Email Subscriptions: What Makes You Open and Read Something?

BDN is in the process of updating the Flight Manual email subscribers receive as part of their blog delivery so we tasked our team to take a closer look at the emails we receive. Our assignment was to provide samples of email subscriptions that we receive and actually read. The emails did not have to be about aerospace or marketing. In fact, there were no limitations on subject matter, be it personal or professional.

We learned that there is no single answer as to what makes for good email marketing. But we also learned a lot about what it takes to win or lose a reader’s attention and better understand the difference between email success and failure. Keep reading for insights, examples and more.


3 Key Takeaways

1)  Content is king. Several members of our focus group were quite clear in saying that the only reason they subscribe to anything is for the content, especially if it’s unique material they don’t see elsewhere. They don’t really care all that much what the email looks like — it’s primarily important that the information being delivered is fresh, relevant and interesting. Examples include emails from Aviation Week & Space Technology, and Law360. Our takeaway? Find out what your audience really cares about and write about that in a very focused and niche way. If you give people specialized content they want, your subscribers will come. Law360-email-300x300

2) Curated content is best. If content is good, then curated content, customized to each subscriber, is even better. One staffer praised Birchbox for its simple, personalized email. And about half of our team members say they subscribe to Medium, which touts itself as “a place to read, write and interact with the stories that matter most to you,” and where content is tailored to each user’s needs and preferences, both personal and professional. Our takeaway? Having the ability to personalize content delivered to each recipient’s individual profile is a huge advantage. It will get and keep subscribers and may just be the Holy Grail of email marketing.

3) Design and format are less important than you might think. We are design-minded people and there’s no question that we value good design. But, generally speaking, as long as an email looked professional and appropriate for the audience, our team did not place too much emphasis on its graphic appeal. At the same time, several people remarked that compelling imagery or a clever concept, like something Uber did, worked to draw them in. One of our team members, a vehicle aficionado, explained how he was enticed to read an email because it featured a glossy action photo of a bright red Jeep. Another mentioned how food photography never fails to draw her in. Still another likes the irreverent photos and memes they use at Muck Rack Daily. Our takeaway? While your email has to look professional, don’t stress too much over having the most beautiful or artistic design. Do be sure, however, to pay attention to having strong, high-quality photography and other visual elements to spark interest.

 3 Lessons Learned

1) Really bad design is a turnoff. While we just said that design isn’t everything, it’s worth noting that several of our team members did value the appeal of clean design. And they specifically called out some aerospace industry news summaries that are so cluttered with ads that they “look like a yard sale” as off putting. Our takeaway? While you don’t need to obsess about design, always remember that less is more and clean (like IDEO U ) is better than cluttered. IDEOU-B-email-300x300

2) Subject lines just don’t carry much weight. Much has been written about the importance of subject lines and how to optimize them for better open and click-through rates. But our informal poll shows that a trusted sender is almost always more important than a catchy subject line. Our takeaway? Once someone has made the commitment to subscribe to your content, they will usually open and read it regardless of subject line. While you should still strive to draw readers in using best practices, one clunky subject line is probably not the end of the world.

3) It takes a lot to win and keep a subscriber. People are ruthless about their inboxes. One of our staffers says she has hundreds of unopened emails from marketers vying for her attention. Another maintains two emails and is obsessive about unsubscribing from anything that’s not deemed essential. Our takeaway? Every email is an opportunity to maintain (or lose) your place in a recipient’s inbox. If you grab your readers’ attention and give them unique information they can’t get anywhere else, preferably customized, you’ve got a fighting chance.

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