Gamification in Email Marketing and How To Make Your Emails More Interactive

Gamification in Email Marketing and How To Make Your Emails More Interactive
19 August, 2023 • ... • 976 views
Daria Zhuravleva
by Daria Zhuravleva

Looking for a way to spice up your email marketing strategy? Your email engagement is at an all-time low? Ran out of ideas for non-conventional and creative email campaigns? Gamification may be a way to go.

This article has all you need to know about gamification in email marketing. Keep reading to find out what it is and how to *level up* your emails with fun and clickable content 🎮

What is gamification in email marketing?

Gamification is introducing game mechanics into products and services that are not games. This includes:

  • Points and levels as success indicators
  • Goals and challenges
  • Rewards for completing tasks
  • Leaderboards to create a competitive spirit
  • …and more

Gamification is a common phenomenon in mobile apps. For example, Duolingo motivates its users to learn languages with competition and rewards. And Habitica turned a to-do list into an RPG so you can, as the tagline says, “gamify your life”. 

The tagline is not wrong: you can gamify anything — including your marketing emails. Of course, we don’t suggest putting an entire RPG into an email. However, email as a medium provides many opportunities for simpler and smaller — but still efficient! — games. Game mechanics that are suitable for emails include challenges, lotteries, simple word games, quizzes, and more — we’ll discuss that later. 

Why use email gamification in your campaigns

Pulling off a whole game just to promote a flash sale seems a little excessive — why not use less resourceful types of interactive content instead? Isn’t using GIFs in emails engaging enough? Here are some things to consider:

  • Games give a more active role to users. Whether you embed a game in the email or give an external link, you get subscribers to take action. That’s why gamified emails will have higher engagement metrics. Games prevent your customers from passively consuming your ads and nurture stronger customer relationships.
  • Games improve customer retention. Gamification makes your emails more engaging. So, your subscribers are less likely to opt out and will be more interested in staying with your brand.
  • Games help you attract new audiences. If you create a fun game or a personality quiz, people might share it on social networks. Their posts will draw attention to your brand and help you grow your contact list — since your emails are so cool they get viral, people will be eager to opt in 🙂

The takeaway is, gamified marketing campaigns if done right, can act like a cheat code for gaining more customers and revenue. For example, Kop & Kande got 15,000 new email subscribers and a 17.85% revenue increase on winners using daily Christmas Calendar emails. And the Football Association of Finland got a 100% newsletter subscribership growth thanks to a variety of gamified experiences including a newsletter linking to games.

And what about B2B? There certainly is a place for gamification too. Check out our guide with ABM campaign examples to get inspired.

Common uses of gamification email marketing

Now that you know how gamified emails can benefit your business, let’s explore some of the use cases for game mechanics in email marketing.

Occasion email marketing

Adding a game to every email from your brand is too much — marketers usually reserve this ace in their sleeves for special occasions. One way to do it is to design mini-games or complex embedded games for your holiday emails, which is similar to the way interactive Google Doodles work. If you send campaigns like these too often, subscribers will lose interest. That’s why saving them as a holiday gift is a wise decision.

The most popular holidays for such campaigns seem to be Halloween and Easter

Halloween is a great opportunity to experiment with horror-themed plots and spooky designs. For example, in this Halloween email from Email Monks, subscribers enter a haunted castle and play a scavenger hunt to save their lives from ghosts taking them to the other side:

A gamified email from Email Monks that invites subscribers to enter a haunted castle and escape the ghosts in it by doing a scavenger hunt
Source: Really Good Emails

Easter is a great holiday for throwing scavenger hunt games in your campaigns. In the US and Europe, looking for literal Easter eggs is a traditional part of celebrations, so the idea is on the nose. For example, in this email subscribers are invited to hover over pictures of colorful Easter eggs to find their unique discount code:

Gamified Easter email template that invites subscribers to hover over pictures of easter eggs to find a promo code
Source: Stripo

Feedback surveys

Sending a survey email is basically asking for a favor. If your customer gets nothing in return for filling in a huge form, it’s unlikely they’re going to do it for you. 

