An email can affect a recipient's actions, even if the email goes unopened.
At first glance, that seems unlikely. Isn't an unopened email akin to putting music on but not putting the headphones in your ears? Pretty much no benefit, right?
According to Dela Quist, the perception that only the opened emails affect purchasing behavior may be selling your subject lines and greater marketing efforts a bit short.
The simple effect of seeing your brand in the inbox reminds your subscribers of your existence, as well as your new product line, sale, or whatever else you mention in your subject line. That can influence people to visit your store, recommend you to a friend or even make a purchase, without ever opening your email. (Read the full article here.)
You can loosely measure this by comparing the direct success of the campaign to its indirect success. If you know the exact number of people who clicked through to make a purchase from the email, and yet you had a jump in purchases above that number, the nudge effect may have something to do with it.
Here are some recent examples from my inbox. Each of these campaigns went unopened, and yet the underlying message reached me.
1. Sender: Redbox
Subject line: New to Rent This Tuesday
Why it works: Even though I have a busy week coming up and I know that I won't be renting a movie, it reminds me that a fast and affordable movie night is within walking distance. I can picture where my local redbox is located, and I think back to the last movie I rented. (It was Iron Man 2. I admittedly don't rent a lot of movies.)
2. Sender: Vera Bradley
Subject line: Shop Summer Sale and ship for free (ends today!)
Why it works: I recently moved and have put a strict no-buying policy in place until I find a spot in my apartment for everything I already own. However, it has me dreaming of a new summery bag, and I make a mental note to check their site once the dust settles.
3. Sender: Amerigo (a local Italian restaurant)
Subject line: Join us on Memorial Day for a special offer!
Why it works: I see this one after Memorial Day, so I don't bother opening it. But, just hearing the name Amerigo has me thinking of their tiramisu, which is bound to get me in there soon.
4. Sender: The Limited
Subject line: Save $15 Off Every $50! 4 Days Only!
Why it works: Due to my aforementioned no-shopping policy, I don't open this one either. Before I remove temptation from my inbox, I can't help but notice the math on that deal. 30% off is a nice deal, and I appreciate that they reward their email subscribers with a discount. Positive brand experience!
5. Sender: Amazon.com
Subject line: Amazon.com: Kindle with Special Offers from $114
Why it works: I'm already thinking of buying an e-reader, but I haven't committed to one yet. Though I'm not quite ready to buy, I process the decreasing price of Amazon's version. Due to the simple exposure of it, they're my most top-of-mind vendor right now.
Pretty impressive how much I'm affected by these subject lines alone, right? Still, remember that the subject line's purpose is to get your subscribers to open, not to do the email's whole job. But, if you're sending close to the deadline, on an unusual day, or just want to reach those non-opens for a change, try designing a subject line that stands on its own to remind your recipients why they buy from you.