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The C.U.R.V.E Method For Engaging Email Subject Lines

Editor's Note: Today's post comes courtesy of Alex Williams, Creative Director & Digital Strategy Director at Trendline Interactive, a full service team that focuses on detailed, results-driven email campaigns.  Follow Alex on Twitter @alexcwilliams.

There are two ways you can look at the practice of writing email subject lines: an unforgiving onslaught of repetition that drains your creativity OR an exciting and rewarding challenge helps you become a better marketer and communicator.

After years of writing and testing Subject Lines for all ends of the business spectrum, I have developed my own method of creating Subject Lines called C.U.R.V.E., which has helped me write and test effectively time after time.

How C.U.R.V.E. Works
A good subject line must possess at least two of the five C.U.R.V.E. elements to connect with today’s subscriber and get them to open the email. Also, one of the two elements almost always is the “R” (relevance) or the “V” (value).

C.U.R.V.E. doesn’t have a suggested character length, capitalization/punctuation rules, or suggested words. Subject Lines are the easiest thing in email marketing to test and what works today may never work again. You constantly need to test the right subject line/content mix to connect with today’s busy email subscriber. Let’s break down the elements…

Curiosity- When used correctly, it is a powerful element. Curiosity can be used as a trick that doesn’t pay off for the subscriber after opening. Repeated trickery with your subscribers is a major no-no. Curiosity doesn’t always have to be used in the form of a question either. If you decide to use a question to drive curiosity, only use questions where the answer is OPEN! Let me give you an example:

SUBJECT: Are you Ready for Winter?
ME: Yes. (Delete)

 SUBJECT: Want to spoil yourself like an Oscar winner?
ME: Yes. (Open)

The informal question test: Ask five people the question you’re thinking about using in your office, on IM, however. If they think they already know the answer or don’t answer the way you want, you have a yes/no problem with your question.

Urgency- “Read this paragraph before it’s too late!” Urgency is one of the oldest tricks in the marketer’s playbook. You can’t tell people to “Hurry!” all the time or they will tune you out. Urgency, when combined with relevancy or value, is extremely powerful. Now that 25% off is the new full price, savings just aren’t urgent enough. People expect them, and marketers are creating those expectations by pounding them with “urgent discounts”. Take a look at this week of messages I received from a retailer:


There is hefty dose of urgency here, applied with blunt-force cadence. But urgency without value or relevance isn’t enough. I use this example because these emails were not relevant to me. The perceived value here is the $100 savings, but the offer is confusing and the $500 I’m guessing is at least 5X higher than the average purchase online, especially for my address, which has never purchase a single thing. What we need here is relevance.

Relevancy- You’re told to make your emails relevant. It’s not that easy. Because relevancy is out of your control. People change. It’s starts with the data, but it doesn’t end there. For the previous offer, the relevancy factor would have connected with my declared interests/preferences, my browsing behavior, or what is generally relevant to the overall audience.

So how do you get relevant? You have to connect with the core values of your company. The values of your product are relevant to the ideal subscriber. Abandoning these values undermines your relevance. A great question to ask yourself before you create a relevant subject line: “Why do our subscribers care about this?”

Value- Generally defined as relative worth, merit, or importance, don’t mistake value for savings. The value your product/services provides the subscriber in their lives and relationships. To have a great company/customer relationship, you need to add value to their lives. If you don’t know what your value is, you need to start talking to your customers and find out.

Emotion- “SHOP NOW!”, the subject line says. Why the screaming and exclamation point? Whose emotion is that? The retailers or the subscribers? Emotion is the most subjective element of C.U.R.V.E.  Simply it’s about being authentic with the emotions you are trying to convey with your subject line.

Emotion is the element that ties all of the other elements together, and is different for every company. Find the genuine emotional connection between the content and the audience. Tap into it and use it wisely.

What, no C.U.R.V.E ball?
The C.U.R.V.E. method is wide open for your interpretation. Sometimes you will get wildly different opinions on which elements people feel are represented in a Subject Line, which is ok. As long as you keep testing and keep trying new things, you will be on the right track towards developing an email program that truly connects with your audience as people, not email addresses.

It’s not “just a Subject Line” – it’s everything.

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