What’s Hot in Email Marketing: Symbol in Subject Lines

With billions of emails being sent to subscribers on a daily basis, it’s difficult for email marketers to make sure their emails stand out in the crowded inbox.  Over the years, email marketers have tried various tactics, like adding the recipient’s name to the subject line or sending fake apology emails, to make subscribers notice and open their emails.  Obviously, some of these were more effective than others (please don’t send a fake apology email, so tacky!).

So what’s the latest trend in making your emails pop?  Using symbols in subject lines!

Have you noticed any of these in your inbox yet?  Several well-known marketers like LivingSocial, Lululemon, Lowes, The Body Shop, and Shoe Dazzle, have been testing out this tactic, and it has certainly made me take notice! 

Here are some examples of marketers using Unicode symbols in their subject lines:

There are many more symbols you can use too, get a full list of Unicode symbols here.  There are smiley faces, rain clouds, shamrocks, coffee mugs, musical notes, astrological symbols … the list goes on.  Because there are so many choices, it’s important to determine which would work best for your mailings.  There are some obvious choices: hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, suns for summer mailings.  But try to think outside the box too!  Add an umbrella when sending on a rainy day, a coffee (hot cocoa) mug when sending in the winter, or a telephone when your call to action is to call into your company.

While there are seemingly endless possibilities when using these symbols, it’s also important to not go overboard!  If symbols in subject lines are used too much, they will become white noise and won’t make the impact that you’re hoping for.  So use them sparingly and make sure each time you use them, it will wow your subscribers and grab their attention.

It’s also important to note that these Unicode symbols will not work in every email client.  In addition, some of the symbols won’t render well on the small screen and will end up looking smushed and unrecognizable.  Use a pre-deployment rendering tool, like Return Path’s Campaign Preview, to test your subject line and see how it will render in various different email clients, including mobile devices.

I have heard some marketers question whether adding symbols to subject lines will affect deliverability.  In the research I’ve done so far, I have not seen that to be the case, and all of the examples showcased above were delivered to the inbox versus the junk folder.  However, with that being said, I do recommend that you send your campaign into a deliverability tool, like Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor, so that you can monitor your inbox versus junk placement and determine if deliverability is impacted by these Unicode symbols.

Finally, a good rule of thumb when trying anything new is to run an A/B test first.  Start by sending to a small test segment of your list.  Fifty percent of that test segment should receive the subject line with the symbol and the other 50% should receive the same subject line without the symbol (and remember to keep all other variables – From line, creative, call-to-action, offer – the same for the most effective test).  Allow that test to run, and then compare open/read/click rates.  This will allow you to see if including a symbol in the subject line works for your company and subscribers.  The winning subject line, with or without the symbol, should then be sent to the remainder of your list.

So what are you waiting for?  Give this latest trend a try with your own mailings!  And don’t wait too long … jump on the bandwagon now when seeing a symbol is still a fun, intriguing surprise for subscribers.

Have you seen any symbols in subject lines of emails you’ve received recently?  What did you think, were they effective in gaining your attention?  As a marketer, have you sent any emails with symbols in the subject lines, and how was the email performance compared to non-symbol subject lines?  I’d love to hear your experiences, please comment below!

Joanna Roberts
Account Manager
Return Path