I'm not saying this is clickbait.

Whether it's a subject line or a headline, I am trying to spark emotion with the reader (or listener or watcher or metavers-er?). I'm sure the reaction to "which should I focus on?" is "both". I disagree.

I'm not saying this is clickbait.
Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk / Unsplash

"Subject lines are seen by people who have subscribed to your content. They already have an interest in your topic or niche. On the other hand, headlines are the jack-of-all-trades content – they serve multiple audiences."

https://www.thetilt.com/audience/content-creation-headlines-subject-lines


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Whether it's a subject line or a headline, I am trying to spark emotion with the reader (or listener or watcher or metavers-er?). I'm sure the reaction to "which should I focus on?" is "both".

I disagree.

In a previous career, we responded to two client requests:

  • Requests for proposal (rfp)
  • Statements of work (sow)

When we evaluated the most recent 100 requests of each (rfp and sow), we found:

  • We spent 80% of our resources to win 20% of the rfps
  • We pent 20% of the time to win 80% of the sows

Why was that? Well, we knew more about the clients and prospects who were submitting sows than we did with those folks submitting rfps.

Obvious in hindsight, right?

What does that have to do with clickbait, subject lines and headlines?

Everything.

Clickbait

First: What's clickbait? How about this definition:

Clickbait is a text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, being typically deceptive, sensationalized, or otherwise misleading.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickbait

Couple that definition with this video from Veritasium:

Now, clickbait isn't bad necessarily. It is by perception, though (probably because we fall for it more often than not).

So, clickbait isn't bad fundamentally however it is in perception - that means our brand will be the first to take a hit from using this approach in our messaging, positioning and marketing.

(Advertising, on the other hand, is different.)

Headlines

As for headlines, that's where we start leaning on a clickbait-like approach. I mean, it's right there in the article:

On the other hand, headlines are the jack-of-all-trades content – they serve multiple audiences.

These are the rfps of the business world. We put a lot of effort into creation, publication and distribution of this content with an outcome that has more costs than benefits.

  • rfps: The publisher doesn't know much about my organization's skills, experience, expertise - they will receive a lot of junk responses to their rfp
  • Headlines: The publisher doesn't know much about my organization's needs, demands, expertise - they will receive a lot of junk responses to their headline

In fact, I'd guess the majority of headlines are geared towards whipping the audience (who we don't really know) into an emotion. The problem with this approach is that we don't really know what that emotion is going to be.

(See more costs than benefits, above.)

Subject lines

When it comes to subject lines, it's entirely a 180° story. Much like the sows, we have a relationship with the audience and by default, we know much more about the audience.

With the relationship built in, the subject lines aren't doing all the work. Instead, in combination with the "from" (naturally, I'm assuming this is marketing via email newsletters), the subject line is playing complement to the sender and the receiver.

Why would we spin up an email marketing campaign focused on upselling service Q to our entire audience? We know this campaign is not for every one of our contacts (likely not all of our contacts are subscribed to service Q).

In fact, if we have good relationships with our contacts, the subject line can be more impactful by being more obvious.

Why does any of this matter?

  • Advertising (or public relations) is hard and expensive
  • Spending resources on your known audience is the best roi
  • Focus on bottom-of-the-funnel efforts
  • That focus will pay off in the short- and long-term


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Jamie Larson
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