Some brands offer gifts and discount codes for taking part in a survey or leaving a review. Others make the survey procedure simpler so it doesn’t look like a big favor. But there’s a better way — introducing game mechanics to feedback request emails to increase your customers’ motivation to take your survey. 

The most common example is sweepstakes for survey participants. For example, this email offers a $200 Amazon gift card for a random participant:

A survey email from quip that invites subscribers to take part in sweepstakes and win a $200 Amazon gift card for taking part in their study
Source: MailCharts

Customer loyalty programs

A loyalty program is a game by default: a customer keeps buying stuff from a brand, earns points for each purchase, uses them to get discounts, gifts, and so on. That’s a baseline mechanic — but there are more interesting examples. Take a look at this email from Urban Outfitters.

An email from Urban Outfitters that offers loyalty program members to join a TikTok challenge and win money
Source: MailCharts

The UO Rewards program offers points for different actions from subscribing to the newsletter to writing reviews, buying certain items, or entering giveaways. These points can then be exchanged for money.

This email combines a loyalty program with a UGC campaign and offers members a prize for doing a TikTok challenge. It’s a great TikTok marketing tactic. By doing a similar promotion, you’ll get both more user-generated content and more loyalty program members. This case shows the power of game mechanics in marketing.

Tips on using gamification in email marketing

Still not sure how to gamify your emails? Let’s learn some pro tips and tricks to implement gamification the right way.

Pay special attention to visuals

Games are supposed to be fun and engaging. That’s why when you’re designing a gamified email, it’s especially important to pay attention to the looks — plain text emails are not an option in this case. Even if you’re creating an interactive text-only story, using illustrations, GIFs, animated UI components, and more will increase user engagement with the game. 

Your design doesn’t have to be overly complicated — but it has to be thought out. Here’s an example from Doughp:

An email from Doughp with a small flowchart that helps customers choose a cookie dough flavor
Source: Milled

This email doesn’t even have GIFs — the star of the show is a simple flowchart with three questions that help customers choose one of four cookie dough flavors and shop right away. However, even simple solutions like this one work with the right design and copy.

Make sure the tasks are achievable and clear

Have you ever played a board game with a rulebook longer than War and Peace? This is a great example of what to avoid while gamifying your marketing campaign. When you gamify marketing emails, you want to make subscribers feel good, not frustrated. That’s why we suggest sticking to simpler mechanics and describing the rules as clearly as possible. Here’s an example of what you definitely should not do:

❌❌❌

Let’s play a game! Click the link and choose a weapon. Then, have a fight with another random player who we hope is online at the moment. If not, sorry, this link is single-use 🙁 After you win the fight, you need to find a needle in the hay, save the world, and then congratulations, you can take part in our lottery and win a gift.

How to come up with a task that is not frustrating? Ask Emmiol! In this email, the brand gave a short copy with a crystal clear description of what you need to do to get a discount. Just pick a card!

An email from Emmiol that invites subscribers to pick one of the Tarot cards (Magician, Justice, or Fool), enter the name of the chosen card in the shopping cart online, and get a mystery discount
Source: Milled

Provide immediate rewards

As we mentioned, gamified marketing campaigns should be fun, not frustrating. But even if you have a simple mechanic, an achievable task, and crystal clear rules, you can miss out on an important source of annoyance: delayed gratification. 

Your goal is not to improve your customers’ frustration tolerance but give them a dopamine rush that will be associated with your brand. That’s why it’s important to provide a reward once they finish playing the game. Here’s an example:

❌❌❌ ✔️✔️✔️
Let’s play a game! Pick a card, wait for the next Mercury Retrograde or when Venus is in Gemini, and win a prize. It’s Mercury Retrograde! Pick a card — some of them reveal a discount code, a cool phone wallpaper, or a free lipstick in a shade Mercury.

What if you’re running a UGC contest where users have to wait for the results? To reduce frustration, make a strict and clear deadline and don’t stretch your contest out too much.

