Much More Than Mail

Continuing on with the stories of Zizzi and Axis Direct… Both companies had found themselves troubled by the same conundrum. Promotional emails were being send out to lengthy subscriber lists, however open rates were low, and click through rates were even lower. 

Zizzi began its exploration of email marketing possibilities by unveiling to its customers the concept of gamification through email. The conclusion? Customers were willing and eager to play games to win prizes, and these prizes were much more likely to be redeemed in store (Barley, 2016). The final stage of Zizzi’s journey was ambitious – a virtual board game. Customers had a game piece and they created a user account to play. They received two free rolls of the dice every day that they logged in. In addition, they could earn extra rolls of the dice by performing special actions, which included providing additional personal information, food preferences, or by sharing the game on their social media accounts. Zizzi had tens of thousands of people willingly answering personal questions and this data gave Zizzi important insights. In fact, they discovered a greater demand for vegan food and subsequently expanded their vegan menu. The company’s marketing agency explained that this was not just a new type of email; it was a whole new communications channel (Barley, 2016). Furthermore, the psychological aspect of “winning” an offer, rather than simply receiving one by email, offered the engaged consumer a chance to build that relationship with the brand. 

Zizzi screenshot 1
Various screenshots from Zizzi’s email game.
Zizzi screenshot 2
Mobile version of Zizzi’s board game.

On the other hand, Axis Direct introduced to its emails a concept called Real Time Personalization (RTP). RTP is an innovative email marketing strategy that allows emails to be updated, even after arriving in customers’ inboxes (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). These emails could be updated with current news, personalized information, etc. at the exact moment that the email is opened (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). It’s like Shrödinger’s cat in a way! Shrödinger’s email – simultaneously personalized and impersonalized until the email is opened. I still remember the first time I personally experienced an email with Real Time Personalization. A company emailed with a promotional offer – at the top of the email was a live countdown timer, which displayed the amount of time I had to redeem the offer. I was incredibly impressed and I spent a while afterwards Googling to see how it worked. Evidently this wasn’t as complex as Axis Direct’s version, but it was memorable enough that I still tell people about it, years later. 

For Axis Direct, this was perfect because it was able to design email contents that changed in real time as market conditions changed. The emails were able to display relevant information such as market close time, industrial averages, current events, and the stocks that subscribes are particularly interested in. In addition, if the email is opened before or after market hours, the subscriber would be presented with summaries of yesterday or tomorrow’s market. This sophisticated campaign had both tangible and intangible results. Surveyed subscribers explained that they much prefer this style of personalized, interactive email. Compared to statistics prior to the campaign, open rate increased by 45%. Click through rate increased by 100%. Above all, the volume of trades increased due to the raise in CTR (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). 

Axis Direct screenshot
Axis Direct’s Real Time Personalization in action!

These two companies took the same problem – unopened emails – and resolved then in completely different ways. Zizzi incorporated games into their promotional emails, which resulted in more subscribers redeeming vouchers in restaurants. This worked because customers felt like they “earned” the reward, rather than simply being given it. On the other hand, investment company Axis Direct incorporated Real Time Personalization, which resulted in a higher volume of trades. This worked because the information in emails became much more relevant for subscribers. Both solution share one thing in common – emails grew more effective when they were customized and interactive. Subscribers are becoming more sophisticated. They are exposed to so many promotional efforts throughout the day that they require something striking to capture their attention (Forootan, n.d.). Instead of the traditional static, text-based emails, newer email marketing templates are becoming something of a mini-website running inside an inbox (Direct Marketing Association, 2016). 

Referring back to my last few blog posts, these different aspects of digital marketing – social media, affiliate, mobile, email – all follow a relatively similar trend. Brands are working to make their marketing efforts as personable, customized, and seamlessly integrated as possible. They aim for their brands to be unobtrusively inserted into the everyday lives of the consumers. Consumers are also becoming more sophisticated. They are generally busier, with shorter attention spans, and they have higher expectations in regards to being conveniently serviced and being entertained. The key is to first properly identify the primary goals of the project. Then the company should section off defined target markets. According to customer type and mobile platform type, the company would then choose the most appropriate solution. 


