Over the past few months, I've noticed that nearly every day there is at least one email in my inbox containing a symbol, icon, or special character in the subject line. My question is, are marketers using these symbols in their email campaigns because they have proven effective in breaking through the inbox clutter? Or are they still in the testing stages to see if that image of a sun, umbrella, heart, or airplane will really entice more subscribers to open their emails?

In speaking with various marketers, I believe they are seeing positive results. One company in particular, Manta, located in Columbus, OH, has experienced an increase in open rates through the use of subject line symbols.

Manta helps small businesses profit, connect, and grow through the largest online community dedicated entirely to small business. They send a daily newsletter containing quick tips to help their subscribers run their small businesses. For one of their "Tip of the Day" emails, they saw an increase of 24.83% in their open rates compared to the previous average.

Manta uses subject lines in a strategic way, and they continually see open rates increase. As Jon Lein, manager of email marketing at Manta shared with me, "I feel that the symbols work well for us because we don't overuse them. It's certainly just a feeling, but I think if we were to saturate our sends with symbols, we would not have results as good as these."

Here are some examples of Manta's use of subject line symbols:

  • Do You ♥ Small Business?
  • ❶ Post a pic. ❷ Tag with #SmallBizLove @Manta. ❸ You Could Win $10k!
  • Customers ♥ Videos

To see how other companies have experienced positive results, check out this blog post from Return Path. My takeaway after reading the post was that the use of symbols in subject lines can actually add value to an email subscriber's experience, rather than be viewed as just a marketing ploy.

You can truly use this as a strategy for your next email marketing campaign. Just be sure to test! A/B Tests are a great way to prove effectiveness. As Return Path pointed out, "the use of symbols in subject lines is effective when applied with a tactical objective in mind."

And if you're looking for inspiration for your next email, check out our 100 Inspiring Subject Lines.