How Gamification, Social Sharing, and Unicorns Balancing 34,404,336 Dinner Plates = Winning Emails

Email Marketing


“In 2013, you traveled 543 miles. That’s more than the length of the Serengeti. It’s also the exact height of a rollerskating unicorn balancing 34404336 dinner plates. Fantastic!”

It’s not every day you receive an email that starts with a paragraph like that.

It’s also not every day you receive an email with a unicorn standing on its hind legs, donning rainbow spandex, balancing a stack of dinner plates… while wearing roller skates.

fitbit unicorn rollerskating

I mean, right?

Why Technology (and Gamification) is So Awesome

This email was sent from Fitbit, a company “dedicated to health and fitness.” They build products that “help transform people’s lives.” My Fitbit fits in my pocket and stays with me all day long. I sometimes sleep with it – sounds weird, I know, but it tracks sleep. It also tracks my daily steps, stairs climbed, distance traveled, and more – all in real time.

Isn’t technology amazing?

But wait! There’s more. Because my Fitbit syncs with my phone and my online account, I can not only see my steps, stairs climbed, distance traveled, etc. – I can also compare my performance with my friends/family. And yes, as the screenshot below shows, my mother-in-law (Liv) is averaging more weekly steps than I am! Grrrr. And Mike? Wow.

fitbit compare steps

All kidding aside, I’m actually trying to make an important point: gamification works. Humans are playful and competitive by nature, and we’re highly motivated by the opportunity to win. That’s why, for example, leaderboards and contests are such an effective tool if you’re marketing on social media. It’s also why I can’t mention Fitbit without also mentioning that my mother-in-law is ahead of me by almost 7,000 steps.

But gamification for its own sake isn’t a winning strategy (pun intended). You need to give people a reason to keep engaging, visiting your website and sharing on social media. How do you do that? Take a cue from Fitbit: make it easy, make it fun, and make it human.

How Fitbit Uses (Email) Reminders to Keep Members Engaged

I’m a busy person – aren’t we all? I’m competitive, but there’s no way I’d remember to visit Fitbit’s website to compare my stats against friends and family. That’s why I need a reason – and a reminder – to check in. Furthermore, I need a simple way to tell the world about how awesome I am (when it comes to daily steps, that is).

Enter email.

Along with occasional sales emails, Fitbit sends “weekly progress” emails, like this one:

djs fitbit weekly stats

The company also sends “new badge” emails:

djs badge email

The progress emails are intended to show my current stats – how they compare with past weeks, where I rank compared to my friends, etc. The badge emails are meant to congratulate me and help me easily share my results – note the one-click “Tweet” and “Like” buttons – with my social networks.

This is what happens when I click the “Tweet” button at the bottom of the badge email:

fibit prefilled tweetBoom. A nice, simple, pre-written tweet, complete with a link to my Fitbit profile and hashtag for easy tracking. A quick search of the #Fitstats hashtag on Twitter shows that it’s working – Fitbit users aren’t just playing, they’re engaging.

Speaking of emails from Fitbit, remember that roller skating unicorn? If not, scroll to the top of this post. (Also, really? It had dinner plates on its head.)

That email was awesome for a reason beyond gamification and an easy path to sharing/engagement. The email included one of my favorite elements to see in an email campaign: HUMAN-SPEAK.

Huh? What the heck is “human-speak”? Exactly what it sounds like. Instead of using boring, boilerplate corporate-speak, the Fitbit team designed an email that sounded as if a human actually wrote it (in fact, I’m pretty sure a human did). They also wrote it as if a human was going to actually read it (as I’ve said before, most emails are indeed read by humans). The message was conversational, fun, interesting, and unique. It was personalized towards me (because it included my exact statistics), but the actual copy was probably used in every rollerskating unicorn email Fitbit sent.

This last point is important. Fitbit didn’t have to create tens of thousands of individual emails. Instead, they put users into buckets (aka, segments) based on which “level” they qualified for. Smart move on their part – big bang for their buck!

(To be clear, I have not spoken to anyone from the Fitbit team prior to writing this post, so all thoughts above are simply my professional opinion. I don’t really know how effective these emails are. That being said, if you know someone from Fitbit or if YOU work at Fitbit, please let me know. I have more questions.)

These “human-speak” emails are fun, easy to share on social, and drive users back to the website (where they can buy more products!). As we often say at Marketo, when it comes to email, it’s about conversations, not campaigns.

What do you think of Fitbit’s email marketing strategy? Do you or your company do something similar with gamification, social sharing, or “human-speak?” If so, reach out – I’d love to share your story.