9 subject lines that stood out in a crowded inbox

McKenzie Gregory

Before I dive into these subject lines, I have to hit you with a dose of tough love: No, you can't copy and paste these examples and expect them to work for your brand. 
Every audience is different, the industry is constantly changing, and subscribers are notoriously fickle, so there's no magic formula for the perfect email subject line. But as someone who regularly writes them, I know how helpful it can be to see what other people are doing: When you’re facing writer’s block, all it takes is a little inspiration to set you in the right direction. 
So with all that in mind, here are nine subject lines that managed to stand out in the absurd, 500-emails-a-day mess of my inbox. 

1. Ulta
Subject line: McKenzie, did you love it? Do tell! 
Preheader: Thanks for your recent purchase. You know the products best. Share the love with other beauty lovers and write a review! 
I'm a big fan of great “leave a review” emails, but this one took things up a notch: The subject line is personalized and conversational, plus it references an in-store purchase. Not only is the tone spot-on, this is an incredible method of eliciting subscriber feedback and creating a cohesive through line from the store to the inbox. 

2. Pei Wei

Subject line: Let’s get to know each other better. 
Preheader: Complete your account now to receive news & offers just for you!
This is a MUCH better way of saying, “Hey, we need your personal information so we can send you more relevant email.” The subject line establishes the subscriber-brand relationship as a just that – a relationship – and the preheader text clearly outlines the value the person will get in exchange for their efforts. 


3. Burberry

Subject line: There’s a new Mr. Burberry in town… 
Preheader: An intense eau de parfum for men. 
I’m a sucker for an ellipsis at the end of a subject line. It helps build the kind of suspense that drives opens, and making it about a person (in this case, the mysterious “Mr. Burberry”) creates the sense that you’re getting introduced to some sort of celebrity.

4. Greetabl

Subject line: You’re in the squad. 
Preheader: On Wednesdays, we wear pink. 

If you have a  unique brand voice, work it. Greetabl tends to market to a young, female set, so this use of Millenial jargon reads friendly and personable rather than disingenuous (as it might if this were coming from, say, a bank).
And a pop culture reference aimed at that demographic in the preheader? You go, Glen Coco. 

5. Dollar Shave Club

Subject line: Ok, ok, fine. Try our razor for free. 
Preheader: Still on the fence? While you’re thinking it over, try the club for a month on us. 
People who know Dollar Shave Club know they have an instantly recognizable, hilarious brand voice. So this exasperated subject line works perfectly for the audience of folks who know them well enough to have signed up for their email list. It’s a smart, branded way of saying something lots of companies are putting out there: Check out this free trial. 

6. World Market

Subject line: Are you still thinking about it?
Preheader: Stop thinking, go shopping. 
Cart abandonment emails are some of the most effective campaigns you’ll ever send, so it’s important you get the subject line right. I particularly liked this one from World Market, which forced me to open to discover what I had forgotten about. 

7. J. Crew

Subject line: We’ve got your winning bracket right here. 
Preheader: Online only: extra 30% off clearance 

Timeliness can be a huge asset in the inbox, especially if you don’t force it. Here, J. Crew ties a sale to March Madness with a fun bracket-themed campaign. 

8. Polyvore

Subject line: 🙌 Hands up for SALE! 🙌 
Preheader: Find your style. Style your find. 
Using emojis in subject lines is a divisive topic among email marketers: Are they cutting-edge? Are they already passé? Are they worth dealing with considering rendering issues across clients?
I’m an advocate for using them in the right context and with ample testing (through testing, we’ve found that our audience of customers love them, but prospects, not so much). They can be a great visual asset: In this example, using them as bookends made this subject line stand out in my inbox.  

9. José Andrés ThinkFoodGroup

Subject line: Every Day We’re Truffling 
Preheader: Join us for the Truffle Festival February 13-26. 
I’ll confess: I didn’t receive this email, it was shared with me by a co-worker. But I have to give some love to our customer ThinkFoodGroup on this one: A little humor (and a great pun) in a subject line can go a long way. 


Seen (or sent) any great email subject lines you'd like to share? Tell us about them in the comments! 

About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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