Gamification in email marketing

This corona crisis has a serious impact… but not all consequences are negative. The gaming industry, for example, is booming at the moment. We hear you think: what does that have to do with marketing? Gaming isn’t all about game consoles and video games. Gamification is multifunctional and can be applied to email marketing.

Today, the millennial generation is more game-minded than all generations before them. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider adding a gaming element to your email marketing campaigns. Here’s a few tips to get you started.

To start off: what is gamification?

Gamification is all about bringing game design elements and game principles to platforms that have a non-game context. It’s a problem-solving method to make the usual ‘boring’ elements, exciting and new. Its main purpose is to engage users and reward them by giving prizes or recognition, in the process or afterwards. By adding a sense of gaming or a competitive element to an email marketing campaign, subscribers will be triggered to get engaged with the content.

Now let’s see how you can add a gamification component.

Not every email campaign will qualify for gamification. The first thing you should ask yourself is: will this campaign get better response with interactive content? Will it motivate subscribers to engage? A campaign that targets, let’s say, suppliers of concrete or health care professionals, will probably not benefit from gamification. Keep the difference between ‘serious’ campaigns and campaigns with a more casual approach in mind at all times. For instance, an email marketing campaign to promote beauty products or a new consumer branding can get more engagement from casual interaction with its recipients.

An email marketing campaign can contain lots of different formats. But when trying to define a few email options, we could separate them into informational emails, educational emails, lead nurturing emails (that guide users through the entire sales cycle) and promotional emails. For gamification, the lead nurturing and promotional emails qualify best. But that doesn’t mean that the other ones should be ignored. Here are a few questions you could ask yourself, to help you decide if they would benefit from implementing gaming elements …

  • What’s my target audience?

  • What kind of email marketing campaign am I making?

  • Would the tone of its content justify a fun approach?

  • How do I want my subscribers to be interactive with the content displayed in the campaign?

Adding the right gaming elements

Be creative. Be innovative. And get inspired by others. Keep on looking at some of the best gaming or email examples and learn from the best. After all, most of the (email) gamification has been done before.

Information like you’ve never seen before!

Bringing information to subscribers can be boring and not very engaging. But information can also be offered in a playful, interactive way. How? By determining the key parts of information and turning them into something playful. An email with information about a new project or product can contain a hidden link or CTA, that leads the reader to a ‘secret’ or ‘insiders only’ information page. By doing so, the subscribers are rewarded for closer inspecting the email. Even word of mouth engagement might be stimulated. You can follow up on that first success by adding more ‘secret’ pieces of information in a next string of emails.

Educating in a playful way

Educational emails can be challenging. But with the right target group in mind, you can adapt the contents of the email and stimulate your subscribers to learn something new. Look for elements that can be turned into a simple game, without losing the educational purpose of the email. You can, for instance, incorporate a little quiz into the email to check if the subscribers picked up the content. You can then reward the best quizzers in a follow-up mail. And don’t worry, those prizes don’t have to be big or expensive. A shareable image of an ‘Expert’ badge can just what it takes to make subscribers proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Lead nurturing by engaging subscribers in a game

Chances are that you’ve used gamification in lead nurturing emails before, without even knowing it. Think loyalty clubs/cards for airlines, hotels, coffee-bars… and the points you collect to get rewards. This type of gamification leads the user/customer into the sales cycle of a company. Key to this strategy is keeping the customer rewarded or letting them achieve something. Every customer wants to feel special and recognised, and that’s a feeling you can build upon with the right follow up emails. For example, a customer gets 10% off an order as soon as he’s earned 500 points. When the customer adds another 250 to that total, the discount could become 20%. This effort/reward principle keeps the subscribers engaged throughout the sales cycle.

Promoting and rewarding

When it comes to promotional emails, finding an element that can be turned into gamification is easy. It’s all about finding the right angle to turn a promotion into an exciting must-have for the subscriber. To illustrate this, let’s take a promo email for an upcoming event. Instead of revealing the location or the ‘special guests’ all at once, you can engage subscribers into discovering the details over the course of a few emails. By doing so, you’ll generate more interest in the event and subscribers will be eager to know more.

Tips for applying gamification

1. Planning is everything

A good planning for an email marketing campaign with gaming elements is important to get better engagement. Sending emails can be quite a slow process. Some subscribers will receive/open the email by the time all challenges have been solved by the others. Don’t create a a game that’s over in just a few minutes. Set a timeframe and select your ‘winners’ randomly. An be sure to have a ‘more soon’ teaser ready for subscribers who didn’t get to participate on time. In short: don’t play all of your trump cards at once.

2. Visual appeal makes subscribers reappear

Leading the subscribers into a game will only work when the design of the gaming elements is appealing to look at and inviting to play. And keep in mind that a game design that works in an offline setting, will not necessarily translate well into an online format.

3. Make functionalities work flawlessly

Make sure everything runs smoothly! Nothing is more frustrating for subscribers than a game that doesn’t work. Test the emails you intend to send beforehand: HTML, CSS and template check-ups are a must!

4. Go for cross-platform optimisation

Don’t limit your game to the emails you send out. Make clever use of social media and dedicated landing pages.

5. Data analysis

Applying gamification also gives you lots of insights about subscriber behaviour. Use this information by analysing all important data you distill from mails with game elements. That user interaction information can be helpful in making your next email campaign a success.


In the end, gamification is a lot about human behaviour. You try to control subscribers by using strong human motivators: education, rewarding, recognition, … Which means that finding a good gamification idea for mailing, is just as important as creating game mechanics that really work. Don’t try to force subscribers into playing a game, but invite them for something that is fun, creative and brings them closer to the brand you’re promoting. Above all, gamification is not a means to an end! But when it works the way it should, it will undoubtedly boost your campaign.

Dit blog is geschreven door de specialisten van Raak.

Inmiddels is Raak onderdeel van iO. Meer weten? Neem gerust contact op!

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