More on email subject lines: making it easy

I wrote recently about how an inane email subject line from Paypal irritated me and put me off opening it. Here’s a very different approach which actually worked for me. Because it made me think the email content would be easy, undemanding, but informative.

The email was from the Red Cross. I know the Red Cross, I respect them, I even sometimes donate. I was busy when the email arrived and probably the easiest way to have stopped me from opening the email would have been to say something dramatic and challenging like ‘Could you live like this?’ or ‘In Syria they’re operating on children without anaesthetics’ or ‘We’ve never needed your help more urgently’. I would have felt guilty about it, but I would have ignored it. Because I would have known they wanted my money.

Instead the email subject line simply said:

A quick update

Three little words that made me relax.

A: not THE, not the most important thing in the world, just A. One little thing among many.

Quick: that’s good, won’t take up too much time.

Update: fine, it’s just going to tell me what’s happening, perhaps something I ought to know.

What it didn’t say was equally important. It didn’t lay guilt on me. It didn’t sound remotely challenging or difficult. It was just light and easy.

So I clicked and read it. It was also calmly, clearly written and didn’t pressurise me. I read much more of it than I expected to.

The key lesson is that people’s inboxes tend to be stressful places. They’re bombarded with incoming emails. Stuff to deal with, stuff to take time we haven’t got.

So being light and quick and easy and stress-free can be a marvellous way of letting people off the hook so they go, ‘OK, why not?’

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