Writing Email Subject Lines That Stand Out From the Holiday Deluge

Right now, I’m getting about 50% more emails than I usually do.
Holiday promo after holiday promo is rolling into my inbox.
And honestly, I’ve only actually clicked on 2-3 of these emails to see what’s inside.
Know why?
The subject lines all look the same.

  • Cyber Monday sale starts now!
  • XX% Savings Sitewide!
  • Black Friday Deal TODAY ONLY


Sure, they’re telling me exactly what’s inside the message, and I appreciate that. But it’s just more marketing noise, in my mind. Not exciting, not interesting—not open-worthy.
However, the email subject lines that have got me to click through were the ones that did something unique. They broke the norm. They stepped away from the expected and spent a few extra seconds creating an email subject line that was open-worthy.
How’d they do it?
Ditching Expected Words
Sure, you want your email campaigns to have relevant, honest subject lines that preview what’s inside your message. But that doesn’t mean you have to do so in the same few words as everyone else.
In fact, the emails I ended up checking out this year didn’t use a single word like ‘Cyber Monday’ or ‘Limited Time Offer.’
Here’s one I found interesting:
We’re sorry.
Inside the message, the copy opened with: We’re sorry we can’t offer discounts like this year-round…but today’s your lucky day! Get 20% off Sunday only.
Clever.  A little sneaky, sure…but it worked.
Another one that I opened had a subject line that read:
World’s Best Boss?
When I opened this up, there was a gif of the one and only Michael Scott winking at me with his beloved mug reading the same message. It included a gift guide with office-appropriate gifts.
Again, this subject line didn’t use any phrases like “gift guide” that would’ve made me breeze on by.
But I can’t resist a relevant pop culture reference. Especially when it’s a gem like Michael Scott. It worked!
Learn from the Examples
So what can we glean from these two effective subject lines that got my ever so resistant mind to open some marketing emails?

  1. Leave behind the words your audience expects to see. Instead of using words like ‘sale’ or ‘free shipping’ in your subject line—try to write something that creates a curiosity gap for the reader (without being too misleading.)
  2. Make ‘em LOL. Or at least snicker. Connect with your readers as human beings through your brand personality. Don’t be afraid to embrace the strange.
  3. Personalize, please!  Not one of the emails I got leveraged my first name in the subject line—and that’s almost a surefire way to get me to open your email. It just feels more…customized. And still, not many others are leveraging this feature yet (in my experience.)

I know this works, because I tested this tactic on the subject line of this email that I sent out to my subscribers, too. I titled the message 'Hi, friend' and used preview text that simply said, 'Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!'

The results: The highest ever open rate for both of my lists. We're talking about 12% higher open rate than normal. That, to me, is a testament of this tactic being effective.

Why'd it work? This approach had a much more personal feel than a regular, click-baity subject line. It used a human element, which made sense in the context.

I dare you to try these methods out on your next email and see if it makes your open rate jump. No promises, but I think it’s an important experiment to test with your audience.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.