Gamification in Email Marketing: Bringing Fun into Emails
Which would you choose to send to your customers: An ordinary promo email with lots of useful content and discounts, or an email with the same content given in a fun way with elements of gamification?
You, like us, chose option 2? Well, this is pretty reasonable. Given that not only does gamification bring fun into emails, but also increases your ROI by a factor of 3.
If you prefer the second option, then you might wonder why there are so few emails with elements of gamification in our inboxes, given that most respondents choose that option, too.
The answer is obvious: Building such emails is pretty expensive and time-consuming. Besides, there are not so many ideas and ready-to-use mechanics out there.
But! we wouldn’t bring up this question here if we didn’t have a solution.
In this post, we will share the problems we faced when building emails that everyone would like to send. And will show how we solved them. And how we, as nerds, managed to systemize all the knowledge on email gamification that we had gotten.
And so the story begins
In October 2019, we got inspired by a fabulous report “Making emails fun” by Chris Vasquez from AWeber and Nicolas Garnier from Mailjet back then, and of course, the “Reality Is Broken” bestseller by Jane McGonigal to give gamification a try and eventually investigate this topic more thoroughly.
First, we rushed to build and send out our first gamified emails.
(Check the web version out)
This is the email we sent out on Easter. Users had to collect figures hidden behind choco eggs. Then summarize these figures and enter the total sum and get the discount, if the sum was correct. If the sum was incorrect, they would see the “Try again” notification message.
Results of our first campaigns
Our emails with elements of gamification were widely discussed in multiple communities dedicated to email marketing. So, this increased our brand virality. But more importantly, it showed us that people like to play and have fun. Even in emails. Even if they work in a B2B industry.
We were happy to receive all that feedback. But the results were not satisfying for us. Because deep down we knew that the games we created back then would fit the B2C industry more.
So, we wanted to find out what kinds of games would fit B2B and SaaS businesses, as well, and what games would fit Stripo precisely.
Improving our email games
Luckily, with AMP, the possibilities of games in emails significantly increased. So we were not limited by the technical part, but more by lack of imagination and ideas.
Given that there were few ideas on the web, we had to generate gamification ideas for emails inside our team. We would spend days brainstorming.
But the results were quite satisfying.
(Check out the web version of this email).
This is the email from our quiz series. Users had to solve puzzles in each email from the series to get an Agency annual plan for free.
All emails from the series were very warmly received by our users. Most of them would say that they intentionally entered incorrect answers just to discover what happens then.
Quite impressive results. However, these games were pretty expensive. We did not recoup the development costs, because those were 1-time emails. We received way more, though. I mean users’ feedback that helped us get to know our audience better.
So, what we understood here is:
games should be reusable (read recoupable). We spent days on finding ideas, weeks on developing these games. It would be a crime if these games were a 1-time thing;
all the games that we built could be grouped by game mechanics.
Game mechanics is not a game yet
Speaking of mechanics… Even though mechanics are the key to email gamification, they are not enough, since they are not a game yet. They just enable you to build gamified emails easier and faster. And they are totally reusable. How?
Given that you can edit, and customize them, your emails will look way different from the emails designed by your competitors who used the same mechanics or from your previous campaigns.
(Compare this email to the email with the “Find your look” one given above. Same mechanic, different results).
But mechanics themselves do not guarantee that your games will be successful. Then what will?
Defining traits of a game, or what makes a game successful
To find out what makes email gamification successful, we investigated dozens of games in emails. And of course, we highlighted our experience, too :)
Users and brands use different criteria to define a successful game. So, we decided to divide the criteria into two groups:
1. Traits of a successful game from recipients’ perspective
This is the outcome recipients will be working for.
Make sure the goal is clear, engaging, and achievable.
(Source: Stripo template)
Rules show how users are supposed to achieve the goal. By eliminating the easiest ways of reaching the goal, you make users explore previously unseen ways and make them use all their creativity.
(Source: Really Good Emails)
Let recipients know how they are doing. Embed sth like a progress bar, or show the score.
A character that goes across your campaigns makes games more consistent.
(Source: Really Good Emails)
Let users know how they are doing compared to other recipients. You share the average score in your next email and compare a certain recipient’s results to others. Works best in a series of gamification emails. However, this is optional.
Of course, we do hope users will play the games, as we are aware that most people love doing it. But some users might be too busy, or too tired, so they might want to skip the game and proceed to the site or go shopping right away.
Let users discover what will happen if they choose another option. Like what happens to your hero if he/she turns left, or right. What happens if users don’t find all the eggs they are supposed to in your email. Or what happens when they FIND all eggs.
Add the element of chance.
(Check out the web version of this email)
Now that we know all the traits of a successful game, let us see these rules in action.
The evolution of games in emails ;)
Here we want to show why exactly it is important to stick to all these requirements to make your games good and successful.
We’ll start with examples with unclear goals, and rules, moving to highly informative manuals in emails.
In this email, we stuck to all the aforementioned requirements.
Note: We did not post GIFs of emails with intermediate versions of the game because two or more moving elements at once on one screen can cause a photo epilepsy seizure.
Here is just the pure mechanics itself
No goal, no rules, even no explanation of what to do with these carrots and why they show up and hide. But this is just the basic mechanics.
Version 1. The one where we used the first version of a feedback system
This email shows how many carrots I caught/have in my basket. But how many of them do I need? And how do I get them? I have no idea how these two appeared in my basket.
Version 2. The one with rules, but an incomplete feedback system
Oh, I like this one better.
First, it says I need to click on the carrots.
Second, it shows how many I have in my basket and how many I may collect if I try hard. And also it says I can try as many times as I want.
