How to Create Emotionally Captivating Subject Lines

People generally open your email for one of two reasons:

  1. They recognize and trust you.
  2. Your subject line sounded interesting.

The only way to build trust is to increase brand awareness and consistently create valuable experiences for your leads and customers. But there are lots of strategies for writing interesting subject lines. One of them is to create subject lines that evoke emotion.

Just as emotions affect our buying decisions, they affect our decision to open or ignore emails. We’re more likely to open something that sounds urgent (which plays on our fear), generates excitement, or sparks curiosity.

As always, you should test every subject line to ensure you wind up with the one that’s most effective.

And if you’re not sure how “emotional” your headlines are, CoSchedule has a free headline analyzer that gives every headline (or subject line) an “emotional value score” (EMV). The tool was designed for evaluating blog post titles, but it works for subject lines, too. CoSchedule has a subject line tester too, but if you ask me, it’s pretty bad. (They recommend title case. Yuck.)

The truth is that every subject line elicits an emotional response—too often that emotion is apathy or disinterest. Let’s explore a few ways you can intentionally use emotion to your advantage.

1. Create urgency

Urgency is the low-hanging fruit of emotional marketing. It plays on people’s fear of missing out (FOMO) and speeds up their decision-making process. A subject line that creates urgency will have your audience thinking “Do I need to buy this? What am I about to miss? I’ve got to tell my spouse about this right now!” all before they even open your email.

So how do you do it?

You probably are already.

Anytime you mention a timeline or something that won’t last forever, you’re creating urgency.

“Sale ends soon!”

“Limited time only!”

“Don’t miss out . . .”

In a subject line, you have to think about words economically. You only have so much space before someone’s email client cuts off part of your message . . . so in some cases, urgency may be the only thing you have space to communicate (as with a subject line like “Your free offer is about to expire”).

You need to think strategically about when and where to create urgency, and how to create it without losing the ability to communicate the content of your email. “Free offer” may be enough to create some intrigue, but people are probably going to want to know what that free offer is before they commit to reading your email. It’s how they decide, “Do I care if I miss out on this?”

That’s where two- or three-word phrases that create urgency really come in handy. You can lead with the urgency and use a colon to lead into the description of your offer.

“Limited time: buy one set of hymnals, get one free!”

“Sale ends soon: save 50% on tithing software”

A word of caution: You want to be careful creating urgency. It’s such an effective tool that it can become addictive—but as people catch on, it stops being effective. If you want to use urgency well, you need to be selective and intentional with it.

2. Generate excitement

The best way to get your audience excited about your email is to send them something they actually want. Whether that’s interesting content, a gift, or something they explicitly asked for, they’re going to want to open your email simply because you sent something they were already interested in.

But there are ways to write a subject line that generates excitement. Strong verbs communicate action, and some can even create urgency, too. (Hurry!) Use these to position your audience as the “doer” who can accomplish something important or exciting.

Here are just a few examples of verbs and verb phrases you could use to write exciting headlines:

  • Delight your spouse with these creative date ideas
  • Take back your time: try our free task management tool
  • Impress your coworkers with these advanced sales tips

Used sparingly, exclamation points can also help you craft more enthusiastic subject lines. Overusing them will quickly make your emails all feel like “noise,” but if you slip one in every few emails, it can be a great way to break up the rhythm and cut through the clutter of someone’s inbox.

Of course, if you’re trying to write subject lines that generate excitement, it’s also very important that your emails deliver on that excitement. It only takes one or two let downs to break your audience’s trust, and then no “exciting subject line” will actually generate excitement. (Unless it says “Sorry we let you down, please accept this gift”.)

And the inverse is true too: consistently stimulating content will make every subject line exciting. Because people will simply want to read what you have to say.

3. Spark curiosity

Even if someone isn’t familiar with your brand, your subject lines can still capture their attention. One of the best ways to get someone’s attention is creating intrigue and sparking curiosity. And thankfully, there are lots of tactics you can use to do that.

You might lead with a surprising or little-known statistic or fact from within your industry. Ideally, this would come from your internal data or surveys, so you can be sure it’s something they’ve never heard before.

The most common way brands spark curiosity is by teasing big announcements. Words like “Introducing” or “coming soon” make people feel like they’re going to learn about something most people don’t know about yet.

You could also try a thought-provoking question. Ideally, this won’t be a yes/no question, and it won’t be something they can readily answer without opening your email. Something like, “How do you create emotion with a subject line?”

As was the case with excitement, it’s extremely important that your email actually delivers on the curiosity your subject line sparks. Remember, that curiosity is a big part of why someone bothered to open your email, so you need to affirm early on that the content of your email matches the subject line.

Think of it like a promise that you need to fulfill.

Test your emotions

Your subject lines already evoke emotion. Some of them, unfortunately, evoke boredom. So it’s important to thoughtfully approach each subject line and consider what emotions you’d like to make your audience feel. But you can never assume that adding a particular emotion automatically makes your email perform better.

There are lots of ways to test your subject lines, and one of them is to test various emotional subject lines against each other. Maybe one email is better suited for generating excitement or capitalizing on FOMO. You can hypothesize which emotions will be most effective with which email, but you can’t know until you test it.