Gamification - just fun and games?

01 April 2013

In today's digital and social world, consumers are much more discerning about how and where they spend their time online. The adoption of smartphones and tablets, the multi-screen consumption of media and the movement between devices based on the context of their use is fundamentally changing the way consumers interact and transact with brands. As a consequence, marketers need their digital marketing strategies to work harder in securing consumer attention and keep them engaged with their brand.

It's not a game…

Gamification is becoming a more frequently used term and its application is being seen across everything from training and education to employee performance, product development and of course customer engagement.

Let's be very clear, it does not mean games; it is the use of game mechanics to drive game-like behaviour in a non-game context. However it is often misinterpreted, possibly as a result of the ever-increasing adoption of smartphones and the immediate access they provide to games and apps that can be played anywhere and at any time the consumer wants.

The fundamental objective of gamification is to inspire and motivate individuals to perform better and achieve more in those activities in which they choose to participate. It supports positive changes in behaviour by tapping into a person's psyche and addressing their unique needs and motivations in and around:  

  • Achievement - virtual rewards, points or tangible prizes for achieving goals
  • Recognition - earning badges or tokens to demonstrate status or participation levels or expertise, skills and capabilities
  • Competition - ranking performance against other consumers by leveraging leader boards
  • Social collaboration - sharing achievements, reviews, providing recommendations and reinforcing that behaviour through rewards

It is also not a game for businesses to play with. The ways in which gamification can be used should be explored within an organisation but ultimately it is only likely to be successfully implemented where it provides an appropriate solution to a business or marketing challenge. Even then it must support the achievement of both customer and business goals.

But it is fun and drives brand engagement…

There are lots of examples of brands who are leveraging gamification and eBay has embraced game mechanics as a cornerstone of their business strategy since launch. The auction format creates a fun and competitive purchase environment to bid and win items, whilst simultaneously enabling the seller to obtain badges and recognition for achieving quantities of sales and positive feedback. Nevertheless other brands have deployed it in more tactical ways where the impact less obvious. However Nike is a shining example of using gamification to drive a more direct customer relationship strategy that successfully meets the needs of both the business and the consumer.  

Nike+ recognises the challenges many individuals face in wanting to exercise and provides a framework to motivate, set goals, receive instant feedback, recognise achievements, share socially with friends and compare performance against the Nike running community (now estimated to be over 11m strong). Clearly the ultimate business goal is to sell more products in support of helping customers to achieve their fitness goals, however it also enables consumers to have a relationship with the brand at every exercise opportunity regardless of the brands they might actually be wearing at the time. Its success has led Nike to continue to enhance and extend their proposition across multiple platforms from running to basketball through to indoor exercise via the Xbox 360 Kinect  and the tracking of any sort of physical exercise with the Fuelband launched last year.

Key considerations for gamification success

When reviewing the application of gamification to solve your business challenges, consider the answers to the following questions:

  • What are its business goals? Why are you adding game design elements?
  • What is the customer value proposition? How will it benefit them? What actions do you want consumers to take? How do you want them to feel? Which members are most likely to participate, and how valuable are they?
  • What metrics should you use to measure its effectiveness? What defines success or failure?
  • How can gamification best fit into your loyalty or customer relationship strategy?

Transaction-based loyalty initiatives or social initiatives?

Transaction-based loyalty programmes, whether B2B or B2C, can be found in almost any country in the world and are testament to their success in generating customer insight, providing tangible rewards, recognition and positively influencing purchase behaviour to improve commercial performance. Whilst there are views suggesting that these programmes are outdated and failing to create the right levels of engagement, their value in identifying the most profitable customers cannot be underestimated.

Brands will always need to evolve their proposition to keep pace with the ways in which consumers want to interact and meet their increasing expectations. Social loyalty and gamification initiatives are being used as a way to engage consumers across digital platforms and provide more instant gratification and flexible rewards for various types of interaction behaviour. This allows brands in particular sectors such as FMCG to engage in consumer rewards where the cost, tracking or margin has traditionally excluded them.  

However, there can be challenges associated with this approach as it can be very difficult to get a detailed understanding of the social consumer, their commercial value and directly attribute a financial value to a gamified action. It is important that brands ensure that the right engagement and advocacy behaviours are being encouraged and seek to quantify the value of those activities in line with the stated marketing and business objectives.

The real opportunities for driving customer loyalty

With more and more time being spent online, brands are having to find new ways of engaging with consumers wherever they might be in their decision-making journey. This increasingly means looking beyond just transactional information and combining it with interaction data across devices and platforms to drive a more detailed understanding of the specific behaviour that consumers are exhibiting and across which touch points.

Combining more traditional transaction-based, tangible rewards with the ability to motivate more intrinsic behaviours through gamification can create something that has more long term value for the customer. It also generates a much deeper level of engagement with the brand. Whilst decisions need to be taken on which behaviours and actions should be encouraged and how they are rewarded in order to achieve marketing and consumer objectives, they must all be measurable. This will enable continual adjustments to be made based on what is working and what isn't, but also help quantify the commercial value and impact associated with those behaviours.

With gamification promising the ability for brands to unlock a new dimension in relationship management, consumers will join in the fun where initiatives are designed with them in mind and it is those brands who will win.


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  • The State of Customer Devotion in Retail: Part One

  • Loyalty in Dubai according to Sanjit Gill