Gamification is a buzzword you might have started hearing lately. It refers to the use of game play mechanics in non-game scenarios and applications, in particular consumer web and mobile sites as a means to encourage users to engage with the site or platform in specific desired behaviours.
Gamification or game-based marketing works well in this age of information fatigue, where users are constantly bombarded with an overload of information, product pushing and marketing messages from a variety of different media sources.
Game-based marketing allows brands the ability to build in their marketing content into the game flow and user journey and leverage on mechanisms such as leader boards, points, badges and prizes to encourage and get users to perform specific tasks such as sharing the content with friends, providing feedback (rate, like) or submitting content that would be beneficial to the brand.
Gamification in Loyalty Programs
The business of engendering online loyalty and engagement through gaming techniques is not new - rewards programs for airlines, hotels and credit cards have been using game mechanics to drive sustained engagement and loyalty with consumers for a long time. Typically airline customers enroll in programs to accumulate frequent flyer miles according to the distance flown on that airline or its partners. These days, there are so many other ways to accumulate miles such as making transactions through co-branded credit cards. When customers hit a certain level, they are rewarded with upgrades, free air travel, airport lounge access and priority bookings. Points can even been redeemed for other goods and services.
In addition, loyalty programs like Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo Club have multiple membership tiers. Users start with the entry-level green tier and then move up the ladder once they acquire enough travel mileage to meet the next tier's threshold. Each tier provides additional rewards to customers but more importantly, it is a status symbol or badge for users to display proudly for having achieved an exclusive level that differentiates them from the masses.
In the 2009 film "Up in the Air", George Clooney plays a man who relishes his perpetual travels and has a personal ambition of being the 7th person in history to collect ten million frequent flyer miles with American Airlines, for which he will receive a special gold emblazoned card with life time privileges.
Most famously, Foursquare gives you badges and rewards in the form of check-in offers plus special offers for "mayors". Other websites such as LinkedIn (progress bar that subtly urges you to add more details to your profile), GetGlue (offering badges when you review shows) and Groupon (countdown timer for buyers to nab deals before time runs out) all employ gamification to drive user interactions. The list just goes on.
Gamification in Utility
To be effective, gamified applications have to connect something already meaningful to users or wrap themselves in a story that makes it meaningful for them.
To encourage people to get fit, Nike + is a gamified utility that makes running interesting by adding scores, challenges, trophies and competition to what would otherwise just be a self-tracking running application.
Mint.com is an online service that allows users to track and manage their personal finance. It is a gamified system where the "game" is your financial health. New players walk through their financial lives on a digital quest and receive a checkmark for each completed task with the progress tracked on their financial profile. When their profile is complete, they can unlock their player dashboard to see how they are doing and create goals such as getting out of debt, saving up for a new house or vacation.
People love eating and everybody wants to discover where they can get the best food. Enter Foodspotting, the crowdsourced application that allows you to take pictures of food, say what it is, and pin it via geo-location to the restaurant. Like Foursquare, you get points for doing all this and earn badges for tagging certain types of foods in pictures and participating in guides.
Gamification to Drive Campaigns
Game-based marketing can also be applied in short term campaigns to drive a desired user behaviour and engagement.
The former is a week long virtual-reality game that requires users to hunt for a virtual Mini with their phones and then play the classic hide and seek game to prevent other potential takers from swiping it. The person with the Virtual Mini at the end of the game wins an actual Mini Countryman.
The latter is a scavenger hunt around London that requires users to try to "catch" a pair of Jimmy Choo sneakers from clues based on where it had "checked in" on Foursquare.
Such social gaming has tremendous viral potential as well as being fun for participants. Both Mini and Jimmy Choo have been smart in creating a game that enables people to build new social circles, introduce the brand and product name into conversations and enhance the value in which the brand is known for within their respective target audience.
Blueprint for Gamification
So how does gamification apply to your brand? One way to look at it is how applying game-based marketing can help make interactions with your customers more engaging by driving participation.
A game by definition is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. Players opt in to play the game because it has compelling and defined goals and rewards, an established game play (mechanics) and a dynamic feedback system (of points, levels, badges, achievements and leader boards).
As such, the four basic building blocks that create a game system involves developing goals for players, creating rules that limit players and force creativity and interaction, providing a dynamic feedback system for the progress of the players in the game and making the game voluntary.
Before jumping into gamification, brands should consider the following:
- What are the particular behaviours you are trying to reward? Is it for users to peruse, share and/or submit content?
- Understand your reward points system. Define the types of goals, how achievements are rewarded, different types of rewards and leader board mechanics to drive competition.
- Know what will make the game compelling. Just because it is a game does not mean it will be fun. Good game design, mechanics and a well thought out user journey and game flow are some principles that will help make the experience engaging and addictive.
There are many examples of companies currently using game thinking and mechanics to influence and drive behaviour. With more brands leveraging on gamification to engage users, it will not be surprising to see that within the next 5 to 10 years, almost every consumer interaction online and mobile will have some form of game mechanics built into it.
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Vincent is the co-founder and partner at C//IQUE, a product development studio and incubator that focuses on developing digital products and services that disrupt traditional business models and empower consumers. He has over a decade of experience both on the client and agency side, most recently as a digital planning director at BBDO/Proximity and lead digital strategist at Publicis. Prior to that, he started-up and managed the Hong Kong office of Splash Interactive Group and built the online business at Citibank and HSBC. Connect with him on Twitter @intersphere.
March 19, 2014