Results for:

Which subject line drove increased engagement?

WhichTestWon's Analysis: (Click back to see versions A & B)

– Case Study –

Brandwidth, a UK-based creative agency, conducted this subject line test for their cruise line client, Royal Caribbean International, with the support of Royal Caribbean’s Consumer Outreach team.

The test goal was to determine if emojis in the subject line would result in increased email opens, clicks, and click-to-opens.

Test Details:
To test the effect of emojis on email engagement, Brandwidth worked with the digital marketing automation platform, Salesforce Marketing Cloud. They split traffic 50/50, maintaining the subject line copy across both versions and tracking unique opens rates, unique click rates, and unique click to open rates.

The testing team hypothesized that the inclusion of contextually relevant emojis icon in the subject line would help call attention to Royal Caribbean’s emails. The addition of emojis would allow the subject lines to visually stand out against the other emails in the recipient’s’ inbox, leading to increased email engagement.

Winner: Version B: – The version with the countdown timer emojis clocked in as the big winner.

Overall, Variation B created a several hundred percent increase in revenue. Here’s the data breakdown of the lift in KPIs over Variation A, without emojis:

  • 3% increase in unique open rate
  • 15% gain in unique click rate
  • 8% uplift in unique click to open rate

All results were at 99.9% confidence.

Humans experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on a daily basis. In fact, according to renowned behavioral psychologist, Robert Cialdini, in “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” when the availability of an object is limited, it becomes more attractive because it seems rare and harder to obtain.

So, it comes as no surprise that the subject line copy selected by Brandwidth, “Hurry – Offer ends in 3 days!” was a strong performer. It played into the “scarcity effect, instilling the audience with the feeling of FOMO, that readers would have to act immediately or miss out on the deal at hand.

What is shocking, however, is the several hundred percentage increase in revenue from the mere inclusion of emojis that played into that same FOMO emotion. What is it about the emojis that drove immense lift in email engagement for Royal Caribbean?

If you’re using Gmail, think about the “Promotions” tab of your inbox. It’s likely a sea of bolded text for your scanning pleasure. Rows on rows of brands and offers from those brands. The only few un-bolded are those that piqued your interest enough to actually click through.

And what happens when a subject line does pique your interest? You eyes pause. You actually take the time to read the subject line. If you’ve gotten that far, you likely click through to read the email.

According to a blog post by marketing strategist, Tami Urban emojis have that same interest-piquing effect merely because they’re visual depictions as opposed to standard text. The symbols are eye-catching, particularly in that sea of subject line copy, forcing the reader to pause and fully comprehend the subject line before them.

Furthermore, the emojis create visual impact, as they create “instant expression” and “evoke an immediate response”, according to marketing consultancy, Enchant. If you saw a winky smiley in a subject line, wouldn’t you be curious why it was winking at you?

In this case, the countdown timer emojis aligned with the urgency messaging in the subject line, allowing the audience to be “pre-suade[d]” on the urgent nature of the deal in question. In his most recent book, “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade,” Cialdini stresses the importance of “pre-suasion”, to capitalize on the moments before message delivery, or the “privileged moment for change.” By building up to the message in question, one can achieve “optimal persuasion” — a point at which you’ve changed your audience’s full state of mind and they become completely convinced.

In this case, the countdown timer emojis drove major impact because they preemptively set the expectation of a time-sensitive deal. Engaged readers were already of the mindset that they’d need to act fast to take advantage of the offer. With an urgent mindset, more readers converted.

Using the icons also helped the message visually stand out from all the other “noise” in recipients’ inbox. As readers scanned their long list of unopened emails, the message with icons popped.

Keep in mind, however, that as emojis in subject lines become increasingly commonplace, it’s likely their novelty will wear-off and their potential impact will lessen. In addition, emojis aren’t for everyone. Be sure to test the use of emojis in your emails to determine whether they’ll have a “pre-suasive” effect on your audience.

Actionable Takeaways:

  1. FOMO is real and you should use it. – When appropriate, use the scarcity effect via copy and content to invoke a sense of urgency in your audience.. People are more likely to “act now” when they’re told to do so.
  2. Be pre-sausive. – Prepare your audience for the message coming their way — let them get their toes wet first — so they’re all in by the time of delivery. Test it – The impact emojis can have are completely dependent on your audience. Test your use of emojis and make sure they’re the right tool to pre-suade your traffic.

Tell us your thoughts:

Why do you think the versions with the emojis won? And, what are some other behavioral psychology strategies to increase email opens and clicks?

Let us know and tweet us @BEHAVEdotorg

Winning Version


Reader Guesses:

Which Test Won?

  • Version B
  • Version A
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