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Craft Effective Marketing Emails

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Create effective subject lines.
  • Create effective preheaders.
  • Make emails relevant using personalized, dynamic content.
  • Craft effective calls to action.

Create Compelling Emails

So you want to write an awesome email. One that spurs people to action and doesn’t get ignored. Well, you’ve come to the right place. You’re about to get the lowdown on creating effective subject lines, keeping emails relevant, and inspiring readers to action.

Let’s start with how to write an email that genuinely catches a reader’s attention. 

Subject Line Best Practices

What’s the first thing a subscriber reads? The subject line. If it doesn’t grab their attention, the work you put into the email is lost. How can you ensure your subject lines are effective?

Keep them short and sweet. Short and medium-length subject lines have higher open rates than long ones, which ultimately affects conversion rates (the percentage of people who take action based on your email). What’s more, Internet service providers sometimes truncate subject lines. So limit them to 50 characters or fewer.

Use your branding to your advantage. Limiting the length of your subject line doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. Infuse your brand into the messaging and take advantage of brand loyalty. Catch the reader’s eye with symbols, creative wordplay, or by intrigue.

Test, test, and test again! This is how you determine which subject lines yield the best results. With good email marketing services (like Salesforce Marketing Cloud) it’s easy as A, B, C. Actually, it’s as easy as A/B Testing.

The Skinny on A/B Testing

At its core, A/B testing takes two versions of your email, and tests to see which one works better. Say you want to test subject lines to see which one is more effective. You send two different versions of the subject line to a portion of your subscribers (that’s the “A/B” part). Based on the results of that A/B test, a winner is determined and the winning version is sent to the rest of your subscribers.


Although we call this an A/B “test,” ensure both versions are polished, because during the test you’re sending them to real subscribers.

There are multiple testing possibilities, including testing the preheader, body, and specific content blocks of an email; send days/times; and (drumroll) subject lines! A/B testing shows you how subscribers respond to subject lines of varying length, style, or personalization. It also shows which are most effective according to a variety of metrics, such as opens, clicks, and conversions. These metrics help you understand what motivates your subscribers.

A/B Testing Possibilities Example
Front-loading the brand name Company Name: The rest of the subject line
Front-loading keywords Keywords: The rest of the subject line
Length Short subject line versus a wordy and never-ending subject line that your readers will totally ignore
Styles Hello! Show your style. Use symbols $&@ or emojis to catch your reader’s attention
Personalization %%First Name%%, your 20% off coupon
Calls to action Shop now for 20% off on your order

Here are some examples of good subject lines and not so good ones.

Yes! We want more!

Subject Line Why It Works
Hold your breath until you see this This subject line for an air freshener product builds intrigue and relates to the product being promoted.
Dads: This email is not for you. Forward to your family. A forwarding request makes you want to read the email. So does being told it’s not for you.
Express shipping: on Dasher, on Dancer, on Procrastinator Addressing someone or identifying with someone makes them feel understood and like they are being spoken to on a personal level. In this example, we’re addressing that sometimes “we” procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping.

Yawn. Ignore.

Subject Line Why It Fails
%%Day of Week%% Newsletter This says nothing except which day of the week it is.
RE: Previous email
This is misleading. Putting a RE: message in the subject line could cause subscribers to be annoyed and unsubscribe or report you as spam.
[Blank]: Check out this deal.
Make sure you have a default value such as “Valued Customer” in place of a first name, for example, to avoid having a blank in the subject line.

Preheaders with Punch

So you’ve got your awesome subject line. Now you need the perfect preheader.

This is the text that follows the subject line in an email preview, so don’t skip this!  Preheaders can be just as important as the subject itself. You can make it a call to action or use it as short summary of the email content—anything to support the subject line.

Limit the preheader to about 100 characters, and make it catchy. In Marketing Cloud Email Studio, you can test different preheader lengths and how they appear on different devices. Naturally, you will see fewer characters when viewing the preheader on a mobile device than you would on a laptop.

The Power of Personalization

Now it’s time to focus on the body of the email and making it relevant to recipients. One great way to do that is to personalize it. You can do it in the subject line as well as in the email body. Instead of sending an email that begins, “Dear Subscriber,” or, “Dear Valued Customer,” you can make it say, “Dear Katie.” Pow! Now that’s personal.

Boring email: Happy Birthday Valued Customer, versus attention-catching email: Happy Birthday Katie! Hope you’re having a great day in Cincinnati!

Readers who see their first name in an email are more likely to feel as if the email is reaching out to them personally. This makes them more likely to open, read, and act on your email.

You track a lot of things about your customers, such as name, location, gender, interests, and so on. Your email marketing system can translate this information into highly effective, personalized emails for your customers. You use a placeholder, or personalization string, which automatically inserts subscriber values, such as name, interests, or location.

This is a powerful way to use your data, but be careful. If you insert a field placeholder that isn’t populated for a particular subscriber, you can get some wacky results. Are you impressed with emails addressed to “Dear [blank]”? Probably not. To avoid this, define a default value (such as “Valued Customer” for “First Name”) for anything you’re personalizing.

Here are a few examples:

Personalization String (Behind the Scenes) Translates to (Customer-Facing)
Dear %%First Name%%, Dear Katie,
We know how much you love %%Interest%%.
We know how much you love running.
That’s why we want you to know about an exciting event coming up in %%City%%.
That’s why we want you to know about an exciting event coming up in Cincinnati.

Dynamic Content Speaks to the Individual

As we’ve noted, you have an abundance of information about your customers. For example, you can store information about each customer’s interests, such as golfing, hiking, or running. Use it to your advantage with dynamic content, which is content that displays according to rules that you define based on values within a subscriber’s record. Dynamic content ensures subscribers receive messages targeted to their interests.

Display of different interests such as hiking, biking, running, with running being in the forefront.

Katie Smith is an avid runner. With dynamic content, you can send her emails that speak directly to her interests. You don’t want to send Katie an email announcing a sale on men’s hiking boots. When Katie only gets emails that are relevant to her, she’s much more likely to read them.


Ready to take the next step in personalization? Check out the Trailhead module: AMPscript for Marketers.

A Call to Action

Personalization and relevance are great. But generally, the purpose of marketing emails is to prompt your subscribers to do something. For this you need a good call to action (CTA). This can be a limited-time offer, or a prompt to enter a contest, visit a website, or sign up for an event. Give your customers an irresistible reason to open your email, and once opened, take action.

Not all CTAs are created equal—great CTAs are:

  • Urgent: Use CTAs that create a need for urgent action.
  • Brief: State the CTA briefly, with no more than five words.
  • Action-oriented: Begin your CTA with a verb (download, register, buy, save).
  • Clear and predictable: Be clear and link to a place that doesn’t surprise subscribers.
  • Limited and visible: Focus subscribers’ attention on one to two prominent CTAs.

Learn more about how to create effective email content in the Trailhead module: Marketing Content Creation.  

By now you have a mic-drop–worthy email—that’s all you need, right? Nope. With great power comes great responsibility. Head to the next unit where we’ll help you use your email powers for good.


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