Cross-device, multi-device, and multi-tasking habits are now deeply ingrained among all users, as consumers now have access to infinitely more content options across a spectrum of channels, devices, formats, and topics. Consumers get content on demand, as and where they want it and in the time frame that works for them. We’ve digitized everything from the thermometers in our homes to the smart devices we carry or wear and the cars we drive. As we’ve made these changes, we come to expect immediate, often gamified, electronic feedback as cultural norms are pushing us to score more activities and results.
The sheer volume of available content options and the ready access through personal devices has shaped consumer expectations and choices in how and where they spend their time. So how do marketers become a consumer’s choice among a sea of choices?
Most importantly, marketers need to stop pushing messaging and advertising to consumers in isolation and focus instead on an integrated advertising and branded content strategy. Advertising should be the push to draw users to the growing content snowball, not a million icy missiles that consumers will want to dodge. Gaming and gamified content have emerged as highly effective ways to balance that advertising and content mix and engage users with a brand by providing entertaining or “edutaining” content in the form of games. It works because users actively choose to engage with games. Those small moments of respite in a busy day build positive associations with the brand minutes at a time, often with repeated and shared exposures. Win!
A good, branded online game provides a multi-sensory experience, creating emotional bonds and delivering a memorable product impression. To be effective the game needs to be relevant both to your intended audience and to the brand. The use of badges, scoring, and other devices can quickly initiate changes in behavior and amplify virality through social channels. Facebook used to be the undisputed champion platform for this kind of content but with their more recent changes you can probably get similar viral results from a microsite-hosted game with social sharing integration. Game outcomes can include community growth, remarketing list building, sample or coupon distribution, or simply awareness as measured by impressions, unique players, or time spent with brand.
A well-designed game can connect people or groups of people to drive engagement within that group, gather insights or input on products or services, provide product or benefit education, or encourage and reward positive behaviors. For example, forward-thinking digital players within the health care industries are starting to use consumer games to create better patient compliance with drug regimens or motivate wellness behaviors that improve health outcomes. This is a win on multiple levels.
Attention to the right metrics should inform the planning and design of your efforts and the marketing campaigns that support their launch and promotion. A smart launch often starts with already connected audiences like those on brand email lists or in brand social communities. Participation among those loyal followers provides a key push to establish awareness and give you a baseline measure of response. Bounce rates and completion rates should be used to make sure the game is reaching the right audience, is resonating with them, and is technically sound. Look for engagement from your users with activity and interaction signals like multiple visits, time with your brand, or the willingness to submit their own content. Bonus points if that content is a testimonial that you can use as an endorsement. Users who share the game are critical to the successful dissemination to wider audiences and game mechanics should be built into the play to motivate those sharing behaviors.
Though new to many marketers, the steps to game success are similar to any strategic marketing effort.
- Have a strategy that is mapped to your business objectives and audience. There needs to be a good reason to make this investment over the other thousand ways you could be spending your budget. Look for ways to extend the game player bond to longer time horizons and deeper connections including the player’s networks.
- Identify the audience behaviors you want to motivate or change. Plot exactly how your game should contribute to modified behaviors and identify and baseline the analytics that will tell you how your game performed against those goals.
- Develop a program brief and incorporate perspectives from key stakeholders and legal counsel up front. Legal and regulatory approvals are critical, especially if there is any promotional element included.
- Present the brief to identified marketing partners and select those that are best able to elevate the vision and connect it to the desired outcomes. Assess your available resources and capabilities and identify any gaps where external partners may be necessary or desired. There are specific skill sets and talents involved in a successful game effort and while your in-house team might love to tackle a fun project like this, the learning curve is steep and unforgiving.
- Work internally or with partners to outline in excruciating detail the step-by-step game experience, how the program will be activated, and what drivers will be employed. Budget and timeline should cover a host of contingencies – especially if you are attempting this in-house or for the first time.
- Manage the game development with a detailed timeline leaving lots of time for extensive QA and user testing across platforms, devices, and versions before launch. Factor in seasonality (specific to your audience and vertical) and other external factors that will influence your outcomes and give the game time to get rolling before you report on results.
Digital games as marketing vehicles are here to stay. The evolving technology, consumer habits, and social norms continue to support this direction, but it is the overwhelming brand success with gaming efforts that will move marketers new to this strategy to jump in soon. Games appeal to almost all consumer groups in some format, they tap into established consumer behaviors, and they provide beneficial interactions and feedback to marketers. Games provide a reason for consumers to choose to spend time with your brand and that is, by far, the biggest score for marketers.
Image via Shutterstock.
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