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Explore our Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Toolkit

A new way to get subject line standout

By Tim Watson 18 Oct, 2011

Using symbols to engage your email subscribers

Getting the email subject line to standout in the inbox is a continual challenge. Here I'll show you how you can experiment with a technique you don't see discussed much in email marketing. It's about the potential of symbols, such as snowmen and hearts, to achieve this. I say "potential" deliberately - do you think it's a useful technique - would you use it and when?

Email clients have been improving their support for world languages and this has meant also support for the many symbols that are defined in the world character set, known as Unicode.

I decided to try a few symbols and see just how well email clients did in correctly showing them. The subject line I tested with was this:

Subject line symbols, snowman, smilie and a heart

The webmail clients for Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail all had good support.




Outlook 2003 to 2010 support Unicode symbols, this is how the Outlook 2010 inbox looks:

iPhone and iPad had no problems either, however the standard Android 2.2 email client whilst showing the heart symbol (♥) did not show the snowman (☃) or smilie (☺).

Further email clients that correctly showed these symbols include, Blackberry, AOL Mail, Apple Mail, Lotus Notes 6.5 and above, Thunderbird 2.0 and above.

To find out what symbols you might use then take a look at the miscellaneous characters in the Unicode character set. Select the symbol carefully. As my test shows, some symbols are too squashed to have impact. You will need to test the symbols you pick across email clients to ensure they work. Use the inbox render testing tool in your email solution or this Litmus subject line checker. You also need to think of (test) the delivery implications.

To use this technique your broadcast email solution will need to support use of utf-8 and 'base64' encoding for your email subject line.

The actual symbol picked will impact the overall campaign success. Pick a symbol that supports your message, such as a hot beverage (☕) for a coffee shop will produce a better result than a simple star, bullet or arrow.

The technique has some promise and is worth consideration for real campaign tests. I would strongly advise running split tests on a portion of your list to see how it works for your customers. Older and minor email clients may well still struggle with Unicode, so whilst a large portion of your customers may give a better result, there could also be an adverse result from part of your customer base.

Do add a comment if you've tried this technique and have results to share. I will be watching my inbox for any novel symbol use!

By Tim Watson

Tim Watson, from consultancy Zettasphere, is the Smart Insights expert commentator on email marketing. He is an independent email marketing consultant providing strategic guidance, to deliver improved campaign results. A member of the DMA Email Council and chair of the DMA Email Best Practice hub. He actively promotes email and frequently speaks on the subject and how to improve use of the channel. Connect with Tim via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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