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How BarkBox’s DTC Model Fetches Customers

How BarkBox’s DTC Model Fetches Customers

What can a pet product marketing agency or business learn from BarkBox’s success with their subscription, DTC retail model?

Ecommerce analysts already considered pet industry marketing as one of the most rapidly growing sectors. That began years before the rapid spike in online sales generated by the coronavirus outbreak. Along with all of the good news about online pet sales, BarkBox relied upon a DTC, subscription model to rank as a notable success story. Since 2012, the company has mailed boxes of canine goodies to millions of dogs and more recently, partnered with such large retailers as Amazon and Target to open new markets. Find out how BarkBox converted so many pet owners into loyal customers.

What’s novel about BarkBox’s pet industry marketing strategy?

BarkBox’s business model has relied upon sending out a box of pet treats, toys, and accessories to subscribers each month. According to Business Insider, the company has mailed these boxes to over two million pets (and their owners) since its founding in 2012. To understand how this company’s pet product marketing works, it’s helpful to first take a look at the products and services they offer.

What’s in a BarkBox box?

To keep their offerings interesting, the packages have a theme each month. For instance, they might have a holiday-themed box in December or a dinosaur-themed assortment in June. Every month, subscribers get two toys, treats, a chew toy, and a special item for the month’s theme. In-house designers create the toys and test them on the company’s own dogs.

To get started, customers create a profile by answering some questions about their dog, so the packages are somewhat customized to the pet’s diet and size. Customers can also choose between plush toys or Super-Chewer, non-plush toys.

After the simple and quick subscription process, customers can choose between:

  • One box for $29
  • Six months for $25 a month
  • One year for $22 a month

A Business Insider reviewer ordered the treats for her own dog and was pleased with the quantity and quality of the products she received. Treats were free from common allergens and the toys held up to rough play. Her dog appeared to like everything, and the company gives customers the option to reorder certain items on their own. They also offer a money-back guarantee in case a customer gets something in the box that their pet either doesn’t like or can’t have.

In addition, BarkBox donates a percentage of their profits to services that provide free and low-cost vet services. Their pet packaging design has been described as somewhat kitschy and dog-centric, which appeals to pet owners. Overall, the reviewer felt pleased with the quality and suitability of most of the items and the value and customer service that she received for her money.

How has BarkBox expanded upon their DTC subscription model?

At first, the company’s pet marketing services mostly relied upon their own DTC subscriptions. More recently, they’ve expanded to offering both individual products and subscriptions on Amazon. As just one example, Fox News said they have earned revenue of over $1 million just from sales of one popular dog bed offered on the retail giant. According to Mark Meeker, the company’s CEO, the additional sales from Amazon have given them their first across-the-board profitable year.

Working with Amazon, BarkBox still sold directly to consumers. They’ve also expanded to retail sales, both online and in physical stores, through a partnership with Target. A company spokesperson said that they knew lots of pet owners still bought supplies offline, and they wanted to get their products in front of these customers too.

The BarkBox response to the coronavirus outbreak

Even though it’s possible to find BarkBox items in some stores, they still mostly rely upon online sales, either through their own website or through Amazon. During the outbreak, eCommerce has boomed, and pet products have been a major contributor. The company has responded to the outbreak by allowing more flexibility with its subscriptions, since they understand some of their customers may face financial uncertainty.

With the rise in online sales and even in pet ownership during this crisis, this flexibility hasn’t appeared to hurt them at all. In fact, it’s generated good buzz for the brand, and sales have remained strong.

They’ve also responded to some common disruptions that have plagued most companies during this crisis. For instance:

  • They’ve reported on their FAQ page that they have had to scramble with supply chains to prevent delays in production and delivery.
  • The company has also worked with their factories to ensure proper safety precautions to protect their employees, their customers, and of course, their customers’ pets.
  • They have also assured customers that their pet product packaging is probably safe since the CDC said that the virus would not survive on surfaces long.

