Some companies are now using symbols in their email subject lines to help their marketing messages stand out in crowded inboxes. But does this quirky method work, or is it just another marketing tactic that looks intriguing on the surface, but fizzles out in practice?
A case study reported by Marketing Sherpa found that one Fortune 500 company, DaVita Kidney Care, was able to increase open rates for their email marketing campaigns by 1.5 percent, just by placing symbols in the subject lines.
What are email subject line symbols?
This new marketing tactic doesn’t refer to using hashtags, at symbols, dollar signs, or asterisk patterns. Instead, these symbols are small, solid images created by an extension of email coding protocol called multipurpose Internet mail extensions (MIME). This hardcoding places the symbols in subject lines and allows them to show up consistently across nearly all platforms—with an occasional exception in iOS, which sometimes mangles the symbol code.
When a symbol code is inserted into a subject line, the email arrives showing the symbol, rather than the code, in the recipient’s inbox. For example, the code “=?utf-8?Q?=E2=98=85?=” becomes a simple black star on the receiving end. There are codes for a number of different symbols, including geometric shapes, fireworks, flags, hearts, arrows, check boxes, and more.
These symbols, while simple, are noticeable and eye-catching in long lists of subject lines, and can really help emails stand out.
Tips for using email subject symbols
The DaVita Kidney Care case study tested the use of symbols in email marketing campaigns, and found that with planning and testing, the results were favorable. The company chose a small black triangle to begin A/B testing—looking for something quirky, but not frivolous, to represent their image as a health care business. They then tested several more symbols, including a heart for Valentine’s Day.
According to the results of the testing:
- Email open rates increased by 1.5% when a symbol was placed at the beginning of a subject line
- The company’s reputation and inbox placement were not affected by using symbols, and messages with symbols were not filtered into junk mail
- Unsubscribe and abuse rates experienced no noticeable movement
- The actual symbol doesn’t matter, as long as it is not alphanumeric—copyright and trademark symbols did not increase open rates
- There was no increase in open rates with symbols placed at the end of subject lines
- Using MIME coded symbols for your email marketing campaigns could help you boost your open rates by making your messages stand out in your subscribers’ inboxes. When introducing new elements to your email marketing, it is always valuable to use A/B testing to gauge the results before launching a full campaign.