4 Steps to Creating Email Marketing Your Reward Program Participants Care About

by | Mar 6, 2019 | B2B Marketing, Incentive Program, Incentive Programs, Uncategorized

Email marketing is dead!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s really explore what’s going on with your email marketing and reward program. As an incentive program marketer, you’ve probably read a lot of articles and online content that all say the same thing – email is dead or dying or somewhere between. As the story goes, people just aren’t engaging with email. And you yourself may be noticing a drop in email open and click-through rates.

This is happening not because email is dying. It’s happening because so many emails are bad.

This is a blog about how powerful emailing marketing can be for the modern incentive program admin or marketer. That is when done right. So whatever you’ve read about email, put it to rest. Because email marketing isn’t dead or dying. It’s just being misused, especially by (sorry, y’all) B2B marketers.

In her presentation at last year’s annual BthruB Leadership Summit, Director of Marketing and Creative Services Nichole Gunn spelled out this truth for some of our clients. Now, we’re taking the gospel of higher email open rates to the streets. Read along for answers to why there’s still a problem with email, and how you can fix it today.

With great (email marketing) power, comes great responsibility.

Just because you have a database of people to market to, doesn’t mean you should market to them – yet. The problem with email today is simply a numbers game. Too many people are being bombarded with too many marketing messages that aren’t relevant to them, are generic, or lack a value proposition participants want. In response, 27.5% of internet users install ad blockers. And Google, the king of user experience, hasn’t budged from its tactic of shielding us from being marketed to in our own email inboxes.

People, including your program participants, don’t want to be marketed to. They want a relationship with brands that understand them and show what’s in it for them, immediately. As someone that’s literally offering them rewards for doing stuff, you’re already halfway there.

So how can you better engage your program participants through email?

Tip #1: Design your email templates for a multi-screen world.

Mobile is at the epicenter of today’s digital experiences. According to a study, 46% of digital experiences happen on a mobile device. If you think about your program participants, that’s a lot of people to miss out on if your email templates aren’t designed for mobile. So think about how your email will look on a cellphone, tablet or even smartwatches before hitting ‘send’.

Pro hack: Did you know that sometimes plain text emails outperform their dolled-up HTML counterparts? If you’re worried about designing mobile-friendly email templates, this hack is for you. In situations when you want to come off as personal or intimate, send plain text emails. No code needed. No templates, mobile-friendly or not, necessary. From the mouth of a Senior Digital Marketing Strategist, “Although HTML emails generally look a lot better, we found that for most B2B email campaigns, simple, plain text emails get better engagement.”

But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use HTML emails. In fact, some of the best email marketing tactics employ both plain text and HTML. When you really want to visually engage a participant, use HTML emails. For example, you can use mobile-friendly HTML emails to show participants a visual representation of how many points they’ve earned versus how many they have left to redeem a reward. If HTML emails still worry you, hire a third party company who offers creative services to lighten your already packed workload.

Tip #2: Cozy up to personalization

In the B2B marketing world, it’s almost like you can’t get people to stop talking about two things: data integration and personalization. This little section will cover the latter.

What’s the difference between these two emails?

email marketing personalization for reward programs
There’s a name in one, but not just any name. This is the name of a fictional participant who just opened your email. While ‘Hello there!’ is informal and cute, addressing your participant is how you really engage participants. In fact, personalizing your emails like this increases open rates by 23%. How else can you personalize your emails and improve your participant experience? Include subject lines with the name of wishlisted rewards or that ask them questions that relate to an interest they have.

You may be thinking that personalization sounds like an awful lot of work. And in some ways, it can be because you have to build strategies around it to make it work. But if you’re going to spend time engaging participants to keep your incentive program alive, you might as well use that time wisely. These two vital components of personalization can help you navigate that process a lot easier.


Today, there’s fierce competition for your participant’s attention. One-size-fits-all email blasts are a nuisance, pushing people to the arms of the unsubscribe option. You need to keep your participants active and engaged, and the best way to do that is with segmentation. Segmentation helps you divide up your participants by demographic, location, reward history, activity, interests and more. Segments can be based on all types of customer or participant data you have:

emailmonday-email marketing segmentation
Chart pulled from: https://bit.ly/2DR1Z6b
Ultimately, how you divide your audience up depends on your unique program and goals. Despite the work you may have to put into effective segmentation efforts, it’s worth the effort. According to a 2017 DMA study, marketers increase email revenue by 760% just with a segmented campaign.

