Let’s talk about the humble “hook”.
As you might recall from my blog post a few weeks ago (How a Solid (Marketing) Email Should Be Structured), it’s one of the three core parts of a strong marketing email.
(The other two elements are the “idea” and the “invitation”.)
Why is a hook important?
Because our suspects, prospects, and customers are busy people trying to get by in a relentless world. All day, every day, they are bombarded with noise, distractions, and more than 10,000 marketing messages. Attention is a precious commodity.
We need to earn that attention – through the use of a strong hook.
So – what actually is a hook?
Mostly it’s the subject line. But it’s also the “from” name and the preview text that most email clients display next to the subject line.
These are the three elements subscribers see when they scan through their inbox with their finger over the delete key – and, together, they are the only things that will save your email from the trash folder. This is what hooks them into reading it.
Now, a lot of internet marketing blogs like to share tips about what makes a good subject line. They’ll talk about things like “curiosity”, “self-interest”, and “specificity”.
However, there’s another element that’s more important than all three of these put together – one that I’ve not seen any marketing “thought leader” talk about.
What is this element? Context.
Here’s what I mean by this:
For a hook to be a hook, it has to push subscribers’ buttons, so to speak. Not necessarily in a bad way. It has to arouse their emotions, by speaking to something they already care about. In other words, the hook is a subjective notion.
Good hooks come from knowing your market very well.
So, with all this in mind…
Here follows seven of the best email subject lines (i.e. hooks) that I ever wrote, along with an explanation of why they worked and how they
fit with the rest of the email.
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The “prostitute” principle
This went to a “cold” list of 21,000 attorneys across the United States. And it achieved a 14% open rate, which is exceptional for a cold list of suspects.
Why did it work? Subscribers had been getting emails from my client for a while, and knew he always gives away legal marketing tips. So when they saw this, they’re thinking: “Okay… what kind of marketing secret is this? Sounds bizarre…”
Experienced prostitutes – so I’m told –- demand cash up-front for their services, because they’ve learned from experience that when a client no longer needs them, they’re far less likely to pay. Many attorneys have seen this too with their own clients. That’s why it’s important for them to get payment up front. However, many clients don’t have cash to pay up front. So what can an attorney do?
My client partnered with a financing company who can offer zero-interest loans to legal clients, so that lawyers get paid up-front, even if clients need a payment plan.
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This went to the same list, and achieved a 13% open rate, which is still very good.
Why did it work? For the same reason. Subscribers are thinking: “Okay… what marketing hack does he have for me today? Something to do with leaving stuff behind..?”
A girl who my client used to date “accidentally” left her scarf at his apartment one evening after a date, so that she had an excuse to call a few days later without looking desperate. The most successful attorneys use a similar trick. Whenever they show a potential client out of their office, they hand them a complimentary copy of their book to review. (“It will help you understand your case.”) This gives the attorney an excuse to call again and follow up a few days later, without coming across as desperate.
My client offers a service where he can turn five hours of recorded interviews into a small yet respectable book attorneys can give away.
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Interviews I regret
This went to a list of around 46,000 prospects who entered their email address to watch a video (and receive other tips) about how to ace their next job interview. It achieved a 34% open rate. (The reason this open rate is a lot higher than the two above is that we sent it to a “warm” list, not a “cold” list.)
Why did it work? Almost everyone on this list is there because they failed (at least) one job interview, regretted it, and decided to seek help. That’s how they found out about my client’s video. (It shows them why many candidates fail their interviews.)
The interviews you most regret are the ones where you look back the next day and realize that you could have done more to prepare yourself – that you could have walked in with a set of well prepared and rehearsed answers.
My client’s product helps them prepare effective and authentic answers to the twenty most common questions that make up 99% of questions interviewers will ever ask.
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>100 applications and only one interview. Is my 20+ experience to blame?
This went to the same list and achieved a 31% open rate.
Why did it work? The majority of subscribers perceive – rightly or wrongly – that they are being denied a job because of their age. It’s something they resent deeply. (This subject line and the first few paragraphs of the email come from a message one of my client’s customers sent asking for help. We decided to answer it publicly.)
The reason this person is struggling to get interviews is not because of ageism. It’s because he is applying to far too many jobs, which means he doesn’t have time to “fine-tune” his application for each role. This is the real reason he gets screened out. Hiring managers can see that he sent them a generic application. If he’s applying to jobs the right way, he should only have time to send a small handful of applications each day.
My client’s course teaches how to apply for jobs the right way.
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LinkedIn is stealing jobs
This went to the same list and achieved a 29% open rate.
Why did it work? Intrigue. But also, most subscribers on this list identify as victims of an injustice (being laid off, not being able to get a job because of ageism, etc.). This subject line speaks to that sense of indignation.
When a manager needs to hire someone, they turn to HR as a last resort. Their first port of call is to tap their network and see if they know someone who is a good fit for the role. These days, that means trawling through LinkedIn.
One of my client’s partners runs a free online training webinar where she teaches them how to overhaul their LinkedIn profile so that they attract job leads.
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Why dentists should NEVER give out business cards
This email went to a list of 6,000 dentists across the United States. Not only was it a cold list; it was also a new list. Many subscribers would have never received an email from my client, or if they did, wouldn’t remember it. Achieved a 9% open rate.
Why did it work? Pure curiosity, with an implication that it has something to do with getting clients or building a reputation. Also challenges received wisdom (“Why in my right mind wouldn’t I give out business cards?”).
When someone is looking for a dentist, there’s a good chance they also visited other dentists in town. [The dental market is a LOT more competitive in the States than it is here in the UK.] Guess what these other dentists give them? Business cards. So give them a complimentary copy of your book instead. It’s an easy way to stand out.
My client offers a service where he can turn five hours of recorded interviews into a small, yet, respectable book dentists can give away to new patients.
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3 ways to get your life back
This went to a list of executives and mid-level managers around the world who subscribed to my client’s email list. (He’s an award-winning psychologist who specialises in peak performance, productivity, and motivation.) I can’t remember the exact open rate this email achieved, but I know that it was exceptional.
Why did it work? It speaks to a deep frustration that his subscribers have: that work has taken over their life, and they have no time for their friends, spouse, or even kids.
There are three ways to get your life back: (1) look for a new job, hope it will be different; (2) move into a new career, hope it will be different; (3) change your relationship with work. You have enough experience to know that the first two don’t work. Why? Because you’re a high achiever, which means you are a workaholic. Instead of trying to work less, you need to work smarter. That way, you can leave work early and create space in your life for what’s important – while still performing.
My client runs an online coaching program that shows how to use the latest science of productivity to get more done in less time, and create an extra hour of time every day.
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If you look closely, all these subject lines have something in common:
They’re not trying to be “clever”.
They just speak to something subscribers care about.