When it comes to engaging email subscribers, marketers often focus on strategies such as personalisation, segmentation, and optimisation of subject lines. 

Gamification is another, perhaps lesser-used tactic, however it can also be a highly effective way to grab and hold attention with email. 

Whether it’s a quiz in exchange for prizes or a game purely for entertainment purposes – there are many benefits to incorporating gamification. Here’s more on this, along with a few examples to illustrate it.

Attract new subscribers

One of the main goals for email marketers is to expand subscriber lists, with many brands offering discounts in exchange for newsletter sign-ups to do so. However, this can be a flash-in-the pan tactic, with some users merely signing up for the offer and failing to engage with the brand thereafter.

Gamification can be a great way to attract new subscribers and keep them, with interactive elements helping to make emails more memorable and more engaging long after the initial sign-up.

One example of this is Papa John’s ‘Score Twice Half Price’ email campaign, which involved giving fans 50% off pizza if the Premier League football team they selected scored two or more goals every week. 

The 50% discount was most likely a big incentive for new subscribers, however, the ongoing and trackable element also gave people a reason to keep engaging with the campaign after sign-up.

It’s also worth mentioning that the passive nature of the gamification (with users merely required to select a football game and do little else) meant that it was low-effort and high-reward. 

papa johns score twice half price

Sweeten rewards

Speaking of rewards – this is usually the most common reason for incorporating gamification into emails. This is because standard deals and discounts are common practice, and therefore not very original or exciting for subscribers. 

By asking users to participate in a game to win rewards, this gives users more motivation, adds excitement, and makes the outcome feel more ‘exclusive’ for the winners.

Emerald Street recently launched a rewards system for loyal subscribers, using a gamification element to ensure that users would keep interacting with emails on a regular basis. It used so-called ‘levels’ of loyalty (along with bonus rewards) to encourage subscribers to keep opening and clicking. In order to make their loyalty levels go up, the more they’d need to interact. The higher the level, of course, the better the prizes.

This is particularly clever because it rewards subscribers that are already highly engaged in the emails, helping to ensure that that they stay feeling valued, and are perhaps more likely to share or recommend the brand to others.

emerald street loyalty club

Build excitement

Instead of merely sending an email to inform or remind users about a specific date, gamification can be used to generate buzz and excitement around it. 

The concept of the ‘golden ticket’ is a classic formula, and one that can work well for events in particular. Litmus marketing have explained how they used this technique to generate buzz about their latest live event. 

It involved setting challenges to win free tickets, such as finding hidden elements like images or copy in emails. Users were asked to tweet their screenshotted answers on Twitter, encouraging interaction and prompted conversation on social. Litmus also ensured there was an extra layer of anticipation by revealing a surprise city location, which also kept users talking throughout the email campaign. 

litmus gamification

As well as how it cleverly encourages participation, this example shows how gamification can be a highly effective way to drive cross-channel engagement rather than siloed email engagement.

Bring the fun

While gamification is often based on motivation and reward, if the game itself is interesting enough, the sole purpose can also be pure fun and entertainment.

Similarly, one of the biggest challenges for marketers is to make email creative stand out – especially when people tend to be subscribed to multiple brand newsletters.

This example from EmailMonks shows how fun and whimsical games can elevate otherwise boring marketing communication. It involves a simple game whereby users are required to click on a moving egg. Along with a fairly addictive game (with users likely to play until they achieve the end goal), it also cleverly piques curiosity about what might be revealed. The sharing buttons also effectively prompt users to forward it to others or share on social.

Encourage action

Finally, despite email marketers focusing on deals and discounts as a way to drive conversions – this strategy doesn’t always work on its own. 

According to Warc, Zizzi is a great example of a brand that has used gamification to ensure clicks. It reports that the restaurant chain was sending out emails to two million people on a weekly basis, and yet just 12% were opening them, and a mere 1% were redeeming vouchers.

In order to spark greater interest, Zizzi which launched a ‘roll a dice’ online board game, enabling readers to win free stuff and even a holiday to Sardinia. Naturally, one of the most common prizes was restaurant vouchers, which were sent to winners with a direct prompt to book a table.

As a result, the campaign helped to drive bookings as well as generate social sharing and general positive brand sentiment. 

Previous email ‘scratchcard’ gamification by Zizzi around the 2015 Rugby World Cup saw half a million plays and nearly 40,000 additional diners heading to Zizzi restaurants.

zizzi gamification voucher

On a smaller scale, Taco Bell have also taken a similar approach, incorporating a quirky game into emails in order to prompt people to order online.

This is perhaps designed more for the fun of it rather than real conversions, but it still an effective way to tee up calls to action and engage users in the process.

taco bell gamification email

(Image via ReallyGoodEmails)

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