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10 Reward Emails You Can Use to Get Your Users Hooked

As email marketing expert Val Geisler puts it:

 “Your brand new *potential* customers aren’t yet actual customers just because they signed up for a free trial. They’re building a new habit.

It’s your job to train your trial leads to use your app, it’s on you to help them build a new habit.

Reward emails are one of the best weapons you have in your onboarding arsenal to motivate people to do more in your product and stay relevant in your user’s mind.

I put together 10 examples of excellent reward emails that you can steal for your onboarding campaign. But before we dive into these emails, I want to examine the mechanism of how reward emails work on a psychological level.

Note: Don’t confuse reward emails in user onboarding and SaaS product adoption with rewards in contests/giveaways.

The Hook Model of Forming Habits

In his book, “Hooked”, author and lecturer Nir Eyal shared a four-step no-nonsense model to explain how people get hooked on digital products:

hook model diagram

The steps are:

  1. Trigger
  2. Action
  3. Reward
  4. Investment

1. Trigger

The trigger is the “spark plug in the engine”. The goal of the trigger is to initiate a particular behavior.

“Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers like an e-mail, a Web site link, or the app icon on a phone.” — Nir Eyal.

When we talk about user onboarding, nudge emails, upgrade emails, and trial expiration emails are examples of external triggers. They alert the user about what’s required of them to do in your product: “import your contacts”, “invite your team”, “upgrade your account”, and so on.

2. Action

This is the action the user takes in response to the trigger and in anticipation of a reward.

Actions include:

  • Opening an email.
  • Clicking a link.
  • Activating a feature: importing contacts, inviting team members, etc.
  • Upgrading their account.

To drive more users to complete the action, Eyal recommends leveraging two pulleys: the ease of performing an action and the psychological motivation to do it.

3. Reward

In this stage, your product rewards the user for performing the action.

“Research shows that levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward.” — Nir Eyal

This is where our reward emails come into practice.

Reward emails are little treats that appear in your users’ inbox every time your users do something that moves them toward achieving their desired outcome.

For instance, once I uploaded my first video on Wistia, I received an encouraging reward email with the subject line, “You did it. Party time. 🎉”

wistia reward email

Important: Be careful about what activities you encourage. As Wes Bush says in the “Product-Led Growth” book, “if an activity you’re encouraging doesn’t help them experience meaningful value in the product, you dampen user motivation.”

You don’t want to send reward emails for every single feature in your app. This is especially important if you run a complex tool with multiple features or a suite of tools. For instance, if you have an image editing tool a la Photoshop, you don’t want to congratulate users every time they create a new layer or crop an object. Reward emails should be reserved only for the critical activities that move the user towards activation.

4. Investment

“The investment phase increases the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook cycle in the future.” — Nir Eyal.

The reward email should have a relevant Call to Action that motivates the user to perform the next step in the onboarding process. The purpose of this is to begin a new “hook cycle” for the user.

10 reward emails analyzed

Now, as we know what is the role of reward emails in getting users hooked on your product, let’s review a few reward emails from successful SaaS companies.

Starting with our first example.

Wistia — First video uploaded

Subject line: You did it. Party time. 🎉

wistia reward email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • In its typical festive tone, this Wistia email attracts the eye with a positive subject line and an entertaining headline. Wistia is turning video uploads into little ceremonies worth celebrating. The ultimate example of rewarding people for their actions.
  • Without wasting too much time, Wistia ushers people into the next “hook cycle” by asking people to “customize, analyze, and share” their videos. (The Investment stage)

💩 What can be improved:

  • Personalization. Wistia should use your name to talk with you. Also, while the illustration is nice, I think intertwining it with a thumbnail of your actual video would make it much more impactful.
  • The “investment” CTA “Learn more” is not the most dazzling action out there. On top of that, it’s not clear where the button will lead me to. If it links to the video share page, then a clearer copy like “Make your video popular” would be more enticing for the purpose.