Dynamic Content

What does it mean to have dynamic content? When you segment your audience, you give yourself an opportunity to talk to each segment more personally. Say you had three segments in your incentive program’s participant pool: small business owners in Texas, large distributors on the East Coast, and a group of Californian mid-sized sellers. Would you send an engagement email to the California group urging them to redeem for new winter coats because a Nor’easter is approaching? Probably not.

Dynamic content manifests in the emails, blogs, and other content you use to engage your audience. Your audience’s time and attention are precious – don’t waste it on content that doesn’t speak to them or their interests.

Pro hack: Having a tough time writing a personalized email subject line your participants can’t help but click? Use CoSchedule’s free headline analyzer. Copywriters swear by it, and it gives you a fast and easy way to test a list of hard-hitting, click-worthy headlines your participants are more likely to engage with.

Tip #3: Automate everything. Or, at least as much as you can.

Segmentation. Dynamic content. It all sounds really time-consuming, right? Not necessarily with email automation. Email automation lets you send triggered emails by date, event, activity and more. With automation, you no longer have to worry about waiting for a perfect time to send an email. It’s already planned out, written, designed, and scheduled ahead of time.

Whatever automation system you use, you’re tapping into a powerful marketing machine capable of boosting revenue 4x and profit 18x what you’d normally expect with non-triggered emails.

Pro hack: The best email automation system in the world is only as good as the person telling it what to do. When you create your email campaign, be sure to organize it in a way that makes sense to you and participants. MailChimp and Marketo are just two of many email automation systems that can help your email campaign look like this:

Automated email marketing campaign template
This email campaign template was pulled from Delivra.com

Tip #4: Become an analytics expert.

As an incentive marketer or program administrator, you know the importance of analytics. What’s even more important is making sure you have enough of the right data. A/B tests can get you there. An A/B test, which is also known as a split test, is a marketing experiment you can create in-house. Split tests help you determine which variation of your content participants are more likely to respond to and why. Without split tests, sending out emails or other types of content is a shot in the dark. An email may perform well, but it’s worth it to understand why.

Used continuously and consistently, split tests could improve your participant’s experience overall, boosting conversion and open rates long-term.

According to Campaign Monitor studies, A/B tests can improve conversion rates by 49%.

Bonus tip: Don’t talk unless it’s a story.

For this one, we have to give a shout-out to one of our own clients – MAS Medical – who used video, a T-Rex, and humor to engage their program participants the right way. Watch the video to get a sense of how MAS Medical captured their participants’ attention and kept it.

While you don’t have to create a video and send it out in an email to all your participants, you should create more stories in your incentive program content. Why stories, and why now? Increasingly, stories have become essential in modern marketing. Since the dawn of time, humans have told stories to relay information and entertain each other. As a species, we’re pretty sold on stories and that’s not changing anytime soon. Stories aren’t exactly new to marketing either. It’s just many marketers, especially in the B2B space, aren’t sure how to use stories to move products, build customer loyalty or create a better customer experience.

There are several storylines or types to tap into when building up your incentive program’s participant experience, but here are a few you can get started on today:

  1. Humorous stories: People love to laugh, so why not engage your participants with a humorous story?
  2. Tear-jerkers: Many B2B companies believe it’s hard to relate their product to an emotion, let alone one that touches hearts. But think about it. If your product is the reason why everyday things – like ambulances or fire trucks – save lives, this is a story for you and your participants.
  3. Stories about a triumph: Did more participants redeem rewards this month? Did someone earn a reward so big and interesting that you can’t let another day go by without announcing it? That’s a story – you should tell it.
  4. Stories about a misstep: We all mess up, and sometimes its a great opportunity to show your participants your humanity. These stories are the hardest to tell, but the most humanizing and memorable to share.

Stories do more than just entertain. They make your program unforgettable and show your participants that your company has better customer experience over competitors.

In conclusion

The ROI on email marketing still outpaces other marketing mediums, including keyword ads and SEO. For every dollar spent on email marketing, a company can earn $40. That alone shows how effective email marketing can be when done right. So let’s drop the rhetoric that says email marketing is dead or dying because, quite frankly, it isn’t true. Email marketing, especially for incentive marketers and administrators is an art form.

<strong>About </strong>Nichole Gunn

About Nichole Gunn

Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that delivers advanced, agile B2B customer loyalty and channel sales incentives programs.

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