Personalisation is often regarded as one of the most important tools email marketers have at their disposal to attract and retain their subscribers’ attention. This is certainly true, with open rates for emails with a personalised message at 18 percent, compared to just 11% for generic emails, according to Statista. Tailored emails are key in driving engagement, clicks and conversions. However, as brands increasingly jump on the personalisation bandwagon, marketers need to look at other ways to build strong relationships with their subscribers. Some recipients – particularly Millennials – are increasingly unimpressed by bespoke messages and are expecting a much more entertaining, fun email experience.

For years, businesses have been adding game-like elements to their marketing campaigns, encouraging their target audience to interact and participate to win prizes. Over the last couple of years this has steadily evolved, with gamification becoming widely spoken amongst email marketers attempting to improve engagement levels with subscribers who are, more often than not, overwhelmed by a large number of marketing emails on a daily basis.

Gamification within email can come in many shapes and sizes. It could be a puzzle the reader solves to unlock exclusive offers, or an arcade style game that the reader plays to win a prize. A good recent example of a brand using gamification within their emails is the restaurant chain Zizzi, which, last year, included an online board game in their emails enabling readers to ‘roll a dice’ to win food prizes and even a holiday. The company also encouraged readers to donate money to charity and share the game on social media by offering additional rolls of the dice. Marks and Spencer is another brand that has added a gamified element to their marketing with its ‘Pass the Parcel’ promotion, which allowed fans to unwrap a virtual package to win prizes.

In the short term, gamified emails like Zizzi’s generate a lot of online buzz and will likely attract new subscribers who choose to sign up after seeing the game on the likes of Twitter. However, there are also a number of long-term benefits to the brand. It’s not uncommon for readers to delete unread emails or send them straight to the junk folder if they don’t capture their attention from the offset. If this happens on a regular basis mailbox providers will recognise the low engagement levels and will soon label all emails from that brand as junk, which can have a severe impact on email deliverability. Mailbox providers also monitor activity including email forwarding. Readers that receive and enjoy an email will likely share it with their friends and family, which mailbox providers – particularly Gmail, the most popular mailbox amongst millennials – view as highly positive and engaging. Promising an entertaining, engaging experience as soon as the email hits the inbox will lead to a much more positive relationship, which will, in turn, result in higher email open rates.

Adding a gamified element to marketing emails is a great way of increasing engagement with subscribers across multiple channels, however it’s also worth noting that over-complicated gamified email efforts can also impact email open rates – in a negative way. Create a game that is confusing or difficult to understand and it can lead to lower levels of engagement, and subsequently, a higher chance of the subscriber ignoring any future emails.

The popularity of gamification and online gaming is rising steadily and is fast becoming an integral part of email marketers’ campaigns, and for very good reasons. By creating an element of fun and adding variety to their marketing emails, brands have the opportunity to stand out from the generic emails subscribers receive on a daily basis and build a much more robust, long-term engagement with their target audience.


By Guy Hanson, chairman of the DMA Email Council and senior director of professional services at Return Path

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