In any case, BarkBox appeared to do a good job addressing both customer concerns and typical issues they faced during this market disruption. In general, customers understand that they may experience some delays during a crisis. They tend to respond well when businesses communicate transparently about issues. Naturally, customers won’t tend to tolerate businesses that might take chances with their health or that of employees and communities.

How did BarkBox succeed with their DTC, subscription model?

In many subscription categories, BarkBox first emerged as the only company offering these kind of pet products. As consumers began to adopt this model, they may have not even had any other choices, so BarkBox got some attention for innovation. Still, even most subscription sellers deal with higher churn rates than BarkBox does.

Why has this particular pet food supplier enjoyed so much success retaining customers? Typically, customers opt into these kind of subscriptions partly for convenience and value. If they’re disappointed or simply underwhelmed with the product or service, they cancel at the first opportunity. It’s fair to argue that BarkBox went out of their way to deliver quality and good service, so they didn’t have problems with armies of disgruntled customers or poor reviews. For example, most people say that they would easily pay more for the same quality of treats, toys, and chews if they bought them at a pet store or online without the subscription.

Even more unique, BarkBox delivers a sort of mystery bag each month. While it’s possibly easier to please dogs than people, it’s also fair to consider Henrik Werdelin’s, one of the company’s founders, observations that what they really deliver is an experience. He said that what customers really get isn’t just high-quality, novel, and appropriate products. They’re really getting a chance to share the fun and excitement of opening the box and sharing with their pets.

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The Pandemic Media Paradox

The Pandemic Media Paradox

Media planning and buying agency Bigeye examines why ad rates have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunities this paradox presents for brands.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Media planning and buying agency Bigeye’s podcast features Tim McCormack, VP of Media and Analytics. In spite of high levels of user engagement online, Tim explains why advertising rates across major news and social platforms actually fell throughout March and April. We also discuss how this paradoxical situation has presented opportunities for brands to gain extra share of voice, and why connected TV has emerged as an especially cost-efficient media selection.

In Clear Focus: The Pandemic Media Paradox

In Clear Focus this week: Media planning and buying agency Bigeye’s podcast features Tim McCormack, VP of Media and Analytics. In spite of high levels of user engagement online, Tim explains why advertising rates across major news and social platforms actually fell throughout March and April.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS – fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye, an audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency. We’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Over the Memorial day weekend, we saw efforts to reopen the nation, albeit with many social distancing restrictions still in place. For many people, this was the first time in months that they were able to visit stores and go to the beach. As we’ve been observing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer behaviors have changed significantly. In March, Nielsen forecasted that Americans would likely be watching a lot more television as a consequence of the lockdowns. Well, eMarketer confirmed last week that traditional TV viewing time is seeing its first positive growth since 2011. In fact, the lockdowns have led to increased consumer engagement with all in-home media, especially streaming video services. Disney reported earlier this month that its service, Disney+, attracted over 54 million subscribers worldwide in less than five months. Conviva, a company which provides optimization and analytics services for online video providers, reported that time spent streaming video during the daytime – which they define as between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM – is up by 40 percent in recent weeks. Some streaming services are exclusively subscription-based like Disney+, but others are supported by advertising. Kantar reported that 92 percent of surveyed consumers thought that brands should continue to advertise during the COVID-19 outbreak. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they wanted advertising to talk about how the brand is helpful in the new everyday life and 75 percent said advertising should inform about the brand’s efforts to face the situation. Yet nationally, about one-third of advertisers canceled planned campaigns outright while others ran modified ads, but deliberately avoided placing messages alongside COVID-related news stories and articles. Some brands didn’t want to be perceived as tone deaf to the seriousness of COVID-19 or were wary about consumer sentiments. This created a paradox for publishers of news content in particular. While most reported record levels of site visitation and consumer engagement, the decreased demand for advertising around their content actually drove the prices of media inventory down. To talk about this paradoxical situation and some potential opportunities that it creates, I’m joined in the studio today by Tim McCormack, Bigeye’s Vice President of Media and Analytics. Welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS, Tim!

Tim McCormack: Hi. Glad to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Tim, can you start by telling us a little about the scope of your role here at Bigeye and your team’s areas of responsibility?

