Louise Chinn - Dice

Email Subject Lines: Lessons from the Consumer World

Execution category icon Execution

by Louise | 04 May Read Time4 min

About the writer: Louise Chinn, Business Unit Director at Dice, has been working in healthcare advertising since the completion of a doctorate in Stem Cell Biology at Oxford University. Louise started her career at TBWA/Worldhealth; gaining valuable experience working with a number of top pharma companies across an array of disease areas. Louise joined Dice in the summer of 2019 - bringing her extensive industry experience.


When it comes to email marketing, it can be easy to obsess over click-through rate (CTR). However, if healthcare professionals aren’t even opening your emails, it’s probably time to rethink your priorities – and your subject lines. 

In a survey from mms, the email marketing firm, 69% of HCPs said a subject line is what makes them open an email. Drilling down further, 42% said they would open an email with a subject line containing a product name, while 34% admitted they’d be enticed by an announcement or offer regarding a specific pharma or medical device. 

Just because you work in pharma, it doesn’t mean inboxes work any differently – clinicians receive as many emails as the rest of us. With that in mind, here are some lessons from the wider world that should help boost your open rate and prevent an HCPs’ first impression of your brand being their last.  

How to improve your open rate 

According to Mailchimp, the average email open rate for the pharmaceutical industry is 18.58%. The following recommendations should help you exceed that figure for future campaigns. 

Short but sweet

The acronym K.I.S.S (keep it simple, stupid) – oddly coined by the US Navy – is very applicable to email subject lines. Ideally you’ll want people to see the whole subject line without it being truncated. Due to the number of different email clients, browsers and device sizes, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all subject line length, but 30-40 characters is generally a good rule to follow. 

Front-load the important stuff

In some cases you may struggle to fit your whole subject line within the character limit outlined above. Front-loading it with your key words and calls-to-action will ensure HCPs don’t miss the most important part. 

Get personal  

Merge tags are an email marketer’s best friend, giving them the ability to personalise subject lines to individual customers. According to Campaign Monitor, adding somebody’s name to a subject line can boost email open rate by 26%, while mentioning a specialism or location can have a similar effect. 

Segment your audience 

Think about the type of message that will resonate with different audiences in your subscriber list – whether that’s HCPs, suppliers or partners. Segmenting your audience and tailoring your subject lines accordingly should ensure you’re not giving too many people a reason to ignore or unsubscribe from your emails. 

Keep testing 

The only way to know the effectiveness of a subject line is to test it against alternatives. This is commonly known as A/B testing, and is something most email platforms can facilitate. By testing several subject lines with a sample audience and comparing the open rates, you’ll know which to use for the remainder of your list. 

Things to avoid 

While it’s helpful to know about best practice with email subject lines, it’s also important to be conscious of the things that could see your open rate plummet. 

Spam words 

The last thing you want as a pharmaceutical brand is for your email to end up in an HCP’s spam folder. Certain words or phrases, as listed here, will trigger a spam filter. Therefore, it’s worth being mindful of these when crafting subject lines.

RE: and FW:

Research suggests that emails have less chance of reaching an inbox if they include the preposition RE: or FW: in the subject line. Multiple exclamation marks or excessive capitalisation could also lead to emails ending up in a junk folder. 

Repeating the same subject line 

Just because a subject line has generated a high open rate, that shouldn’t be a reason to roll it out again. Repeating a subject line – even if only once – is likely to deter your customers, regardless of whether the email content is different. Always try to keep it fresh and original. 

Leave out the filler 

A good way of keeping your subject line on message is to strip out any unnecessary filler words. Examples include phrases such as “Hi there” or “Nice to meet you”, which could easily be reserved for the body of the email if necessary. 

While the above serves as a general guide, we hope it has offered some valuable takeaways for driving up that email open rate. Keep an eye on the Dice blog for more Veeva-related and pharma-specific examples in the near future….

Take your email marketing forward 

At Dice, our team of marketing specialists have a wealth of experience delivering successful email campaigns for industry-leading pharmaceutical brands. Whether you’re developing a Veeva-approved or mass email campaign, you can count on our experts to take your email game to the next level, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.