One of the most difficult challenges of a solo-preneur is finding a subject line that will stand out among the hundreds of messages your audience receives each day. These days those inboxes get crowded.
When you’re a service-based business, your audience will open their emails based on two criteria:
…Do they have a relationship with you?
…Does the subject line seem to be written especially for them?
Often the two go together. For some people I follow, I’d open their emails if the subject line were related to basket-weaving. But those people often have subject lines that seem written directly to me.
So that means a lot of us business owners get bogged down trying to find the perfect title for our emails.
As a copywriter, when I get stuck, my first step is to look for a swipe file. And I have no trouble finding one. There’s no shortage of templates for subject lines, like, “How to come up with the perfect [your word] every time…” or “13 types of [something] that get shared like crazy.”
These templates are fine. I’ve used some myself.
The problem is, they don’t work for everyone. Your brand will attract a certain type of audience. And your subject line needs to be consistent with your brand.
For service based businesses, the best brands are built on a foundation of stories. Stories allow you to demonstrate your expertise and claim your status as an authority without sounding boastful. By definition, they’re engaging and memorable.
But when you’re ready to find a story for your service business brand, you might have trouble finding some realistic guidance. Many books on branding and storytelling are filled with examples from products, ranging from soft drinks to computers to beer. I’m particularly fond of the Budweiser commercials, with the dogs and the Clydesdales.
Alas, service businesses can’t work with those warm-and-fuzzy stories. We’ve got prospective clients who want to know what it’s like to work with us.
And we’re branding ourselves as people. We interact with clients in a way that products never will. A soft drink company can give its product a fanciful personality; in fact, an old focus group exercise used to be, “If [product] were a person, who would it be? Life of the party? Old friend?”
Service businesses, especially solopreneurs and independent professionals, can’t do that. We’ve got to be real.
We could turn to the classic archetypes, such as “conquer the monster” or “voyage and return.” But a movie story doesn’t always seem particularly relevant to what we do in our businesses.
My free workbook, From Story To Brand, describes five story archetypes for branding your service business — the Role Model, Innovator, Celebrity, Educator and Passionate Advocate. These archetypes are based on the way business owners promote themselves to their audiences. They will simplify the challenge of aligning content with your brand. In particular, they will help you create more targeted, more effective subject lines.
When going through my own inbox, I discovered that many marketers are already doing this. Here are four examples — I don’t seem to be following any Passionate Advocates. Then we’ll look at the way you can apply these ideas to your own marketing.
Connie Ragen Green – the Role Model
The Role Model’s message is, “If I can do it, you can too.” She’s just one step ahead of you on the path. She’s so friendly and down to earth, her followers often feel they know her like an old friend.
Connie’s mentioned in my workbook but I’d never noticed her email subject lines before. She uses first names, so my emails look like this:
- cathy, open only if you believe in the power of video
- cathy, she’s returning today and i’ll be there!
- cathy, why you must experience the magic and power of live events
- cathy, you could have knocked me over with a feather
- cathy, could it be santa driving down 5th avenue?
These subject lines reinforce Connie’s message. She’s a mentor who relates to her clients like a more experienced friend — the big sister who’s a couple of years ahead of you. She reinforces the relationship with her content.
Incidentally, Connie continues this down-to-earth style in her sales copy. She’s got a “Really Simple” series where she walks her audience several marketing actions that normally would be considered quite complex. For “Really Simple Sales Copy,” her headline makes reference to apple pie, corn on the cob and summer bar-b-que.
Christina Hills – the Innovator
The Innovator brands on being able to solve an urgent problem by offering a one-of-a-kind solution . The message is, “These benefits are meaningful and you can’t get them anywhere else.”
Christina’s innovation relates to the way she delivers her website creation course. She’s starting a new section soon; you can sign up here to get more information in January.
Christina reinforces her innovator role by showing she’s on the cutting edge in her field (so she’s on top of the new Gutenberg WordPress version that’s not out yet). She’s got examples of people who succeeded with her innovative approach. She uses the word “new” often.
- the simple truth about building an online business
- a wellness coach gives up and creates her own website
- install the ‘classic editor’ plugin before Gutenberg comes out
- [new pdf report] I highly recommend …
- What are google fonts?
Ian Brodie – the Educator
Educators brand by being knowledgeable. Often they’re positioned as authorities. They’re not necessarily teachers in the traditional sense. They get the audience’s attention — and claim credibility — by sharing lots of information. But they don’t just present facts. They create lots of aha moments.
Some of Ian’s subject lines:
- Why don’t clients buy from you?
- 3 marketing secrets stolen from my local coffee shop
- my worst sales meeting ever
- how to lose a sale
- the simple secret of follow-up that works
- does ‘just be yourself’ lead to success?
When Ian’s describing something from his experience – such as his local coffee shop – the subject line shows that he’s getting ready to illustrate a marketing point. He’s not sharing more of his own life, the way a Role Model would.
One subject initially didn’t seem to fit: Sting vs Lady Gaga. But it’s actually a concept story — illustrating a key point that Ian wants to make about authenticity. Educators love concept stories. I drive my friends crazy with them.
Unnamed – The Celebrity
I decided not to name the business owner who adopted the celebrity archetype (although you may recognize her if you’re on her list). I don’t know her so I’ll seek permission first.
Celebrities brand by making the claim, “I’ve achieve great success and a great life through my work. That’s my credential! And because I’ve been so successful and earned substantial rewards, I’m qualified to help you do the same.
This unnamed celebrity does exactly what I recommend for Celebrity archetypes. She’s promising insider access and taking us behind the scenes. And she’s referring to her lifestyle.
- behind the scenes: how I built my social media biz
- the one mistake I hear a lot of solo-preneurs talking about
- we flew all the way to Mexico to hear this person
- my guest this week is a bad influence
- a behind the scenes look at my weight loss journey
So how can you apply these principles?
(1) If you’re slightly uncomfortable with some of the copywriting templates, chances are you’re reviewing copy strategies that make sense for someone who’s got a different story archetype. In fact, that’s another way to confirm that you’ve identified your archetype.
(2) Instead of looking through “101 killer email subject lines,” create your own templates. Find successful marketers who share your story archetype. Get a sense of the style and content of their subject lines.
(3) Review your past subject lines. Do they seem to be written by several different people … or are they consistently following your brand? While it’s important to be consistent, you may have a good reason to offer a radically different headline. For instance, you might be promoting someone else as an affiliate.
Do you have any examples from your own inbox? Add a note to the comments below.
And if you’d like to work with me on building your own story-based brand, check out the Story Consultation.