Know Your Audience: Subject Lines and Brand Perception

Everything your company produces contributes to your brand, whether it is a new product, a revolutionary study, an impressive announcement, or an email subject line. Every aspect of your company is used by customers and prospects to determine the value and quality of your brand and compare it against your competitors.

Naturally you have an approval process to ensure that press releases and other “important” communications are on-brand, but are you applying those same standards to your subject lines? Emails—and the subject lines attached to them—are highly visible to your customers and potential customers. Whether they open and engage or simply skim past, the subject line conveys a message not only about the email content but about your brand.

Upscale or bargain hunter?
You invest a great deal of valuable time and resources to create campaigns that showcase the quality and value of your company and your products. Make sure that message is clearly reflected in your subject lines to appeal to your target audience.

For example, this subject line from luxury department store Barney’s reinforces their luxury brand appeal by showcasing a luxury brand they carry (Givenchy) and doesn’t focus on discounts which may not appeal or matter to their target audience.

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By contrast, discount luxury goods retailer Bluefly appeals to the aspirational consumer looking for discounts on luxury apparel. This subject line example takes a similar approach by using luxury apparel names in their subject line, but pairs it with a discount to appeal to their cost-conscious audience.


Make ‘em laugh 
Humor can be an effective tool to make everything from speeches to advertisements and subject lines more memorable, but they can easily backfire if humor isn’t a part of your brand identity. Take these two examples of brands that use humor effectively based on their audience.

Moosejaw, an outdoor apparel company, uses humor as a key part of its branding to stand out in a competitive field, and more importantly to be remembered. This example promoting their Easter sale is typical of Moosejaw’s absurdist style.


ThinkGeek is one brand that has humor embedded in their DNA, and nearly every subject line they write reflects this. Truly a subject line that only a geek would appreciate, this example from ThinkGeek promotes Valentine’s Day with a subject line referencing the wedding scene from the movie The Princess Bride (“And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…”).


Highlight Competitive Advantages
Your subscribers are a combination of loyalists and bargain hunters. Make sure you understand how your program stacks up against your competitors

  • Evaluate how much subscriber overlap you have with your competitors.
  • Understand how your campaign performance stacks up against your competitors, including the subscribers you share.
  • Compare messages to see what is working and what isn’t for the audience you share. Do more of what’s working, and less of what’s not.

Want to learn more about what makes a good subject line? Check out The Art and Science of Effective Subject Lines.

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