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HOW TO: Gamify your marketing

badgesThe scale of the audience accessible through gaming is simply staggering. In terms of potential reach, it rivals television as a medium. Yet, according to Forrester, 84% of marketers have no plans to use games in their marketing efforts.

Is this a giant missed opportunity just waiting to be seized? Or is the notion of “gamification” just one more chance for marketers to fall prey to Shiny Object Syndrome?

As with most shiny objects, the answer is “it depends.” Let’s examine the opportunities marketers have to gamify experiences.


Who are gamers?

Throw your stereotype about “gamers” out the window. In short, just about everyone is playing games. Gamers span virtually every demographic, according to a May report from Forrester: 65% of Xbox gamers are male, 59% of “social gamers” are women, and mobile gamers are split right down the middle.

They are also spread evenly across generations, especially social gamers — 23% of whom are Boomers between ages 45 and 65. Gamers tend also to be more motivated than non-gamers to be connected to others, and they display a higher than average propensity to interact with brands on social networks.


The what and why of gamification

Of course, marketers are not playing games. They’ve got metrics to achieve, brands to build, ROI to measure. Why consider gamification? What kinds of behaviors can you expect to drive?

Gamification can be leveraged to drive adoption, engagement, loyalty, sharing, even sales. While all of these are worthy business objectives, don’t get all worked up just yet — as you’ll see with any marketing plan, the devil is in the details.

Before deciding if you should gamify your marketing, it’s important to understand some vocabulary. These terms tend to be inconsistent in the literature, but it’s important to understand the underlying concepts these terms represent.

First and foremost, gamification is not equal to games. Gamfication is the application of gaming concepts to non-game experiences in order to drive desired behavior from an audience.

What kind of concepts? A few definitions:

1. A game is structured play, usually for fun.

2. Gameplay is interaction inside of a game.

3. Game Mechanics are constructs or tactics commonly used in games to encourage gameplay. These are things like badges, points, leader boards, levels, challenges, achievements and virtual sheep you can put on your virtual farm.

4. Game Dynamics are strategies commonly used in game design based on psychological motivations. These include things like “Appointments,” in which someone does something to gain a reward, “Avoidance,” in which someone does something to avoid a punishment, or the “Free Lunch” dynamic, in which people feel they are getting something because of their behavior.

5. Currencies are ways to give people incentives based on various motivations in a digital world: the need for financial reward, the need to do good, the need to help one’s community, the need for recognition and influence, the need for pleasure. We can assign currencies to each one of these motivations to reward people for desired behaviors.


Why gamification works

In a word, progress.

In 2010, Harvard Business Review reported on the results of a study into what motivated people at their jobs. Hundreds of people kept daily diaries over several years to identify what really kept them motivated day-to-day. The answer, overwhelmingly, was a sense of progress.

Game mechanics are essentially a collection of tools that measure and report statistics. Those statistics represent progress. Collect five more points to level up. Check in at two more locations to get a badge. If nine more people agree to purchase, they’ll all unlock a deal.

Currencies are the rewards at the end of the rainbow — perhaps recognition on a leaderboard, a donation to a cause you care about, or a coupon. They measure your overall progress, as well.

According to Forbes, Groupon is the fastest-growing company — ever. It’s also an example of a company that uses game mechanics (a progress bar showing how many people have bought and how many are needed to activate the deal), game dynamics (you get a great deal because others have unlocked it) and currencies (the deal itself).


How brands are gamifying the customer experience

Brands across the spectrum are using gamification in clever and unexpected ways:

1. Starbucks

Starbucks has rewarded visitors who check into multiple locations on Foursquare with a Barista badge, and their most loyal customers with a $1 off mayors special.

2. Nike

Nike and Apple have teamed up to gamify your excercise regimen. Nike+ lets you save runs, set goals, and challenge friends. They even have public featured challenges in which to participate, like "Men versus women," to see which team can run the most in a year.


3. Ribbon Hero

Microsoft has launched gamified software training (giving Clippy, the annoying animated paperclip, a second chance at life) with Ribbon Hero. You can download the extension to Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010, which uses gamfication to help you learn the software. Microsoft calls Ribbon Hero a game, but I call it gamification because its primary purpose is a training tool. The "game" is a means to an end.