Tim McCormack: I’d be happy to. As you were, so kind to mention, I am the VP of media and analytics here at Bigeye. And what that means is that the onset of any client engagement – now that can be a new client or just a new project – I work closely with you, Adrian and your insights team to take, for lack of a better word, insightful data that we are able to collect on the target audiences and the personas. And there really is just so much we’re able to activate on these days: credit card purchase behavior, media consumption data, first-hand research on attitudinal beliefs. And I work with you and my team to develop and build out an omnichannel media strategy that will effectively and cost-efficiently drive the results that the client is looking for, all really based out of that audience data. Once we’ve put that strategy into place, I work with account and creative to make sure that the ad creative we’re developing is really responsive to the audiences we’ve detailed is responsive to the different messaging and ad specs for the platforms we are advertising on, and it’s responsive to any kind of day-parting or segmentation based on the placement that could impact the consumer. I always say that I’m really lucky cause I get to work with your team and you to build this strategy. And then with our creative team, I get to take the just amazing assets that they produce and run them for media. So where I really feel like the media and analytics team pulls its weight is our ability to really look at the data and the analytics. Once we’ve begun a campaign and continually tinker and refine the campaign to drive better results. I always say that the optimizations are my favorite part because it’s an opportunity to come into work every day and look at and work on just such a wonderfully complex, interesting set of logic puzzles to continue driving the better results.

Adrian Tennant: A report from Audience Perceptions back in March showed that almost nine in 10 US advertisers had taken some type of action in response to COVID-19 with one-third canceling campaigns. Forty-seven percent of respondents decreased their budgets for digital display, 45 percent decreased paid social media activity, 43 percent decreased their digital video spend and 41 percent decreased traditional linear or broadcast TV. Tim, what drove these decisions, do you think?

Tim McCormack: Yeah. Interestingly, it wasn’t for the Audience Perceptions report, but I was actually surveyed on a few of these reports myself. So I think I can speak to some of the things that we heard from our clients and what drove some of their decisions surrounding this. So more than anything else, what really appears to have been the biggest factor here, especially back in March, was the uncertainty. So if we remember back to that time, which although only about two months ago, seems like a whole lifetime, more than anything else, we didn’t have a great understanding of what would happen next: how long quarantine would last, how impacted individuals in different regions of the country would react, what the government’s economic measures would entail, and on and on. And I think in such a fluid environment as that, where it’s tough to clearly estimate what kind of return you’re likely to get from your media channels, it becomes very tempting to view advertising and especially media as expenses rather than as investments. So, even though the data is really clear and we’ve heard a lot about it and a lot about very clear examples – going back all the way to cereal in the Great Depression – of how important it is to keep advertising through economic downturns, I think with all the uncertainty that was in the air, there was a really strong pull for executives to cut budgets to hold and wait it out until they had a clearer picture of what was going on.

Adrian Tennant: The Audience Perceptions study also reported that almost one quarter of respondents – 24 percent – pulled back on their paid search campaigns. Now why do you think that was?

Tim McCormack: Yeah, so it makes complete sense to me that paid search is a much lower percentage of brands pulling back on spend. It’s much lower in the marketing funnel and it’s bought on a cost-per-click basis. So you have a little bit more fixed idea of what those users are looking for and what you can expect out of them. For example, if I’m a brand selling basketballs, I might have more worries about running a TV campaign highlighting my brand when I don’t know when people will be out playing basketball again. However, if someone is already searching for something like “where to buy basketballs,” it makes a lot more sense for me to continue running that paid search budget. And that speaks to kind of some of the differences in media here overall. So, while I definitely think the uncertainty was a major factor across the board here, I think there are some other things that really heavily impacted this as well. So paid search doesn’t really have much brand advertising and brand advertisers, they suddenly had a lot more to think about as all this came on in terms of their messaging. We talked about how consumers don’t want brands to stop advertising but a high percentage of them of course responded that they want to see certain types of messaging during this period. And then, you know, when we think about paid search, not much reason to pull back there, but for something like linear TV, there’s lots of reasons outside of the audience itself in terms of some of the best programming is really being pulled back on. So the Olympics not occurring until 2021, the NBA finals not occurring until we don’t know when, baseball canceled throughout. I think it makes a lot of sense that a lot of this mass media is suddenly a bit more of a struggle to reach, even through some of its primary channels. And so that also gives a reason for paid search where we’re lower in the funnel to get a little bit more investment as far as we think about media mix. Now of course, some people continue to pull back, there’s uncertainty around things like supply chain mechanics. So if you are a paid search advertiser who runs an e-commerce store that heavily utilizes drop shipping, you may be uncomfortable continuing your budget where it was when you’re not sure when you know your end consumers are going to be able to get their items.

