How to Guarantee More than 2.7 Seconds of Attention for Your Emails

These days it’s not about who you can get in touch with - it is all about how you get in touch with someone and how you move the conversation forward. Being able to grab someone’s attention is the new currency and something that we should all master.

An overflowing inbox is a result of the explosive spread of social media and internet . One of the commonly used mediums for reaching out to someone is an email. Now, everyone has email accounts. Email addresses of most people worth reaching out to for any purpose are easily available to everyone. How do you get the right hook, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, in the realm of email reach outs?

I've already written about warming up your emails reach outs. The takeaways are simple: make your emails short to fit into your target's schedule - but make every word count. What’s most important is to wrap your mind around the fact that there is no such thing as an email template that always works. Personalization is the key. Strive to make the reach-outs all about the recipient through proper research and make them see how getting back to you can add value to their lives. Mastering this will not only increase the response rate but will plant the seeds for a potentially long-lasting relationship. Here we're going to dig into those first 2.7 seconds: the average time a reader spends scanning an email headline and makes an implicit decision to dig deeper.

Just like how one has to cut through all the noise on Twitter for making the tweet stand out, one needs to to cut through all the noise of hundreds of other cold emails in the recipient’s inbox for building a connection.

How Would You Draft a Warm Email?

The process of warming up emails starts with warming up those subject lines. People often spend lot of time drafting the body of the emails and take subject lines for granted. That is a big mistake. Appropriate subject lines are going to make the recipients want to open your emails.

Let’s look at some examples of subject lines that have helped me build a good relationship with the recipient.

“Meditation, Connecting, Community, One Philosophy”

I used this subject line to reach out to a media mogul. I got a response within a couple hours. I not only got what I wanted but she went overboard in being generous to me. What do any of the things mentioned in the subject line have anything to do with a media company? Nothing at all. And that’s precisely why the recipient got curious. I knew the recipient meditates and is a big proponent of meaningful connecting. I wanted to get her thoughts on an article I wrote about my experience with a community and was reaching out to her because the philosophy that I talk about in the article resonated with her ideas that I read about in a press release years ago. After reading the email, the recipient must have realized how much I must have researched on her to be able to connect the dots like that.

“Your Book, My Book, Collaboration”

I knew the recipient is working on a book. I loved what the book was about. While I had some questions and ideas for his book, I also wanted to bring up my upcoming book to see if he could contribute to my book. The subject line gives away enough information to enable the recipient to associate the email to something he deeply cares about and he gets curious enough to open the email. Even though the recipient could not make time to contribute, we still have a good relationship for bouncing off ideas.

“Mastermind group, HBS, Initiative, Advice”

I used this subject line to reach out to a branding expert and a renowned speaker. What does that subject line imply? Opening the email is the only way to know. I read an article on mastermind groups by the recipient online. I thought she would appreciate an article on Harvard Business Review on the same topic. I had taken the initiative of implementing the lessons in my daily life. I wanted to get her advice on something else.

“Here are some resources for you” or “Your article, Some resources”

Now here is a subject line that has almost always worked for me. Last week, I read an article on Business Insider. I loved it. I reached out to the writer of that article via email with this subject line. Got a response the next morning. Why? Who doesn't like investing in personal growth? The subject line sparks curiosity in the recipient's mind to learn what resources she might miss out on if she chose not to open the email. The body of email literally had ten links to different podcasts, articles and books. It took me 30 minutes to draft that email.

“Add value or ask for a million dollars in the same cold email”

I used this subject line to reach out to a world-renowned Professor. The subject line resonated with one of his area of research. Boom. I currently have a working relationship with him. That subject line was actually a line in one of my articles on Huffington Post that I thought the recipient would like because he deeply believes in the theme I write about. Such bold statement are very likely to catch one’s eye. But make sure the body of your email is in sync with it.

“Here’s something that you would appreciate”

This is great way of reaching out if you have done your research on the recipient and if you can back your claim with why specifically you thought that the thing you are reaching out about will intrigue the recipient. It is a hit or a miss. But, with proper research, this almost always sows the seeds for a potential relationship.

“[Name], Advice”

Name dropping a person the recipient knows is another cool trick. But, be mindful of the fact that you actually know the person you are name dropping. The recipient might check in with him or her to check your credibility.

Now let's look at some subject lines that mostly don't work.

“Request for Assistance”

This is a terrible subject line. What’s in it for them? It’s plain, vague and boring. It won't make them want to even subconsciously open your email, let alone taking the time to help you. Being a lazy college student with all the free time on my hands, I would personally not open that email. Can you imagine your accomplished role model opening it?  If this has worked for you, you got lucky.

“Quick Question” or “Quick Feedback”

There is no such thing as a quick question. Time is literally money for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investment bankers. Such generalized subject line makes most emails end up in trash folders. Why would an investment banker take time to even read your email when he could spent the same time making money? Why would a best-selling author waste time in even opening your email when he could spend the same time brainstorming ideas for her next chapter? In this fast paced world, you need to try to convey a part of the message in the subject line. If you can't do that, try to make them curious.

“The Next Big Thing”

Most Tech writers get emails with such subject line. If everyone onto the next big thing, let's reevaluate what we consider big. Put yourself in a TechCrunch writer’s shoes: you are scrolling through the inbox and eight out of ten emails have this subject line or a variation of it, what is going to motivate you to open even one of them?

There is no magic formula for drafting subject lines. They change from email to email and person to person. Do you ever find yourself copy-pasting subject lines on a bunch of emails?  You might want to reconsider continuing that practice. The subject line is a gateway to your email. It needs to be personalized and well-thought out to get the results you are hoping to get. Either add value or arouse curiosity. Ideally, shoot for both. Aspire to cultivate a relationship, not get a response that might benefit you short term up to some extent but leaves you with nothing long term. Half the battle is won once the recipient opens your email. The other half of the warm emails is a topic for another time.

Would love to know what kind of subject lines have worked for you. Let us know in the comments.