This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series where I will be trawling email marketing blogs, newsletter and emails, extracting information snippets and then commenting on their meaning for the email marketer. It is not intended to be overly academic or technical, more of a themed, sometimes quirky and personal polemic.

“You have 2 seconds to persuade recipients to open the email”

Now there’s an apocalyptic statement to kick off with, overdramatic?

Well yes a bit, but it does serve to make the point that follows that much more powerful.

It is, in effect, what the results of a recent study by Litmus are suggesting. In this study, using data gathered from their email analysis tools they claim that a majority of email recipients spend no more than 2 seconds deciding whether to open an email or junk it.

Two seconds! What logical human decision making process can produce a result so quickly, surely that brief amount of time is an exaggeration? Perhaps though, it isn’t a process at all, merely the result of expertise and practice, an almost knee jerk reaction honed by long experience of emails.

Email consumers, whatever their demographic grouping, are highly sophisticated users of the medium and maybe they instinctively know if an email will interest them. It may be that their “what’s in it for me?” radar is so highly tuned that two seconds is more than enough to decide to open or junk it. Obviously if the email marketer is to take this research at face value and deal with its consequences we need to know what is driving the radar.

Before presenting my thoughts here is another research factoid.

“43% of browser access is now from mobile platforms”

Not connected with the opening statement? Yes it is, because the implication is clear that the take-up of smart phones and/or net-books is now so rapid that the numbers of email recipients regularly reading messages on these new platforms has reached such significant numbers as to effect research such as that produced by Litmus.

So let’s cut to the chase, what can marketers do to mitigate the 2 second effect?

It’s obvious really, to paraphrase Bill Clinton “it’s the subject line stoopid”. The subject line is the answer to the “what’s in it for me?” question:

  • It’s the impact of the subject line that drives up the open rates and ultimately the ROI.
  • It’s the subject line that links with the body of the email and, underneath the sender’s name.
  • It’s the subject that is most prominent in a smartphone email inbox list. No preview panes, no top of the fold images, just a list.

Still not convinced, then how about another factoid?

“15% of all emails going into hotmail inboxes are Facebook notifications”

Facebook is a powerfully attractive and growing force, are they going to open the notification or your email?

Come on folks work on those subject lines, test variations, make them creative, attention grabbing, engaging and compelling. Spell out “what’s in it for them” and get them opening your emails.