Adrian Tennant: I mentioned in the introduction of course that news sites have seen record traffic during this period, but have been largely unable to monetize the increased engagement with their content due to advertisers’ concerns about brand safety. Could you explain for us why that’s the case?

Tim McCormack: Yeah, absolutely. So, you mentioned kind of at the beginning of this too how this really is impacted by supply and demand. And of course, all of advertising is supply and demand, the supply is the audience’s attention and the demand is the advertisers desire to be in front of those eyeballs. But programmatic advertising because it has real-time bidding makes this very, very clear and allows us to see this relationship much quicker than we would say, when we’re looking at upfronts for content on television that’s going to be running in a few quarters. So news websites are having a lot of trouble because, as you mentioned, they’re getting that record traffic which should be great for them, but what it’s doing is driving significant supply on their side. So the supply of that attention is up very, very high. And then the other problem is across digital display as a whole, as you noted, 47 percent of the surveyed brands pulling back on their budgets. The environment as a whole is not built really right now to take advantage of that increased supply and have high costs. But there’s a real problem for news sites, especially in that they are getting a lot of brand safety concerns. Now, some of this predates everything with COVID-19, news websites as we see increased polarization has seen a lot more brand safety concerns with our clients. We’ve had clients here at Bigeye who said, “we want to make sure that our ads are not running on websites like Brietbart – we have concerns about consumer groups and advocacy groups reaching out to us about that.” And there’s definitely a sense of as that polarization happens, the news is not necessarily the neutral arbiter that’s always been so great for it, for advertisers. And then some of it’s definitely with COVID-19 brands worrying about “will we have to make sure that we get our message perfectly right if we’re going to be running next to this content?” So there’s from that beginning a very strong dynamic and a lot to think through when you’re producing those ads. And as the COVID crisis has continued on, I think more and more brands are getting additionally wary of it as news coverage of it itself is getting more and more politicized. I think it’s just a very difficult decision for brands although there’s certainly an opportunity there. We know that avid news watchers generally tend to be higher income. Oftentimes they are more engaged with the content itself, so as the prices drop, there’s a huge opportunity if you are looking at that audience oftentimes a higher income, slightly older audience, that you can really reach an expensive audience for a relatively cheap price here.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back, after this message.

Karen Hidalgo: I’m Karen Hidalgo, Associate Account Manager at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as advertising account professionals. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers. By conducting our own research, we’re able to capture consumers’ attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This data is distilled into actionable insights that inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – and guide strategic, cost-efficient media placements that really connect with your audience. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. We’re talking about COVID-19’s impact on advertising media strategy. In addition to programmatic ad rates falling we saw the same phenomenon play out across social media. At one point, I think Facebook’s ad rates dropped 15 to 25 percent. Have you seen rates stabilizing since then?

Tim McCormack: Yeah, absolutely. So, rates definitely have stabilized on Facebook. And one of the things I think is so interesting here is that for a lot of the media channels, it appears that the decisions to pull back were very consistent across the board, across verticals and not always based heavily on data. We’re actually seeing with paid social and with Facebook in general here that that may not have been quite so much the case. So across the board, as you mentioned, we’re seeing that 15 to 20 percent drop in CPMs, especially through much of March and April. But it’s much higher than that, looking at some studies we’ve seen, in particular one from Digiday, we’re seeing that up to a 62 percent decrease in CPM for non e-commerce, non-retail brands. And interestingly, where we’re seeing for channels, like television, for a large part like connected TV, like we mentioned for display, that those decreases in CPM are leading to an opportunity and there wasn’t much change in user behavior. We’re also actually seeing that for non e-commerce brands, social showed a pretty significant performance dip. So between late February and mid-March, it looks as though conversion rates felt almost 10 percent from 14 percent to 4 percent.

