Making Your eNewsletters Stand Out in a Cluttered Inbox

by Philippe Aussant


I often receive a hundred messages a day through my work and personal e-mail accounts. This number only increases when I take into account the notifications that I receive from the mobile applications on my phone. In this constant flurry of information, it can be easy for a message that does not require my immediate attention to go unnoticed.

In the context of my typical workday, I usually only revisit an eNewsletter if it initially leaves a strong mark. Otherwise, it will likely get lost in my ever-growing inbox, without having ever opened it.

It appears that I am not alone in this, as a study performed by MailChimp about their own users found that email-marketing messages have an open rate lower than 30% for all 46 industries they examined, with 28 of these industries having open rates from 20% to 25% [1]. In other words, the large majority of the recipients of these messages were not even exposed to the content included in the message itself.


Cue the Subject Line

When checking my inbox or phone notifications, my first impression of an eNewsletter is not the eNewsletter itself, but its subject line.

The subject line used for our eNewsletters must take into consideration the first impression bias, which states “people are strongly influenced by the first piece of information that they are exposed to, and that they are biased in evaluating subsequent information in the direction of the initial influence” [2]. As such, you run the risk of disappointing your audience if you do not deliver on the promise made in the subject line.

However, another way that I believe a subject line can address this bias is by using a professional, yet friendly tone in your subject line. I usually avoid e-mails that include an excessive amount of capitalized letters, or an unnecessary amount of exclamation points. Over time, I have come to associate this type of text formatting to spam messages, and simply delete these items as soon as I see them.

For instance, I would rather learn more about a sale from a store employee who uses a calm but friendly tone, than I am from an employee exclaiming this information in my ear.



Let the Text in the Subject Line Do The Talking

Example 1:

I recently subscribed to this eNewsletter after buying an Aaron Rodgers t-shirt (go Packers!). I have received newsletters this week promoting a 25% off sale, for which the first newsletter’s subject line was entirely capitalized:


My first reaction was to delete this message once I received it due to the amount of capitalized text used. However, after reexamining this subject line for this post, the text itself can actually be very appealing for 2 reasons:

  • The 25% off on a number of items
  • The text referring to a Private Sale, which can help make this promotion feel exclusive and personalized.

As well, looking at the eNewsletter itself, it is very pleasing to the eye and straightforward; opposite to the emotions evoked from the loud subject line. Newsletter

*Newsletter received on November 22 2015 (Use Code edited out for this post)

As such, there are many positives found in this eNewsletter. However, when I get my hands on this eNewsletter, I am going to reformat the text in the subject line to make it more inviting to the reader.


Example 2: Maximus

An eNewsletter that I recently received that uses a friendly, yet professional subject line to announce a sale was one provided by Maximus:

The Midseason Sale Has Started!

Original: Le solde de mi-saison est commencé!

In my opinion, this subject line perfectly sets expectations for what type of information is contained in the eNewsletter. It is simple, to the point, and automatically grabs the reader’s attention in the inbox. This company is using the power of simplicity to attract their audience to open the eNewsletter and discover what items are included in the sale:

Maximus Newsletter

*Newsletter received on November 11 2015

A First Impression Goes a Long Way

In a previous post, I alluded to the need for companies to use appealing visuals on social media in order to grab the reader’s initial attention, and then use engaging text to keep their attention [3]. However, the reverse needs to be applied for eNewsletters, since the subject line is the first aspect of the eNewsletter to which we are exposed.

Our audience will not see the actual contents of our eNewsletter unless an attractive subject line pulls them in. A well-written subject line can be as, if not more persuasive in getting our message across, while still making it stand out from our audience’s cluttered email inboxes.

Needless to say, the arguments in this blog post are based on my personal tastes and opinion. With every opinion comes subjectivity; while I have a negative reaction to messages that include excessive amounts of capitalized text and exclamation points, some companies have found success using this technique [4].

That is why the delivery of eNewsletters and email marketing is not an exact science. Different methods work for different people, and we should use language in our subject line that speaks to our target audience.

On a final note, it also never hurts to stay up to date on the words to avoid in our subject line to prevent being detected as spam, such as the ones identified in this article by Karen Rubin for HubSpot Blogs [5].



[1] “Email Marketing Benchmarks.” MailChimp. MailChimp, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

[2] Lim, Kai H., Izak Benbasat, and Lawrence M. Ward. “The Role of Multimedia in Changing First Impression Bias.” Information Systems Research 11.2 (2000): 115-36. JSTOR. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

[3] Aussant, Philippe. “Grabbing and Keeping the Attention of Your Audience in the Age of Social Media.” CBUS111 Blog. N.p., 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

[4] “Subject Line Data: Choose Your Words Wisely.” MailChimp. MailChimp, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

[5] Rubin, Karen. “The Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words.” HubSpot Blogs. HubSpot, Inc., 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Stock images retrieved from Pixabay (2015)

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