How to use “Open Loops” to get a higher Open Rate

This is a mind trick that has been played on you, and all of us, for decades.

Here is the Wikipedia definition:

“An open loop is a rhetorical device to instill curiosity by creating anticipation for what will come next. The device is sometimes also called a tension loop for the tension and anticipation it creates.”

This is also known as the information gap theory of curiosity, developed by George Loewenstein. According to Loewenstein, we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know” and this has emotional consequences. Wired magazine calls it a mental itch, that moves us to seek out the information we need.

In other words, you open a loop that your subscribers will naturally want to close.

To explain this better, I’ll give you a couple of examples of open loops:

1) TV Shows

Every TV series does this at the end of each episode when they show scenes from the next episode. These scenes are carefully put together to leave you on a cliffhanger.

The goal: Make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode.

2) Movie Trailers (or Teasers)

Movie trailers do the same thing, they show a series of scenes, usually a couple of minutes, to get you super excited about the movie. They show just enough to make you say “Man, I can’t wait for this movie to come out.”

The goal is the same, but in this case, that cliffhanger effect needs to last for a longer period of time. The trailer for the new Star Wars movie came out in April and the movie doesn’t come out until December.

Let’s watch it…

The last scene with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca is a clear attempt to pull those fans of the original movies, like me, that lost interest along the way. These guys are very smart.

Okay Francisco, I got it, but… What does teasers and TV shows have to do with email marketing?

Open Loops in email

Open loops in email work exactly the same way.

You tease your readers today so they expect your next email. Like this:

Open loop

Bryan is already telling you what Friday’s email is going to be about, and he’s making a very bold promise too.

Let me give you a couple of examples of when to use open loops:

1) Product Launch

Let’s say you are launching a new product in a few days, you need to create a big impact to your list in order to make more sales. As we’ve learned in this module, everything starts with that open, right?

So you send an email campaign a few days before to tease your subscribers and open a loop.

Now, they’re expecting your next email.

2) Sequences

Open loops also work very good for sequences.

The free Facebook course from SocialMouths is delivered daily via email. Every day, we give you access to a lesson and then create an open loop for tomorrow’s email. Take a look:

Open loop by SocialMouths


Open loop by socialmouths

Open Loops in the subject line

Open loops are also created in the subject line.

That gap of information is created in the subject line to motivate people to open the email and close the loop.

Let’s look at the following 2 subject lines:

“How we increased our Facebook Organic Reach by posting more”

In the first case, you probably feel no need to open the email. Why? Because they gave it all away.

When my wife and I plan to watch a movie, we usually spend the first 20 minutes watching trailers to decide. I hate when she says “I don’t need to see that one anymore…”

But she’s right, they gave away the movie in the trailer.

“3 Marketing lessons I learned from Bruce Lee”

Now, this will probably make more sense if we said “3 Marketing lessons I learned from David Ogilvy” but what can you possible learn from Bruce Lee?

First, I wonder what those 3 lessons are, but the fact that you learned them from Bruce Lee makes my head spin with curiosity.

Now you need to close the loop.

Quick story

The last time I opened my Facebook Ads course, I did a price reduction promo the last 48 hours before closing. We planned to send out the following campaigns:

  • Announcement 48 hours before
  • Discount is now open
  • Last call (few hours left)

As you can see, we had everything there. But then I made a mistake, the price was reduced everywhere, ads, landing pages, etc. and I forgot that the mobile landing page was separate and I never changed the price there. In other words, if you get the email and opened on your mobile device, you were sent to the page with the wrong price. Epic fail.

When we realized this, the promo was almost over. So I wrote an email apologizing and extending the offer for one more day. Here is the subject line:

“I made a mistake and here’s how I make it up to you”

And here are the results of the open rates.

I made a mistake

  • First, promotional emails always perform lower
  • The “Urgency” email had 4.3% more opens than the previous one
  • But the “Mistake” email killed the urgency email by another 4.7% on top of that


First, try this theory with a little experiment:

1) Experiment (and have a little fun)

Next time you are with a couple of friends, ask a question about the topic at hand, something like

  • “What was the name of that guy that used to sing _________?”
  • or “Who was that girl who used to play _______ in that movie ________?”

And watch the reaction. I can guarantee at least one of your friends will immediately pull out an iPhone and hit Wikipedia.

This person is not trying to brag about being the fastest smartphone in the west, or trying to be a “know it all,” he’s simply trying to scratch his own itch of curiosity.

The important thing here, now you’ve opened a loop and your friend closed it. Live, right in front of you. You smile, he says “what?” and you move on with your life.

2) Go back

  • Go back to look at your previous campaigns, look at the subject lines
  • Find the loops, or did you give away the whole movie in the trailer? Make a note of that
  • Write a few examples with open loops to see how those subject lines could have given you better results

3) Implement

In your next campaign:

  • Do an A/B Test
  • Variant A is a normal subject and Variant B will include an open loop
  • Sit back, grab a coffee and watch

In the next lesson, I’ll show a trick so dumb I can guarantee you’ll facepalm, but it will help you get more opens, clicks and maybe even sales with very little effort.

See what I did there? 😉