Imagine the situation: you’re trying to come up with a campaign to send birthday emails to customers on your database. Rather than just sending an email that says ‘Happy Birthday!’ you want to give them something more – something to remember your brand by. This experience is common to email marketers and it doesn’t just apply to birthday campaigns. Essentially, we’re all asking the same question, ‘what will engage my audience’. Sometimes just writing a message in an email isn’t enough; you need something more to keep them keen. So, what are your options?

1. Games and competitions

The appetite for games is huge at the moment. Using this sort of viral content in your emails can really help increase everything from open rates, click thru rates and email interaction, to brand awareness and overall engagement. It’s also an excellent opportunity to enrich your data. I’ve seen a few companies really nail this concept recently.

The first was Watergate Bay Hotel who ran a winter-themed Christmas campaign over 24 days in December. It was a competition to win prizes by ‘shaking’ a snow globe. The email communication was clean and engaging – you knew exactly what it was when you opened, the call to action was clear and it emphasised the benefits to the customer. Additionally, they were very clever about using the correct social links to promote the game. Often I’ve seen brands throw a load of social media links at the bottom of an email, with no actual consideration of why people would share their email on Tumblr. But Watergate Bay have deliberately picked the social media icons their subscribers are most likely to use; Facebook and Twitter. They’ve also attempted to make the game viral by including a ‘forward to a friend’ option – which incidentally is exactly how I came across this game!

Once you clicked through the email to their website, the engagement continued. Firstly, they used the game as a data capture opportunity. With any form of integration, make sure you don’t miss out on the opportunity for enriching your data. The Watergate Bay campaign is a great example of this because they set their data capture form to open before you can play the game. This means that not only will they get returning business, they’ll also have a really strong 24 days for data acquisition.

Another great aspect of their data capture was its simplicity. The fields required were the basic first name, last name, postcode and email, plus they asked you to create a password so you could log in in the future. It took under a minute to fill out and there was no way I was exiting the page before playing the game. One mistake I’ve seen a lot of brands make is trying to capture too much data at once. Two pages of mandatory fields might seem like a great idea – for you, because you get all the data. For your users, having to complete so many fields is unappealing and increases the drop off rate on the page.

The actual game was great for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s interactive – you’re shaking a digital snow globe, the snow actually moves and it makes a jingly noise. Very pleasing. Secondly, they only gave you three attempts a day to win. Part of my concern with this game was that people would play it once, find it time consuming and not come back to play again. But the limit on shakes prevented this and I went back every day, shaking that snow globe. The altering daily prizes also ensured ongoing interest, with something different to win every day. The prizes were relevant to both their target audience and the local area, so they were likely to appeal to their customers – another good way to maintain attention.

Lastly, even if you didn’t win, you were given a discount code for their online store at the end of the game. This is great value-add from the game as the customer feels they’ve won something even if they haven’t actually won the main prize, and hey… there’s always tomorrow to shake again! It’s also a great device to drive people from the game and into the online store in a seamless transition: ‘ok people you’ve seen the show, now into the gift shop…’

Since customers were interested enough in the prizes to give their data, the discount code will almost certainly make them feel like Watergate Bay values their time and is rewarding them for their attentions. This is a great two-way interaction.

2. Survey and re-group

With any email marketing campaign, it’s important to find out what your customers want and what they thought of your engagement with them. One type of integration you can use to do this is a survey tool. Sainsbury’s do this really well. Every few months I get an email which encourages me to fill out a survey and receive Nectar points. It’s heavily personalised; it tells me how many Nectar points I have left and what that equates to in real money. The email tells me how long the survey takes to fill out and that I’m guaranteed the Nectar points on completion. This works well for Sainsbury’s, who are offering something tangible in exchange for your time. But what if you’re a brand who doesn’t have the mystical wonder that is Nectar points?

Alternative methods are to encourage people to complete a survey using competitions, games or by phrasing the content incentive in such a way that makes your customers realise the value of providing you with feedback. I’ve seen a few brands use surveys as a tool to further capture data from subscribers. They do this by initially presenting a first page of a survey which asks for first name, last name and email address (which they probably already have) and then after this warm-up, they slyly ask for a few more bits of information, for example gender, age, or postcode. Clever brands.

3. Polls

One brand I’ve seen sends out weekly funny polls for their users to complete and then uses the information to create a blog post encouraging users onto their website. This is a win-win for them, as they have found a way to produce user generated content, plus keep their customers engaged with their brand. They could then go on to use this content in future campaigns and articles.

When to integrate

Now you have the tools to integrate, you need to consider when and why you would use them in a campaign. One of the main mistakes brands make is trying to put too many of these things into an email. Your campaign needs to have a focused call to action, or it won’t be clear how you want users to interact with your emails. Here’s a handy check list to take a look at before you integrate:

  • Make sure you’re clear about what you’re trying to achieve – once you know this, picking your methods and tools will be easy.

  • Have a focal point to your campaign. If it’s a survey you want completed, make sure the call to action points to it.

  • Don’t overcrowd the email – keep your message clean, clear and clever. Putting too much information in the email can put users off.

  • Make sure your integrated content is interesting – seems simple, but often gets forgotten.

  • Always capture more data where you can, but put a limit on so you don’t turn your customers off.

  • Use the data once you’ve collected it. Don’t let it sit in your system twiddling its thumbs.

  • Make sure the user experience is a good one – try the journey out yourself, from receiving the email, right the way through to the follow up email.

Happy integrating!