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Gamification strategies for email marketing

Email marketing is a high-performing and cost-effective direct communication channel, but it can sometimes lack the interactivity necessary to make it more engaging for subscribers.

Enter a new solution: Email Marketing “Gamification”

Gamification is the application of gaming concepts and techniques to non-game experiences, in order to drive desired behaviors from an audience. While the concept of adding some fun to communications in order to grow user interaction is not new, the idea of “gamificiation” takes reward-based engagement to a higher level.

Playing to win has strong appeals, regardless of the channel. Through gamification, brands are able to build loyalty amongst a community, all under the veil of playful interactions. Game mechanics are essentially a marriage of tools that measure and report statistics and those statistics are used to represent progress and justify rewards.

Implemented strategically as a part of your email sends, game mechanics can help you better engage both enthusiastic and even passive subscribers.

Spruce up your email campaign engagement with the mechanics of fun

To be done successfully, gamification must adopt a behavior-based approach. For instance; by offering rewards for user actions, consumers are more likely to engage with a product or service; visit the site more often, register for newsletters, browse at length, invite friends, participate in campaigns, take surveys and so on.

Designing a gamified brand experience requires that you identify the behaviours or actions you want from participants, alongside their relative value, and then identify engagement-based strategies — “game mechanics” — to engineer a path toward your goal. Simply put, you identify the behaviors you want to elicit (awareness, click-throughs, recommendations, purchases) and then you determine motivators that can provoke each of those behaviors and notify your readers.

How can brands leverage this concept in emailing?

The best email marketing campaigns educate, inform and motivate audiences while at the same time entertaining them. If you add gamification to this, your emails provide a rewarding and influencing environment for consumers.

One way to power email marketing gamification is via user-generated content; which is often submitted through simple vehicles like comments, ratings, testimonials, case studies or reviews. These are basic ways to get publishable feedback from users based on the virtues of your service and the content you produce.

The moment you encourage content creation, the user becomes more engaged and you make your newsletters and website richer. Try rewarding top commenters in various ways, such as by allowing ‘weighted commentary’ on your website -permitting users to sort comments based on each person’s respective rank — which gives the most active commenters a worthy fistful of clout.

There are two key benefits to showing ranked reactions in an activity feed: not only will the user expose your newsletter content to others, but they will also showcase their rank, in turn driving other users to attempt to achieve a similar or higher status.

Social sharing of email newsletters is another possible gamification tool that can prove incredibly useful in syndicating your content, and with gamification elements, users feel even more compelled to do so. Social logins bring a valuable layer into the game. With all the metrics available, marketers can track not only the users who shared content on social networks, but also their friends who click back to your website via an email.

Offer rewards for liking, tweeting or +1-ing your content, and make these rewards real

Triggered emails, for example, could be used to gift users with special graphics, titles, credits, social accolades or QR-coded coupons that give them access to exclusive content or deals and discounts for achievers.

The reward system could be taken as far as you are willing to, such as by providing users who progress to greater brand engagement levels with special features, professionally designed email templates, advanced accounts, unique deals on bulk credit purchases, special award badges or some or other ego-stroking status token to show off on their newsletters or social networks.

Scoring is essentially a roadmap for encouraging participation

Good gaming systems let users advance and provide ways to benchmark progress, keep score and show an indicator of their progress. You could award users with small amounts of points by default just for clicking around or for remaining on a page to consume content. People who may have had no initial interest in earning points will still be able to advance in the rankings given their increase in participation points, and will get hooked and consciously participate as soon as they recognise the value in it.

Keeping users involved in the game without any effort on their behalf is a great strategy for converting them into active email-driven gamers later on.

Many brands are already having tremendous success using gamification to provoke their customers toward action

Foursquare, for example, employs this strategy by motivating users to check in to locations in order to gain points and awards (or badges) and track a user’s progress.

Companies like Red Bull have implemented gamification as a consumer marketing strategy to drive users to their website: People buy a certain number of Red Bulls, collect codes on the cans and enter them online to claim rewards.

Daily deals company Groupon debuted a loyalty program recently that enables vendors to deliver follow-up offers to consumers who previously purchased a Groupon from them.

Groupon Rewards is rolling out over the next few months to help them drive loyalty and help merchants drive redemption. Consumers will earn Rewards based on the amount of money they spend at a participating outlet, basing Rewards on monetary spending rather than transaction quantity, since this incentivizes consumers to spend more at a business as well as to become return customers.

While this does not quite follow the basic model of gamification, it shows that the use of progress-based rewards (the cornerstone of gamification) is growing vigorously in digital soil. And, while email marketing is not a chief feature of these gamification efforts, the channel could easily be tied in to or used to facilitate or enhance the processes. Gamification can not only help subscribers become more engaged, but also help solve some of the marketing world’s issues in retaining people’s attention.