But what about time? And what do I need these carrots for?
Version 3. The one with clear rules, and an improved feedback system
Here they explained why the screen got red: They deducted points when I missed the goal and clicked on the wrong spot. Way better! But still, how much time do I have to catch a necessary number of carrots?
Version 4. The one with a challenge
This email says I have 15 seconds to catch as many carrots as possible. They even put a timer on top of the page.
It starts the second I click the “Start the game” button.
I see I have only 11 secs left to collect the remaining 13 carrots. Well, I need to try harder. This makes the game way more engaging.
In the end, when I caught 10 of 15 carrots, I got the “You are a Professional” award. But is it the highest award? Or do I need to try even harder to be the best?
Version 5. The one where we managed to stick to all the requirements
Now, this is finally a game. Whole and complete.
This is the email recipients should see in their inboxes. With a clear goal, with clear rules, with a good feedback system, etc. In other words, with a holistic approach to game development.
I have played the game in this email. Now I know I’m not a superman :(
But I know what I could do to be one. Good thing I can try again :)
Do we like this email game? Yeah, totally. It is complete.
But will this game be successful in terms of business? Let’s see
2. Traits of a successful from a business’ perspective
It is a very complex subject. What metrics to consider here: How many hours will you/your team spend on building a particular game; will this game be reusable? Given that your team spends a certain amount of time on implementing a game, will be it recoupable?
Speed of implementation
The faster the better. Ready-to-use mechanics should provide all necessary elements of the game. Marketers just replace visual elements. And the game is ready to go.
We will provide some later.
You need to be able to track, measure, and analyze the results of your campaigns.
Of course, it’s always good when coders and programmers can help you with building any complex mechanics, but it’s always best if an email marketer can create a gamified email on their own. Which, on top, makes the game way cheaper.
The game should be reusable for multiple campaigns.
The mechanics should be reusable for diverse businesses: B2C, B2B, etc. You will just add new elements to it to get a visually totally new game for your emails.
Now we know what makes a good game both for businesses and recipients.
And ready-to-use mechanics are the key to email gamification success from businesses' perspective. We prepared a lot of them. And we are ready to share some with you now so you could give gamification a try right away. And later we will share some of our favorite gamification email examples.
Ready-to-use mechanics to implement gamification in emails right away
1. AMP carousels with no notification
Users just click the arrows to rotate images to find the design they like best.
To build a similar game for your promo emails, you just need to use the AMP carousel block. As simple as that. Building one will take you under 10 minutes.
2. AMP carousels with notification messages
Users need to rotate images to solve the puzzle. Once they do it, they will see a notification they did a good job. Or will see a notification with the date and time of the presentation. You can say anything you want in your notification message.
In our “Building Mazes with Stripo” blog post, we showed how to build a similar maze for your emails.
3. Quizzes in emails
You ask users a question and provide a few answers. They have to click the option they find correct right in N email. And see if their answer is correct right away.
You may choose different images, different colors to highlight incorrect and correct answers. There could be any number of answer options.
In our “Building AMP Quizzes” blog post, we share a step-by-step on how to customize this mechanic for your campaigns.
4. Game mechanics with carrots
Yes, we used the same game mechanics with the carrots we explored above.
We just added custom backgrounds, etc. Honestly, we did not tell users how many spam emails they needed to catch to be a good marketer. But back then we thought it was pretty obvious that they needed to catch all the spam emails to maintain their sender reputation ;)
Where can you get information on how to utilize this idea for email gamification? Stay tuned! By the end of January, we will publish a step-by-step guide on our blog.
5. The “Discover what happens next” mechanics
Remember the Hero who “Put the town on fire” and then stopped the criminal? We described him above.
We used the same mechanics to build a promo email where users would answer a few questions, and judging by their answers we would pick a tour that fits them best.
The same mechanics, but way different implementation, resulting in different games.
Examples to get you inspired
Like we said above, we spent days finding gamification ideas for emails.
To save you a little bit of time, we now want to share a few examples that we find inspiring.
This is the very first gamification email that we sent out in 2020.
We wanted to “predict” users’ future :)
So we asked them to click the element that they like best. And there was a prediction hidden behind that element.
In fact, it was just a new way to promote our prebuilt seasonal templates.
2. An imitation chat
Here we simulated a chat.
Users were supposed to solve our riddle.
Most users succeeded. Some would give funny answers like “Help! What is the answer?”
3. Product launch announcement
We did not send this email out. We built it just as an example of how companies can announce product launches.
In this simple way, you let users see how delicious their pancakes would be if they add some fruit to them.
5. Design your own Christmas Card
Want to spread the holiday vibe? Let your users have some fun.
In our Christmas email campaign, we asked recipients to draw a holiday card.
There was an option to share this drawing with us. Which thousands of users did.
We were pretty happy to receive all those heartfelt holiday cards.
We want to thank everyone who shared their drawings.
Well, now we hope we got you inspired to give gamification a try.
And to help you design professional gamified emails in no time, we've prepared an eBook "Ultimate Guide to Email Gamification" with a number of tips and ready-to-use mechanics.
Case studies show that gamification is important for email marketing. It helps your business to go viral. It multiples your ROI by 3 times. But most importantly, it lets your customers relax and have some fun in YOUR emails, which is good for long-term relations.
How do you utilize one for your business?
You pick a ready-to-use mechanic; we shared some above. You bring this mechanic to a good game by sticking to all the traits mentioned above. That’s it.
Bringing fun to emails has never been easier ;) Give it a try!
If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas you’d like to share — please leave a comment below or email us. Any feedback is highly appreciated.