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Rethinking Subject Lines and Preheaders

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Kasey Wiese knows that belts are often one of the most overlooked fashion accessories on the market. It can be tough, she admits, to get people excited about an accessory that’s “never really seen.” But as the marketing communications manager and graphic designer for Arcade Belts, she’s doing her part to change that perception.

Arcade Belts began 7 years ago when co-founders David Bronkie, Tristan Queen, and Cody Townsend couldn’t find a comfortable belt to hold up their ski pants. They saw a need for a belt that would “bridge the gap between work and adventure,” so they set up their office at the bottom of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort in Olympia, CA, and opened an online store. Since then, they’ve grown to 9 employees (including the 3 founders), and their belts are sold in more than 1,200 retail locations across the United States and Canada.

Write substance, not clickbait

Kasey’s strategy for increasing campaign opens and online orders is to entice subscribers with subject lines and preheader text. “For me, the preheader’s important because it gives more information on why customers should open an email,” she says.

Preheaders are often overshadowed by subject lines, though. Like Oreos and milk, they work better together—in this case, to tell a story. Many email clients display the subject line and preheader side by side, so it can be beneficial to think of the pair as a single entity that provides you with more space to provide context for your message and encourage subscriber engagement.

“The text I use for the preheader depends on the type of campaign I’m sending, but it usually plays off the subject line or the content of the campaign,” Kasey says.

She writes preheaders to evoke curiosity (and sometimes a sense of urgency) so subscribers want—or need—to click their campaigns. While Kasey hasn’t run tests to see whether preheader text impacts conversions, she likes how their campaigns’ subject lines and preheaders read like complete sentences in her inbox.

Kasey varies the style of subject lines and preheaders she uses to help increase engagement, but they always have to have substance.

“We’ll never do clickbait,” she says.

Test your hypotheses

After reviewing a few campaign reports, Tristan Queen—one of Arcade Belts’ co-founders—was concerned with unsubscribes, but Kasey knew the activity was normal. “‘We don’t want those people on our list, anyway,’ I told Tristan. They don’t want to hear from us, and I’d rather they unsubscribe so we can have a more engaged list,” she says.

She theorized that the customers who unsubscribed only signed up for the 10% discount advertised on their website’s pop-up form—not for the actual content Arcade Belts was sending. To test this, she built 2 separate pop-ups through a third-party integration (one that advertised a 10% discount for subscribing to their list, and one that offered no discount for signing up) and set up their website to randomize which form visitors would see.

From there, she created groups in their list based on signup location (which form their customers used to subscribe) and sent the same campaign to both. As she expected, the campaign sent to customers who subscribed via the form that offered the discount had a high unsubscribe rate. But no one unsubscribed from the campaign that was sent to customers who signed up through the form that offered no discount. “The outcome has given the team a better understanding of our email marketing," Kasey concludes. "It was the unsubscribes they were struggling with.”

Consider your resources and look ahead 

“We know our emails are turning a profit, and we’re going to continue to polish and make them great,” Kasey says. “But it’s going to be slow since we’re so small.”

Right now, they’re doing what works for them. Kasey draws all of their campaigns by hand in a notebook, and even runs A/B tests to figure out which layouts resonate with their customers. They also engage their audience by sharing blog posts about awesome adventures and donating a percentage of their sales to a different nonprofit each quarter. Over Thanksgiving weekend, they held their third-annual White Friday event, where they donated $5 for every belt purchased to the climate advocacy organization Protect Our Winters.

Though they’re currently sticking to what’s feasible, they keep their goals for the future in mind, too. Growing their list is always going to be key, and they want to send a campaign for subscribers to update their information so they can do more with segmentation once they have a larger list. But no matter where their next marketing takes them, they’re determined to stay true to their adventurous roots, their customers, and their product.

"We’re going to focus on belts," Kasey says. "And do a damn good job at making them.”

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