Since top brands are investing more and more resources in gamification, the industry could be poised to see the rise of “gamification agencies” or “play-added resellers” which take the features of Software-as-a-service, such as that of an email marketing provider, then mechanising and texturing it for gaming programs — similar to how value-added resellers operate in bestowing additional embellishments and services to product or service standards.

Image: nan palmero

Author | Wikus Engelbrecht

Wikus Engelbrecht
Wikus Engelbrecht is a writer, journalist and digital poet. His professional career in language and media has spanned the film, print advertising, magazine publishing, food theatre and online content industries since 2003. More
  • There’s
    no doubt that email marketing works BUT in addition to the traditional email
    marketing (mass email) one should look at another marketing opportunity and
    that is the emails we all send from our corporate email addresses every day. I
    represent a company that has developed a solution for just those emails and
    thus this post.

    basic idea behind WRAPmail is to utilize the facts that all businesses have
    websites and employees that send emails every day. These emails can become
    complete marketing tools and help promote, brand, sell and cross-sell in
    addition to drive traffic to the website and conduct research. WRAPmail is
    available for free at http://www.wrapmail.com

  • It might seem new, but the ‘gamification’ of email as a tactic is actually quite old. I remember that club Nintendo (what a coincidence!) used to reward points for emails read and clicked upon, and that was years back. It is always good to seek out ways to engage with your readers, but let’s not pretend that by adding a buzzword it becomes a new concept. 

  • Michael White

    Very true.

    Though what I think this article opens the door to is not necessarily ‘buzzword-ification’ of an existing practice, but instead encourages us to look at the deeper layers of how to expand, adapt and capitalize more fully on the concept.

    Furthermore, gamification wasn’t invented last week and we have seen big global brands integrating such strategies for increased consumer engagement over years. However, since the topic goes about email gamification specifically (and there aren’t very many reliable and comprehensive email industry examples to give it an entrenched track record) it’s not about re-inventing or claiming ownership of the wheel – just about seeing how it will work once we put it on a different machine.
    In this case, as per the title, Email Marketing.

    Gamificitation is not just a rewards or loyalty system. Although these can, and typically do, form part of a gamification environment, they’re just pieces of the overall puzzle.

    If we imagine what the workings of an apex gamification system would be like – you might consider it has so much “fun value” that the pure engagement qualities of playing can in itself be the reward (just imagine any addictive gaming experience) – in which case you wouldn’t really need to offer incentives. On the other hand, just because you are offering rewards, it doesn’t at all mean that you’ve entered into gamification. You are just doing precisely that; “offering rewards”, and nothing more.

    Notice the difference?

    So ultimately, the one doesn’t necessitate the other. And also, the one does not equal the other. 

  • Michael,

    Game mechanics can liven up an experience. We want to save, level, earn, share, reward, claim, play, etc AND have fun. So why not try and mix those into e-mail? Although there isn’t a gamified e-mail gallery, there are enough examples out there if one would go out and look. Anyone to post some good examples of mail with game design elements? Post them here.

    I’ve always been an great advocate for the creation of interesting email. (Do a Google search on “interestability” and you will see). Incorporating game mechanics into messages is one way to add value, but it isn’t new.

  • Michael White

    The key points of my comment above can be summarized as:

    1. Gamification is nothing new, big (and small) brands have been doing it for ages.
    2. Gamification applied to email marketing has been a less prevalent practice though. No emblematic examples or wildfire adoption to refer to – which is not to say that nobody has done it.
    3. Gamification is greater than the sum of it’s individual components and, with a little ingenuity, our current paradigm for it can be enhanced – including, and perhaps especially, in the email sphere. 

    It doesn’t seem to me that our points of view are incompatible, except for my notion that there is still a world of possibility out there for email.

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  • Dedra Demaree

    As suggested by Michael, Gamification shouldn’t be viewed as a buzzword, or even as a ‘completely new’ idea – but rather as a paradigm, framework, or lens (words of overlapping use depending on what discipline you are coming from) for providing insight about how to achieve a goal.  For example, when applied to education (http://www.gamifyingeducation.org/) it attempts to address issues such as motivation which are well addressed by other frameworks, but by viewing it through this one we gain a broader understanding and even better, specific examples that can be used to generate practical applications.  Using it for email marketing has the same strengths – it helps one see practices in a fresh way and perhaps brainstorm ways to make campaigns fresh.  Wikus Engelbrecht has laid these ideas out nicely in this article.

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