Adrian Tennant: Wow.

Tim McCormack: So maybe a little bit of that driving the decreases and users pulling back behind it as well.

Adrian Tennant: Hmm. That’s-super interesting. Well, WARC has just published some new numbers reflecting budget changes in the first half of 2020 based on a survey of 38 multinational companies with around $50 billion in annual media and marketing spend. One thing really stands out: while back in March, as we just talked about, 43 percent of all respondents reported cutting back on digital video. These new numbers show that for the entire first half of 2020 for the largest advertisers, online video budgets are down by only 7 percent and online display budgets by just 14 percent. The Coronavirus outbreak has catapulted one medium – connected TV – into the limelight. What was already considered a promising premium digital video medium has quickly become a priority for many advertisers thanks to the boost in streaming video consumption. Tim, could you give us a definition of connected TV?

Tim McCormack: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a lot of terms out here surrounding connected TV, over-the-top television. Connected TV is itself looking at those devices that are actually connected to the internet through smart televisions.  It’s used relatively interchangeably with OTT, which is when users are activating on streaming video through set-top boxes such as a Roku device, as opposed to a Roku smart TV, or potentially through an Xbox or an Apple TV. So, not a whole lot of differentiation between those two and used relatively interchangeably. Connected TV itself is starting to become a little bit more preferred, because it’s more able to guarantee what we call “living room quality impressions.” So you’re much more likely to be advertising directly to a living room, a kind of center of the house television through connected TV than you are through OTT. But a pretty minor distinction there and like I said, both terms are used relatively interchangeably.

Adrian Tennant: Now even before the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve been having conversations about connected TV a lot. Why do you think it’s received more attention now and what makes it an attractive option?

Tim McCormack: I think one of the things that’s really driven it to be talked about so commonly now was it was poised for a big 2020 even before we hit COVID-19. We’ve been slowly growing and growing what TV’s are capable of, how we’re able to track impressions and performance of impressions, as well as the medium itself has just been growing to maturity for almost 10 years now. And then of course, when we had COVID and people were in quarantine in their houses with lots of free time, people started watching more and more video content. And one of the things that we were able to really see as an industry is that when people are stuck watching more scripted video content, especially they’re not turning to linear television, they’re not turning to broadcast and cable, they’re turning to Hulu, they’re turning to Netflix. They’re often going to their favorite cable channels’ apps on their smart television and watching their shows that way. So that’s been a big boost for the talks of connected TV.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, you mentioned Roku. In its February report to shareholders, Roku predicted that half of all US homes would cut the cable and satellite cords by 2024, which is not that far away. In what ways do you think this trend has likely been impacted by the pandemic?

Tim McCormack: I do think that there’s probably been a high percentage of people, and this is more anecdotal than data-based, who have sat down, at least some point during this crisis, and scrolled through 200 cable channels, and found nothing that they were interested in. And I know, at least for myself, that was the biggest driver to be a cord-cutter years ago. Probably even more than the cost. More than anything else, there’s a real frustration that’s born from that. And so I think it probably acted as rocket fuel for a trend that’s been growing steam for a long time. You know, we can look at some of the big plans that are coming to fruition, either late last year or kind of throughout this year. So Disney’s plans for creating a streaming service, Disney+, Apple’s plans. We have HBO and really, beyond just HBO, the HBO Max service, their wider parent company of Warner getting into the game. We have NBC looking to do the same with Peacock. These are plans that these companies have put in place and invested a lot of resources in for several years now. So they’ve obviously, even before this inflection point, were very heavily believing that this was the way the industry was going and where they had to go to get eyeballs.

