New Study Ranks Black Friday Emails by Their Subject Lines

Black Friday has come and gone, which means retailers have stopped filling your inbox with emails about special sales (or at least have hopefully taken things down a notch). Some may have grabbed your attention, and some may not have. The difference between the two camps, according to a new study, is all in the subject line.

Marketing research group Econsultancy deconstructed 3,892 email subject lines sent out this holiday shopping season to their “core emotional components” using Phrasee Pheelings, a sentiment analysis tool, and ranked them. After a complicated process, researchers aggregated the metrics into a “Phrasee Score,” a weighted statistic that acts as a proxy for overall subject line effectiveness. The lower the score, the worse the subject line. The higher, the better.

Of the emotion scores for the five key emotional drivers in a direct marketing environment — curiosity, directness, friendliness, offbeat, and urgency — Black Friday email marketing campaigns tended to be more direct and more urgent (“Hurry! Don’t Wait!”).

What’s interesting, though, is that this may not have been a wise approach, according to Econsultancy. They broke down the data into three “emotional clusters,” statistically-related groups within the data set. In 53% of the analyzed subject lines, the emotional message was direct and urgent. However, this data group — by far the most popular — had the worst score of -21% by a wide margin. Subject lines from this group included such phrases as “Black Friday Sale: Save 20% + Free Delivery,” “Black Friday Special – Save $100,” and “Half Price Black Friday Deals – Ends Sunday.”

The first cluster had the best score (14%) while the third cluster was stuck right in the middle (6%). Interestingly, the best cluster was also the least popular, making up only 12% of the sample, while the third group made up 35% of the sample.

Email subject lines in the first cluster were less direct, less urgent, more friendly, and more curious. For example, “BLACK FRIDAY is here – want a little help with your Christmas shopping?” “How you can avoid stress on Black Friday,” and “Tick tock, tick tock, the BLACK FRIDAY countdown begins…” All clearly mention Black Friday, yet none are obvious sales pitches.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the study isn’t what it found, but what actually happened on Black Friday. Data from the shopping holiday reveals that email marketing was a serious sales driver. It accounted for 25.1% of all online orders this year, according to a report from Custora.

Granted, no definite conclusions can be drawn from the two studies, but there are certainly takeaways. First, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. While many cut straight to the point, being friendly and invoking consumer curiosity helped some subject lines stand apart from the crowd. Secondly, email marketing works.

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