Barley, Emily. (September 2016). How Zizzi used an online board game to boost its email marketing. WARC Event Reports, Technology and Marketing. Retrieved from

Direct Marketing Association. (2016). Axis Securities Limited: Real-time Personalization of Emails. Direct Marketing Association (US). Retrieved from

Forootan, Dan. (n.d.) Email news and strategy. Stream Send. Retrieved from


More Than Mail

In class, we discussed the low costs typically associated with email marketing. As a result, it has sometimes become a simple numbers game – companies think that the more emails they send out, the more likely someone will open the email. However, this “throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks” approach is extremely ineffective. Consumers will inevitably begin thinnng that the brand is irrelevant and unsubscribe. Or worse, email providers may mark the company’s emails as spam and prevent any further emails from being sent. Clearly, there are “tricks” to this game. 

With effective email marketing software, many companies are segmenting their customer base based on factors that include the length of their relationship, spending habits, and other relevant criteria (Forootan, n.d.). Then, they send targeted information to the targeted consumers. Yet, this is oftentimes not nearly enough to capture the readers’ attentions. As discussed in my last blog post, the proliferation of the micro-moment has shortened readers’ attention spans even more. Consumers do not want companies interrupting their busy lives with irrelevant news. If companies want to increase their open rates and click through rates, they need to raise the bar. 

Here are two cases of companies that have sincerely attempted to explore the possibilities of email marketing to the max, from which we may draw valuable conclusions about the nature of email marketing. 


Take Zizzi – a Restaurant chain in the UK that was struggling with its email marketing strategy. A few years ago, Zizzi was sending out promotional emails every week to the two million people it had on its mailing list. However, only 12% of readers were opening the emails and only 1% were redeeming vouchers (Barley, 2016). 

“In order to build a dialogue you’ve got to have something to say.” (Barley, 2016)

The goal for Zizzi was to build a relationship with the customer, and in order to increase engagement, the first attempt was to add a gaming element to emails. Zizzi wanted to know who was interested in these components and how interested (Barley, 2016). The new emails included hyperlinks to enter simple lucky draw-style competitions. Readers had the chance to win meal add-ons like bottles of wine or discounts. As a result, open rate increased from the previous 12% to 15%, and click through rate increased by three times (Barley, 2016)! Moreover, this began Zizzi’s venture into gamification in email marketing. 

The next round was a campaign that it labeled with the hashtag #ZizziTacklesCancer, in parternship with the charity Stand Up to Cancer. The emails included a more sophisticated gaming component – digital scratch cards that readers could “scratch” using their finger on a touch screen. The prizes were similar to the previous campaign, and this time click through rates increased even further (Barley, 2017). 

Screenshot of Zizzi's scratch card email

Screenshot of Zizzi's scratch card email 2
Screenshots of the emails that subscribers received. These successfully piqued their curiosities.

Our second example features the financial retail broking company, Axis Direct. For a long period of time, Axis Direct had been sending out emails with summaries of stock market information (Direct Marketing Information, 2016). However, the problem was that the market was volatile. Yet, emails are static. By the time the eager reader opens the email, the financial information would have been irrelevant. Axis Direct’s challenge was the find an email solution that was both equally customizable and easily maintainable. It aimed to have consumers who enthusiastically opened their emails and engaged with the company. 

Two companies. Different in size and different industries. Same challenge of attempting to find the golden key of email marketing. Stay tuned! In my next blog post, I will unveil Zizzi and Axis Direct’s drastically different solutions and how their choices represent a drastic turning point for the world of email marketing. 


Barley, Emily. (September 2016). How Zizzi used an online board game to boost its email marketing. WARC Event Reports, Technology and Marketing. Retrieved from

Direct Marketing Association. (2016). Axis Securities Limited: Real-time Personalization of Emails. Direct Marketing Association (US). Retrieved from

Forootan, Dan. (n.d.) Email news and strategy. Stream Send. Retrieved from