remember the example I mentioned earlier about the bad subject line that simply listed brand names and phrases? Did you wonder why the email was still in my inbox? Why I hadn’t unsubscribed?

The answer is brand recognition.

While I would love to talk to those guys about their headlines, the reality is, I’m familiar enough with the company for it not to matter. I’ve been getting their emails for months and months and I open every single one.  

Becoming a brand that subscribers recognize and trust comes with time.

Following the steps outlined here will help make sure that people continue to read your content until you do get to the point where the emails will be opened no matter what.

But even then, there will always be new subscribers and you will always to work to impress them. So keep your emails valuable, steer clear of blatant marketing and remind subscribers of how they ended up there in the first place.

1. Radicati Email Statistic Report