Ascend — Launching first email campaign

Subject line: Your First Email Campaign Is Live

ascend  launching first email campaign

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Apart from rewarding users for submitting their first email campaign, Ascend offers a list of ideas to inspire users for their next campaign, which facilitates the Investment stage of the hooked loop.
  • The email also provides information about the trial usage left: “You have 2 more free email campaigns this month”. Something I’d assume is a frequently asked question among trial users of Ascend.

💩 What can be improved:

  • Without much effort, we can make the CTA action-oriented: “Create your next campaign”.

Veremark — Candidate criteria met

veremark candidate criteria met

🔥 What’s good about this email:

This email by HR platform Veremark does a good job of explaining what you get when a job candidate meets your criteria. As well as providing upgrade instructions packed with the main benefit of the software.

💩 What can be improved:

Similarly to other examples, this reward email could benefit from being more specific. For instance, listing the name and details of the particular candidate.

Twitter — Happy Twitterversary!

twitter happy twitterversary

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Reward emails don’t have to be complicated. Sometimes we can reward people just for staying with us long enough.
  • The CTA Tweet! starts the next hook cycle. As soon as you land on Twitter, you’d be served with a multitude of other glittering rewards in the form of DM notifications, mentions, and new posts. Now you find yourself spending the next couple of hours on Twitter.

💩 What can be improved:

Meetup — First meetup scheduled

meetup scheduled reward email
  • Encouraging copy “You’re on track to creating something great”.
  • Personalized — the email displays the masthead and the name of your event.
  • Clear instructions on how to keep the moment (a.k.a hooked loop) going.
  • Single, clear Call to Action. This email nails it down, there’s pretty much nothing to complain about here.

Google Wifi — Setup completed

Google wifi setup finished

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Beautiful graphics that clearly explain the completion of the setup.
  • Dynamic content showing the number of Wifi points and devices connected.
  • Further instructions for power users that want to explore the product further.

💩 What can be improved:

  • I’m nitpicking but what’s up with that “Hey there” huge masthead that takes ⅓ of the estate of the email. Why not swap it around with a more relevant headline like “Nice! You’re all set up.” (which is barely visible now)

Airbnb — Starting a new listing

airbnb reward email

Submitting your first listing to Airbnb is no easy task. All the information about your spot, the photos, enticing copy you have to write, and your calendar setup — it’s a lot of work. The folks at Airbnb know that, so they’re using encouraging reward emails that break and explain the whole process in manageable chunks.

Fullstory — New sessions

Subject line: New sessions are ready for you in FullStory

Fullstory new sessions email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

  • Receiving your first recording sessions is a big aha moment for Fullstory, so they want to make sure that email is enticing and gets you back to the app.
  • The CTA instructions are clear and well supported with visuals.

💩 What can be improved:

It would be awesome if Fullstory shared with me how many sessions I actually got. Especially if the number is on the higher end. You want to get that wow reaction that gets people thinking, “I must see all of these recordings.”

Fortify — Gamified rewards

Subject line: You just earned a Coin!

Fortify gamified rewards email

🔥 What’s good about this email:

Porn addiction app Fortify uses gamification to help people stop porn. It’s only expected they’d use reward emails to notify users about achievements and rewards.

💩 What can be improved:

I’m surprised that there’s no CTA in these emails whatsoever, even the basic “Back to app” is missing.

Grammarly — Unlocking achievements

Subject line: Your Weekly Progress Report + Half Off Premium

Grammarly unlocking achievements email

Another one of Grammarly’s brilliant emails. Similarly to Fortify, Grammarly uses gamification elements to get people to spell check more content in their platform.

Grammarly also entertains us with insightful pieces of information about famous writers, that way, motivating us to go write (and spell check) some more 🙂 What is not to like about this email?

Further reading

Want to dive deeper into onboarding emails for your SaaS? Check out the resources below:

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