Games have been a part of human life ever since the beginning of recorded culture.
They have been used as tools for entertainment, relationship building, training, and even survival.
The strengths of the games medium has forged the development of gamification as a marketing strategy, too.
What started out as hype by a handful of marketing experts has developed into a 1.65 billion industry (measured in 2015) and is estimated to rise up to 11.1 billion by 2020.
Gamified strategies are expected to become key practices for businesses by increasing brand engagement and customer loyalty.
Here’s what you need to know to make the most of gamification’s potential and add a fun twist to your marketing strategy.
What is gamification?
Some of the simplest definitions refer to games as voluntary activities that follow rules and social boundaries, and are intensely engaging but not serious.
Gamification, on the other hand, takes the essence of what makes games so compelling (e.g. challenge, reward, sense of purpose) and decodes the mechanics that make them work to achieve business objectives. As Gabe Zichermann explains in Game-Based Marketing: Inspire Customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges, and Contests, gamification is ‘the art and science of turning your customer’s everyday interactions into games that serve your business purposes’.
There are seven primary elements to all gamified systems:
- Points aka values awarded for an action or a combination of actions.
- Levels aka markers that inform players where they stand in a gaming experience over time.
- Leaderboards which serve to make simple comparisons.
- Badges that mark the completion of goals and the progress of play.
- Challenges/quests that give players a sense of purpose within the world of the gamified experience.
- Onboarding aka the first minute of a new player entering a funnel, where the game will train and engage but shouldn’t overwhelm.
- Engagement loops which are motivating emotional leads to promote player re-engagement, which flows to visible progress and/or rewards, which loops back around to a motivating emotion (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011).
Why does gamification work?
Professor Frans Mäyrä has argued that because we live in a ludic society where play has become a common practice, playfulness as an attitude and playful designs have an increasing role in our everyday reality.
Could it be because it’s 75% psychology and 25% technology, as Gabe Zichermann has said?
One clue can be found in Prospect Theory, which suggests that small incentives enable people to make an extra effort to do things that they otherwise would not. For example, providing rewards that can be lost if gamers do not return to play can trigger the well-known human tendency to avoid losses and to irrationally value things that they have over the things that they don’t have.
The positive effect of games can be explained also by Flow Theory. Flow is the mental state of a person who is performing an activity and is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment. There are certain requirements that are necessary to achieve the flow state:
- A challenging activity requiring skills
- A merging of action and awareness
- Clearly identified goals
- Direct immediate feedback
- Concentration on the task at hand
- A sense of control
- A loss of self-consciousness
- An altered sense of time
Games that satisfy all these conditions can create a sense of intrinsic motivation which compounds and grows over time. Successful game design taps into our lust for competition, rewards and status, and therefore can create many opportunities for marketers to increase consumer engagement, loyalty and drive specific behaviors.
How to add gamification to your marketing strategy
Gamification has been trendy for years. Brands like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nike, and Sony were amongst the first to use the particularly compelling, dynamic and sustained gamification experience to accomplish their marketing goals. So does that mean it’s getting old?
The answer is no. Gamification is still having a huge moment. According to the latest Nielsen report, 64% of the U.S. population (13+) are gamers and a typical millennial spends up to 96 minutes a day playing games on their phone.
Compared with other more traditional marketing tools, gamification can be an innovative platform to incorporate brand messages and promotions. It can work for almost any product or service and it’s adaptable to every budget. Companies can gamify almost any stage of customer interaction, including websites, loyalty programs, marketing campaigns, and online brand communities.
Here are seven gaming tips to help you get started.
1. Relate gamification to your marketing goals
Firstly, identify the business need that you believe gamification can address. Think about the target outcomes and success metrics. Add specifics and articulate target outcomes that are realistic, achievable, explicitly stated and measurable.
Don’t forget to integrate analytics tools that deliver statistics on user behavior and can tell you whether your goal has been achieved. For example, if your target is to increase your website’s traffic, you can easily acquire your page and app analytics with Google Analytics and Google Firebase. Also, remember that gamification is not the solution to all business problems.
Ideal Bathrooms, the UK’s leading distributor of bathroom products, used gamification to drive customer engagement and achieve sales growth. They created a sales incentive programme called The Race To Dubai. The gamified virtual yacht race was designed to keep customers engaged. With each order they placed with Ideal, they would earn miles and move further on the map. The reward message was simple – achieve your target and you’re going on a trip to Dubai. As a result, the company’s overall sales increased by £5.1m and their market share increased by 1.2%.
Image Source: b2bmarketing.net
2. Understand your target audience
Always consider your target audience to determine what type of game might appeal to them. Some critical questions you should think about are:
- What sort of games are going to work with your audience?
- What sort of things do they like and are receptive to?
A millennial audience probably doesn’t like the same type of gameplay as 40-year-olds. Make sure you use the data available to you to analyze your online audience. A quick trick is to use a URL shortener such as Capsulink, Goo.gl or Bitly to gain an immediate insight into what topics and keywords your audience is most interested in.