Adrian Tennant: And to your point, in this moment, unfortunately within unemployment being at record highs, a lot of families are going to be scrutinizing the nonessential expenditure and it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. What are some of the benefits of investing in connected TV right at this moment?

Tim McCormack: There is still a pretty good value on it comparatively to linear TV. That’s especially true when you think about the ability to more easily measure its impact. When you think about the ability to more granularly target, whether that’s on a geographic level, whether that’s on an audience level, you’re much more able to do so. And then when we get into our more expensive placements, in particular with streamers like Hulu, they’ve been able to take the more reduced price difference between them and linear TV and find additional value for it by coming up with just some absolutely fantastic ad units themselves, that give the user a little bit more choice and agency in the ads, as well as doing significantly more than we see from cable or broadcast to ensure that the ad creative itself is closely matched to the programming.

Adrian Tennant: And just help me understand, do we buy connected TV programmatically or do we work with representatives? How does that work?

Tim McCormack: Yeah, absolutely. So we do a little bit of both. We have historically been heavily a programmatic buyer of connected TV. However, in this environment, we’re seeing that some of the value is more easily grabbed, by doing upfronts, by doing direct buys with some of the publishers. And that’s because there are so many people jumping into the space for programmatic, and that’s because there is a lot of connected TV advertising ad space that is not in that very premium environment where you’re getting the best results from it. There’s quite a few channels, that are streaming-only channels, that you just can’t be sure have the right quality and brand safety that you can get going directly to a high quality publisher. And as we look at, especially through the second half of this year, political campaigns looking to utilize streaming, and how much inventory they’re going to take up. Right now we’ve been really looking to lock in at good deals for our clients directly from the publishers.

Adrian Tennant: Tim, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on all these media opportunities today.

Tim McCormack: Absolutely. It was great. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: So as we’ve heard, brands that maintain their ad budgets during economic downturns tend to come out better off on the other side. As we’ve discussed, the supply and demand nature of advertising means that as some brands exit, ad rates go down. These lower rates represent an opportunity for the advertisers that are in-market to maximize the value of their investments. When marketers cut back on ad spending, they lose brand awareness, which can’t simply be ramped up by the resumption of spending once the economy is restored. So with media consumption at record levels, advertising costing less and fewer competitors, now is the perfect time to create extra share of voice for long term brand building and activation campaigns alike. My thanks to our guest this week, Tim McCormack, VP of Media and Analytics here at Bigeye. You can find our show notes with links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked “Podcast.” To ensure you don’t miss an episode, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, stay safe. Goodbye.

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Email Marketing: 10 Email Subject Line Tips to Boost CTRs

Email Marketing: 10 Email Subject Line Tips to Boost CTRs

Email marketing hacks for your email marketing strategy: Use these test subject lines to engage subscribers and boost CTRs.

Every year, you probably see articles that tell you email marketing has died and that you need to turn to some new technology or tactic to boost your content marketing strategy. At the same time, almost every internet user has at least one email account that they check regularly.

In fact, HubSpot’s research found that an average email marketing strategy generates an astounding 3,800 percent return. If you’re not getting back $38 for each $1 you spend on email marketing, start with the very first thing that your audience will see — your subject line.

Boost your email marketing strategy with these tips for effective subject lines

If your own efforts or even those of an email marketing agency haven’t benefited your business, you may simple need to get more people to open up your message by crafting better subject lines. To provide you with some inspiration, consider these tested tips for attention-grabbing email subject lines.

1. Mention video

Video marketing has gained plenty of attention as a way to engage people and convert customers. Data analysis from email providers have found that just mentioning video in your email subject line can boost open rates. You don’t need to include the video inside the email but can simply link to a video you have posted on your own site.

2. Add the recipient’s name

If you use a CRM or other email marketing system, you should have a way to insert the name of your subscriber or customer into the subject line. Typically, anything you can do to personalize your emails should help gain attention and help the recipient find your content more valuable. With more sophisticated email apps, you can do more, but even the most basic tools generally make it easy to insert a name.