❌❌❌ ✔️✔️✔️
Take part in our contest! The winner gets a lifetime 30% discount on all our stuff. Make a social media post with our hashtag and wait for a year. Take part in our contest! Make a social media post and get a lifetime 30% discount on all our stuff. Only the posts published between the 1st and the 7th of August take part in the contest. We’ll announce the winner on the 10th of August on our Instagram Live at 10 PM EDT.

Make the most out of GIFs

GIF animations are an effective way to bring life to your mini-game, tell a story, draw attention to email content and make clicks fun for your subscribers.

In this email from Litmus, when you “turn off the lights”, two floating ghosts appear in the background. If they weren’t animated, the mechanic would be less efficient — looking at static illustrations is not as interesting.

A Halloween email from Litmus with two buttons: Lights on and Lights off. Once you click on the “Lights off” button, the background color turns black and two floating ghosts appear.
Source: Litmus

But even if GIF animations are not integrated with the game mechanics, you still shouldn’t neglect them. Here’s a great example from There There. The design of this email is pretty simple but its use of GIFs makes it more enticing. The GIF quickly shows several pictures that take part in the contest, which gives enough information on what to expect but not enough to ruin the intrigue.

An email from There There travel photo fest that invites subscribers to vote in the contest and win $6k in gear and travel. It has a GIF that shows several pictures from the contestants to entice the subscribers to click the link and learn more.
Source: Email Love

Ensure cross-platform optimization

Optimizing for different devices and email clients is especially important when your gamified email contains complex code, animations, and other content that may not download or display properly. Gmail and Yahoo, for example, don’t support videos in emails. Outlook doesn’t support GIFs. Apple has limited support for text boxes. And, regardless of how complex your content is, non-optimized emails will look less legible and harder to interact with on smartphones. To avoid frustrating your customers, consider these tips:

  • Test your emails. Many ESPs provide previews that emulate different email clients and devices — don’t neglect this opportunity. You can also send a test campaign to your coworkers or your personal email address before launching.
  • Provide a web version. What is not supported in email clients, will display correctly in web browsers.
  • Pay attention to the design of your game. If you embed a game in your email, keep smartphone users in mind. For example, if you use pictures, use responsive email templates and make sure they look big enough on smaller screens. And if your game contains clickable elements, make them large enough to click on with a thumb.

Games are fun but if that’s the only element of your marketing strategy, your content will be irrelevant to subscribers. Check out our blog for personalized email examples to retain your customer base.

A one-column layout and big font size make this gamified email mobile-friendly:

An email from boohoo encouraging subscribers to keep scrolling to reveal their secret discount
Source: MailCharts

The best email gamification ideas and examples from your favorite brands

We already discussed how gamification can benefit your email marketing strategy, the most common occasions for gamifying emails, and how to do it right. Now, let’s get down to details — take a look at our selection of popular email game mechanics and examples from different brands.

Roulettes

Roulettes are lotteries that allow users to win a random bonus — free shipping, a gift, a discount code, and so on. Emails with roulettes usually contain a very short copy and an interactive wheel that subscribers have to spin. Once the wheel stops, the result is revealed, and subscribers can claim their prize. Here’s what a typical roulette looks like:

A roulette email from Royal Design Studio Stencils with a spinning wheel divided into sections with different discounts from 5% to 25% on all stencils
Source: Deal Town

Word games

Word games like crossword puzzles, Wordle, word search, and so on are very easy to implement since they don’t require complex coding. Honestly, we’re surprised this format is not more popular and there are so few examples online. Here’s a great word search email from BURGA:

An email from BURGA that has a word search game where you need to find 5 new phone case design names in a grid of letters
Source: Milled

Quizzes

Quizzes are a very versatile instrument in email marketing. For example, a fun personality quiz can stimulate sales. You can embed a quiz directly into the email or direct the email recipients to your website.

Take a look at this email from Good Light. The brand is announcing a collaboration with the TV show Heartstopper. They included a quiz “Which Heartstopper character are you?” to draw more attention to the upcoming collection and ramp up the campaign CTR.