4. CauseWorld

Kraft put utility ahead of branding with its sponsorship of CauseWorld, an app that allows users to earn points or "Karmas" by checking in and scanning products at grocery stores. Users can then turn those points into donations to their favorite causes. CauseWorld leverages some game mechanics like team play, points, leaderboards and achievements, while rewarding users with multiple currencies -- donations to charities and mobile coupons for Kraft products.



Considerations for successful gamification

So, you’ve identified gamification as a strategy for your brand, app or landing page. What next?


Follow these guidelines to achieve success:

1. Have an objective. If your reason for considering gamification is “because everyone is doing it,” you might as well give up now. Start with real business goals. Figure out what you want to achieve. Then, you’ll be in position to assess which user behaviors will translate to success.

2. Engineer a path to your goals. Many marketers have long used the “funnel” as a model for planning communications; it’s useful because it’s a behavioral-tactical model. You identify the behaviors you want to elicit (awareness, interest, consideration, purchase) and then you choose tactics that can provoke each of those behaviors.

You should use a similar approach in designing a gamified brand experience. First, identify the behaviors or actions you want from participants, alongside their relative value. Then you can identify strategies and tactics — game dynamics and mechanics — to engineer a path toward your goals.

3. Rewards, rewards, rewards. Incentives must mean something. Game mechanics are a means to an end. Buffalo Wild Wings recently conducted a program called “Home Court Advantage” using SCVNGR, a location-aware platform that allows you, or even your customers, to create challenges at specific places. In this instance, users racked up points to win free chicken wings or a grand prize trip to the NBA Finals.


According to SCVNGR, over 180,000 participated in over one million challenges and posted nearly half of them to their Facebook walls.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Not every gamified experience requires a ton of back-end engineering. A number of companies like BunchBall, Badgeville and Gamify, have made implementing game mechanics as easy as customizing a WordPress site.

Basic game mechanics like points, levels and leader boards are turn-key, but can be customized to your brand’s content.


4. Take a holistic view. It is vital that you look at the big picture, especially if you’re applying gamification principles to a product.

For instance, Klout is jockeying for position as the authoritative metric for social media influence scoring. They use an algorithm to make it simple for marketers: A Klout score of 15 = not so good. A Klout score of 99 = awesome!

However, Klout is jeopardizing its core objective by applying gamification principles to its user experience. It added the game mechanic of “group play” to encourage viral spread. (Klout allows you to gift five “K” points to people who have influenced you to log in). But if a company wants to gauge the influence of a user, they don’t want it to be affected by a system that can be “gamed.” The second business objective (increasing membership) may undermine the first business objective (establishing credibility).

While Klout has done some gamification exceptionally well — like getting brands to offer perks to those with high influence scores — their mission to become “The Standard for Influence” is being threatened by their lack of a holistic view.


5. Make it fun. American Express Travel has gamified a new marketing program called NEXTPEDITION. Players answer a series of fun questions to earn a custom-made mystery trip based on their “travel sign.”

The game cleverly disguises marketing as a diversion. For example, American Express asked me what I’d do during The Zombie Apocalypse (I’m going to build a flamethrower out of my old grill and car parts). The 15 questions I answer may serve to vaguely qualify me as a credit lead (their agenda), but are much more about entertaining me (my agenda).


Ask why when you gamify

Many brands are having tremendous success using gamification to provoke their customers toward action. You could too. Or you could totally flop.

The critical difference will be if you’ve asked yourself “Why?” at every step in your process.

“Why am I doing this?”

“Why will people care about this reward?”

“Why will this strategy work?”

If find you’ve got good answers to these questions, it just might be time to inject a little play into your work. If not…

Game over.


This post was written by Adam Kleinberg, co-founder and CEO at Traction, the original post can be found here.

Follow Adam on Twitter @adamkleinberg

To learn more about how to gamify your marketing, don't miss Extra Life, a gaming event for brands! 


Tags: branded content, Gamification, Gaming


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