3. Try using lists and numbers

List titles, like this one, “10 Email Subject Line Tips to Boost CTRs,” tend to attract attention. People appear to focus upon numbers, so that may explain the popularity of lists. Also, the list style offers content producers a way to organize a lot of information in digestible chunks, and that’s the kind of content that many internet users like to browse.

4. Appeal to FOMO

To some degree, concerns about feeling left behind tend to impact almost everybody at one time or another. Perhaps it’s even a survival instinct from the times when groups offered protection against dangerous predators.

Today, fear of missing out even has its own acronym — FOMO. Adding a time or quantity limit to emails about special deals can work very well. Let your audience know that your deal ends Saturday or after the first 100 responses. If you want to extend your offer later, you can always explain that you had such a good response that you wanted to please more customers.

5. Keep titles fairly brief but not too short 

Marketing Land reported upon a study by Retention Science, a marketing analytics company, of 540 email marketing campaigns that sent a total of about 260 million individual emails. They found:

  • Titles with six to 10 words generated an average open rate of 21 percent.
  • Titles with five or fewer words generated average open rates of 16 percent.
  • Longer titles with more than 10 words generated average open rates of 14 percent.

Apparently, it helps to include enough words in the title to communicate the point but not so many words that you risk losing readers.

6. Consider adding recognizable movie titles or song lyrics

That same Retention Science study found that titles that incorporated movie titles or lyrics averaged over a 26-percent open rate, compared to more traditional subject lines that only averaged about 16 percent.

Some mildly amusing and attention-getting example might include:

  • Gone With the Wind — These Deals Will End Thursday
  • I Gotta Feeling You’re Going to Love These Walking Shoes

7. Phrase titles as questions or exclamations

Used carefully, punctuation can help titles stand out in a crowded inbox. An exclamation point at the end can help communicate urgency. Alternatively, questions may make your audience curious about the answer or eager to answer themselves.

You might also experiment with other special characters, such as asterisks, hyphens, and quotation marks. You might also phrase the question to suggest that something will happen if the reader doesn’t take action. As an example, you’ve probably gotten emails that say you won’t get any more emails unless you respond.

8. Try to add a little humor

Like you, your customers probably consider going through their packed inbox a chore some days. If you can get them to crack a smile, they’ll probably appreciate the effort.

Some examples of mildly amusing subject lines could include:

  • You’ll Like This Down Comforter Better Than Your Cat
  • Hey, it’s Friday! You’re Just Watching the Clock Anyway!
  • Since You Didn’t Win the Lottery Today…

9. Surprise or challenge your readers

You have to take care with this, but clickbait’s a thing for a reason. Of course, you need to make sure you understand your audience pretty well because you have to walk a fine line between getting attention and giving offense.

For instance, a title like “Why Your Email Subject Lines Stink” might get attention but also could turn off some readers. If you run a Florida marketing agency, you might need to tread lightly with the famous “Florida Man…” jokes.

10. Personalize your titles and content

No matter how well you craft your email titles, you probably won’t enjoy the highest open rates if you can’t segment your audience and appeal to their interests. For instance, a customer who just purchased a pair of men’s hiking boots probably won’t have much interest in women’s ballet flats. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that customer might need the perfect socks to complement those boots. Why not take a little extra care to ensure that your audience will probably have an interest in your offer?

Best practices for developing strong email subject lines

So, how do you really know which kinds of subject lines will appeal to your audience? You should start out by understanding your customers and prospects. Not only will this help you determine which topics they’d have an interest in, it can also help you craft the subject line to attract their attention and just as important, avoid turning them away.

As with other kinds of marketing, it’s also a good idea to test various titles. For instance, you might try to develop a handful of different kinds of subject lines, send each of them out to different portions of your audience, and then compare the results. If one performs much better or worse than the others, you can use that information in your next email campaign.

No, email marketing’s not dead

No doubt, most people get more emails in their inbox each day than they care to read. At the same time, some companies have subscribers and customers who actually look forward to getting emails in their inbox because they find them valuable. Overall, email still produces strong results. If your email hasn’t performed as well as you hoped, start by improving your open rates with better titles.

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