Gamified email from Good Light that announces the release of the Heartstopper collection and features a show-themed personality quiz
Source: Deal Town

Here’s another example from Silk and Sonder. The brand made a “Is journaling right for you?” quiz to increase engagement. The quiz reveals how the journaling practice can fit into the subscriber’s routine.

Email from Silk and Sonder that promotes a quiz “Is journaling right for you?” that will help users fit the practice into their daily lives
Source: Milled

Speaking of quizzes and traveling… Do you want to find out your perfect vacation destination? Take Selzy’s vacation quiz, build an email for an imaginary travel agency — and we’ll tell you if you should go on a hike in the woods alone or sip mimosas on a beach!

Personality quizzes are not the only way to go. Fun trivia questions can also draw attention to your brand — here’s an example from Puffworks.

Company trivia quiz email from Puffworks that suggests answering the question on Instagram to enter a giveaway
Source: Deal Town

Scratch cards

If roulettes don’t tickle your fancy, there’s another way to introduce a lottery to your subscribers — scratch cards. Like roulettes, this mechanic has an element of uncertainty and intrigue and requires your customers to do a simple task to get the discount or whatever you’re offering. Subscribers feel good about themselves because they did something and got a reward, you are satisfied because your email engagement is higher and sales got a boost. Here’s an example of what it can look like:

An email example with three scratch-off fields that reveal bonuses like 1 free month, a beauty gift, and a free outfit
Source: Constant Contact

If you want to do something more creative, take a look at this interesting variation by Gocase. Instead of a scratch-off, this custom phone case brand used an interactive typewriter that you need to push to reveal the prize on a sheet of paper:

An interactive lottery email with a typewriter that needs to be pushed by a user to reveal the prize on a sheet of paper
Source: Milled

Quests and scavenger hunts

If you long for more complex mechanics closer to actual games and you have enough resources to pull this off, quests and scavenger hunts are a way to go. For example, you can embed a short escape quest where users control a character that has to run a certain route. Here’s a fun example we found on Pinterest:

A quest email example where users need to choose the character and escape from their family to meet their friends
Source: Pinterest

The scavenger hunt mechanic is simpler and requires no complex coding. The simplest version is a static clickable picture, accompanied by a short copy explaining what users need to find in this picture. Once they find the item, they click on it and get redirected to a “Congrats, you won a discount” landing page. Here’s an example:

Gamified email from Boldking that asks users to find a razor in a picture and includes an emergency button in case subscribers fail to complete the task
Source: Really Good Emails

Another way to implement this mechanic is to make it external — for example, in this case, the game is played on the website.

An email from Topshop that invites users to find the hidden Easter eggs around the website and win a big discount
Source: Pinterest

Speaking of scavenger hunts outside the email, what about making it outside the digital realm altogether? Here’s what Who Gives A Crap did — the brand invited subscribers to look for specific items in their very own non-digital bathrooms.

Scavenger hunt email from Who Gives A Crap that invites subscribers to look for a list of items in their bathrooms, count how many of them they found, and learn if their bathrooms are messy or minimalist
Source: Milled

Wrapping up

Gamification in email marketing can help you connect with your audience in more creative and engaging ways, increase clicks and sales, and get you some viral fame on social media. Here are some tips and tricks for effective gamified emails:

  • Pay special attention to visuals — they make or break the first impression of your game.
  • Make sure the tasks are achievable and clear — you’re not making a game to frustrate your customers.
  • Provide immediate rewards — your subscribers won’t wait a year for contest results.
  • Make the most out of GIFs — they will make your game even more engaging.
  • Ensure cross-platform optimization — test and provide alternatives so everyone can have fun.
19 August, 2023
Article by
Daria Zhuravleva
I'm a writer with 3 years of experience, knowledge and interest in all things IT and marketing, and a passion for the English language. As a staff author at Selzy, I see my mission as an educator who makes your life easier by explaining complex topics in a digestible and somewhat entertaining way. Hobbies include birdwatching, all things music and art, writing freeform poetry, and hiding in the woods.
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