Email Marketing Subject Lines (Best Practices) in Pharma

What are the most effective subject lines to use in pharmaceutical email marketing campaigns?

The art and science of choosing a good subject line is critical. All the good work of HTML design could be overlooked by a careless subject line; half of your recipients might never even see it.

So, where to start? What are the rules what are the dos and don’ts?

Firstly, there are no absolute rights and wrongs. Often, an email might work in one case and not in another. This overview is here to help and point you in the right direction and provides some ideas for best practice so that you begin on the front foot.

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So, before choosing a subject line, keep these tips in mind for the highest possible open rates.

Email subject lines best practice

Most people open emails on mobile, so think about this when putting a long subject line in. Go ahead grab your phone, look at how many words you can see on each subject line… four, five - not many? Keep it short - this is a rule for every email that you send. If it is beginning to look like a sentence, it is therefore not a good subject line.

A few words on the spam issues (and we’ll touch upon this a little later). It’s true that some spam filters do look at subject lines and there are some things you should avoid. Try never to use the word “free.” This word is dangerous to use in email subject lines because of its popularity with spammers. You can try using a synonym like “complimentary” or something similar.

Also, try not to use exclamation marks, the £ or $ sign either, and as a personal preference, perhaps don’t use emojis in subject lines - certainly not within the pharmaceutical sectors. Emojis aren’t great with spam filters, and they certainly aren’t great with senior B2B decision-makers and scientists. Anything with gimmicks as such will likely get scrolled passed.

Subject lines generally come under many different categories. First, you have the fear of missing out subject lines such as “URGENT You’ve got ONE DAY to watch this…” or “WEEKEND ONLY Get this NOW before it’s gone…” These can work well but remember your market; this is not B2C. It’s a very sophisticated reader which we are looking to address, and this approach may not have the best results when used often.

Then there is the curiosity subject line. For instance the: “Is this the best thing in marketing” or “A faster way to….” Again, these work to a point but again simplicity and straightforwardness is the better way to go.

Then you have the pain point subject line. So, for instance: “Are you running out…” or “Stop wasting money on…” Again, I would probably steer clear of these in most situations and only use them when you really need to - used appropriately and sparingly, they work well.

There are plenty of other types of email subject lines which you can send, but you get the idea: Vary your subject lines in relation to the offer, content and reason you are emailing in the first place. If you had three emails to craft as part of a workflow/drip campaign, using each of the above will likely work as you are mixing things up, keeping things fresh and your reader on his or her toes.

Avoid all caps at all costs. Using all caps in your subject is like shouting through email. Spam filters don’t like it and your recipients probably don’t like it, either. Also, avoid using too many spaces, extra capitalisations, or using odd characters or numbers in words (“3mail” or “Em@il”). This is the first short sentence your readers see - use it to its full effect. Your subject line is more likely to be ignored than it is read, so really spend time on this.

Best email subject lines (examples)

Looking through the hundreds (and probably thousands by now) of e-blasts and email campaigns that we have purchased and managed for our clients over the years, some patterns emerge. We have databases of all the stats for everything going back over half a decade and the e-blasts stats make for interesting reading.

These are some of the subject lines for the e-blasts that scored the highest for open rates:

  • Are your…

  • Discuss your…

  • Address the needs of…

  • Looking for…

  • Launch: (then details of the product)

  • New and exciting…

  • Join us at…

Then looking at the subject lines that received the highest CTR had the following openers:

  • Unlock your…

  • New-to-market…

  • Looking for…

  • Discover more…

  • Registration open for…

5 email subject line tips for higher open rates

Above, you will find Some good suggestions to get started right away. However, for the pharmaceutical marketer, and for a scientific audience, you may need to do a little more. Here are 5 straightforward guidelines that will put you in the right direction for creating better subject lines that get seen and get opened.

Be honest

Make sure your “from” name is accurate, the “to” name is the recipient, and you are sending the email using your domain name. Don’t be sneaky. Some email senders will tweak the from name so that it makes who the email is actually coming from, or distorts it, meaning there is usually some sort of foul play involved. If it’s a company-wide email, send from the organisation, and if it’s a more personal email, send from a person. Also, be sure to use a verifiable domain. Make sure someone can identify your domain with a verifiable IP address. Someone who checks the domain for the “from” and “reply-to” address should be able to see that the addresses are valid.

Keep it simple

When in doubt, make your subject line simple and straightforward. Contrary to what you might think, these “boring” subject lines can actually convert really well.

The key to making this work for your list is to consistently provide value in all of your emails. Don’t ever send an email unless you have something important to say: always make sure your campaigns are packed with value. If you do this, you’ll train your subscribers to open your emails no matter what the subject

Tell the reader in as few words as you can, why they should open

Chances are, if it’s a list rental campaign, you will have a very clear call to action such as download a whitepaper, click to register, etc. Get this in the subject line, your readers will want to see what they get from the email without having to actually open the email.

Always be (split) testing!

The best way to look at what works. Split testing is a great way to test which subject lines work best, see our post on split testing.

Running tests before sending your email, as well as during a split test, will help improve open rates and can also help save you from the spam traps. (Email on Acid’s Spam Testing tool checks your message against 23 of the most common spam filters, including SpamAssassin.)

Don’t use sketchy phrases

Phrases that you see commonly in spam messages get higher spam scores with filters like SpamAssassin. Even if you’re talking about getting some extra inches of reach with your product, the GrabExtender, you’re going to get flagged. Find another way to say things like this and you should be fine. Always be wary of the emails themselves getting caught in spam boxes - the recipient won’t even see the subject line to open it, let alone act on the content. Your subject line is important for spam filtering.

Speak to us about your email marketing

This post provided a brief overview of email marketing subject lines and best practices. Failing the above, if you want to speak to a friendly marketing agency who has run hundreds of e-blast and email marketing campaigns, look no further. I’m more than happy to discuss the above with you if you’d like to get in touch. We run our own email marketing campaigns for clients as well as manage them through third parties in the life sciences and have developed an understanding of what works (and when it works) and what doesn’t work so well.

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