Take inspiration from Sephora’s Beauty Uncomplicator campaign. It’s a perfect example of gamification being used to solve a consumer problem. The company researched its consumers’ pain problems and found that the number of beauty products they sell has become overwhelming to its largely millennial audience. So in response, Sephora created a gamified experience to help consumers find inspiration in a ‘swipe it, shop it’ app where they could get tailored advice for their needs in a product recommendation quiz.
3. Choose big ideas over big budgets
If you want to introduce gamification into your marketing strategy, it’s best to test the waters first and start small with a simple game. Run some little challenges and quizzes that reward the users to see how gamification works in practice for your business and how your target audience responds.
For example, Mars launched a simple campaign to promote pretzel-flavoured M&Ms. It was a basic eye-spy game where the challenge was to find a Pretzel Guy that was hidden among lots and lots of M&Ms. The concept was incredibly simple but it brought huge gains to the company including 25,000 new likes on their Facebook page, 6,000 shares, and 10,000 comments. You can see why they felt confident moving forward with gamification – but they started small before pulling out the big budget guns.
Image Source: digitaltrainingacademy.com
4. Determine your freebies and incentives
Carefully consider what you want to give away as an incentive. Whether it’s a product sample, promotional coupons or special content, there has to be a clear incentive to make gamification work.
The My Starbucks Rewards app is a great example of how a brand can use gaming to create incentives for their customers. The app encourages users to pay for transactions on their phone by giving them a golden star each time. After 5 stars, customers receive special perks as free refills next time they purchase a drink. When a person has gained 30 stars they earn a customized gold card.
5. Don’t overcomplicate the process
If your audience can’t figure it out quickly or you ask too much of them straight away, they will abandon the game, no matter how clever. Remember that people’s attention spans are short and there are many distractions around us.
Divide your game into a set of small activities that users can learn about gradually instead of creating a large and complicated gamified experience. Test it out using focus groups and user testing sites (e.g., Userfeel, Peek and Morae) to figure out if the game has the optimal level of difficulties to maintain interest and excitement without becoming too difficult and boring.
Fast food chain Chipotle successfully used gamification to push ethical food sourcing in a unique way. They created a game that allows users to visit an animated world and play the role of a farmer who becomes more successful by using more natural and sustainable ingredients. The player of the game had to complete tasks like carrying crates of vegetables through dangerous obstacles.
The game consisted of three different worlds and the player moved through several levels. While exciting, the game was not overly complicated, and the reward system was easy. Prizes were distributed electronically to those who earned at least three stars out of five in each game world. Within days of its release, the Chipotle smartphone game was downloaded more than 300,000 times.
6. Take time to make it fun
Do you think that your business is not fun? Probably you can come up with an endless array of things in life that are not fun such as surgery, changing a dirty diaper or clipping toenails. However, some of the most popular games in the past few years have used quite banal ideas as their thematic hooks – waiting tables (Diner Dash), diapering a baby (Diaper Dash), planting crops (FarmVille), and doing other people’s nails (Sally’s Salon).
Whatever your product or service might be, including elements of fun can help to dilute the intimidation of advertising and make it more consumer-friendly. SavingsQuest, for instance, has transformed the typical money saving experience into something more appealing by creating a gamified website and mobile app that uses challenges, badges and messaging to motivate users to reach their financial goals.
Image Source: USA Today
7. Bring it to the next level with augmented reality
Augmented reality, which displays virtual information in a physical environment, has become an innovative tool that enables marketers to enrich the relationship between a consumer and a brand. Gamification strategies rely on customer engagement, so by integrating augmented reality into your gamification strategy, you can design a completely immersive experience that will captivate your audience like never before.
L’Oreal’s Makeup Genius is a great example of an immersive gamification app. It turns a smartphone into a magic mirror and allows the user to try on various shades of cosmetics. The Makeup Genius app can capture 64 facial points, up to 100 expressions and track head movements of up to 60 degrees, which allow the virtual makeup to move with you as you turn your head, change your facial expression and test out new looks at various angles.
Image Source: Makeup Genius
The bottom line
Gamification isn’t just a marketing buzzword. It’s a way to trigger real, powerful human emotions that can trigger better customer experiences, increased engagement, and unbelievable brand loyalty.
However, you shouldn’t do it only because it’s fun. Like anything else, gamification can be done well and can be done poorly. To avoid bad gamification, always approach it strategically. Identify your stakeholders and their needs, understand your consumers’ pain problems and use gamification to solve them.
Guest Author: Alexander Bickov is a Riga-based product designer with over 15 years’ of experience in UX design and digital marketing. Through his work, he aims to connect people and products using strategy, creativity and technology. Alexander has built digital services and products for many different organizations ranging from small startups to large companies. His writing has been featured in the iOS App Store, Wall Street Journal, CNN, Business Insider, Forbes and Big Think. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.