Email marketing lessons from the magazine rack

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about email marketing isn’t whether or not a company should test its emails, but what should that company test? How do you come up with subject lines and creative content?

Here’s a relatively simple idea generator for you. You’ll need a magazine rack at a grocery store or library as a reference and a notebook with writing instrument. You might want a digital camera if you’re not in the mood to buy some magazines, too.

Coll at the Magazine Stands

Walk to the magazine rack. Look at it for a total of 30 seconds, then turn around so that you’re facing away from the rack and jot down everything that you can remember in as many exact words and image descriptions as possible. What covers caught your eye and why? What do you remember about them? How many can you remember?

Turn around again and start to read the various magazine covers that specifically caught your attention at first glance, paying attention to two factors: story titles and images. Most magazines will use an image as the immediate hook to catch your eye, and it invariably involves a picture of a person unless there’s some compelling news scene that’s in the public mind at the time. How is the image and text laid out? Does the image immediately draw your eye to the text?

Next, pay attention to the story titles, especially their syntax. Look for obvious commonalities: 8 ways to make your man happy, 22 ways to lose weight without dieting, 14 hot tips for… you get the idea. Look at the grammar and syntax of story titles and take notes as to which you feel compelled to read and why.

When it comes to what to test in your email marketing, the “cover image” is the immediate content grab – what the subscriber sees the moment the email loads. Take ideas from the imagery of covers for the keystone image in your email content. Human faces are instantly and instinctively recognizable to us, since we’re genetically wired to react to our fellow man. The “story titles” are the subject lines, the short, catchy snippets of text that will hopefully compel you to drop $6-$10 for the magazine. Use the various formats of story titles for your subject line testing, and you’ll be surprised and amazed at how well this simple set of tips works.

Christopher S. Penn

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One Response to "Email marketing lessons from the magazine rack"
  1. Lynn Dalsing says:

    Great piece! I love to see people use different media as an inspiration for email marketing. There’s a lot that can be learned that way.

    I particularly like the idea of thinking about your subject line as a title you would put on a magazine cover to draw people in. It’s a good way to gauge if your subject line is compelling: “Would I notice this on a magazine cover?”

    I wrote a piece on what email marketers can learn from the movies, which was a lot of fun to write. You can see that here:

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