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How to harness gamification for marketing

26th Mar 2015
Editor MyCustomer
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While the benefits of gamification in the workplace are well-documented, the facts surrounding video game consumption across multiple devices highlights just how effective using games to engage customers can be for marketing campaigns.    

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 59% of Americans define themselves as ‘gamers’. The average US household owns at least one game console, PC, or smartphone used regularly for gaming. Online gaming is now the second-most popular activity among US web users.  

The gaming addiction is by no means centered around the US market, however. Revenue generated by digital video games sales worldwide was $51bn in 2014, and beyond traditional pure-play examples, revenue drawn from social media games was set at $12bn worldwide, while mobile games also contributed to $2.6bn. Nearly 33m people in the UK of all ages, gender and social groups are playing video games of one form or another.

In 2011, Gartner analyst Brian Burke predicted that by 2014, more than 70% of Forbes Global 2,000 organisations will have at least one “gamified” application, with gamification potentially becoming “as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon.”

While this prediction may have been cooled by current figures, which are closer to 50%, many more brands have a gaming footprint through in-game advertising; so much so that Zynga, the world’s leading social game developer, announced that it had generated $153 million of revenue from in-game ads in 2014.

And findings indicate that this is money well spent by marketers, with research of 2,000 social gamers commissioned by RockYou and conducted by Interpret revealing that they are receptive to ads. The study found that a surprisingly high 24% of users who played casual games clicked on an ad in a social game and made an online purchase.

“A campaign that rewards participants who visit a certain number of times or complete particular online actions is basically a digital loyalty scheme, helping to keep customers regularly thoughtful of a brand and its products,” says Tony Wright, social media manager for creative agency, Outside Line.

Beyond pure advertising, however, there are a number of examples of how gamification is being used creatively and further driving this new wave of customer loyalty said to have been lost through the evolution of multi-channel marketing.     

Stiletto Wars

Tamara Littleton, CEO of Emoderation points to a 2014 game released by Harrods called Stiletto Wars, as a great example of how gamification can be used successfully by marketers:

“It was a simple image matching game, featuring scoring, a leader board and a weekly Harrods gift card given to the winner. Participants that shared their score on social media were added to a draw to win a VIP personal shopping experience, including a visit to the new Shoe Heaven department. The app was downloaded more than 80,000 times, despite it only being advertised in the Harrods magazine.”

When employed successfully, brand-driven games have the power to not just deliver loyal followers, but to increase sales and deeply engage with target audiences.

In the US, for instance, Codecademy, a website teaching people how to code, employs a gamifed strategy to drive engagement. Users complete short coding objectives and compete with other users in the pursuit of badges, rewards and different statuses. This effectively turns the learning into a competition with bite size chunks that simplify a topic that may have seemed dauntingly hard at the outset. As of January 2014, the site had over 24 million users who had completed over 100 million exercises.

And honing in on big brands, Nike’s creation of Nike+ and the Nike Fuelband is often held up as the pillar of successful gamification in marketing, having transformed the experience of running. Users of the app receive a score depending on their specified goals, which they can also measure against other runners, creating a highly-engaged ‘Nike+ community’ online, as a result. With so many marketers committing huge amounts of resource to fostering communities through content marketing but deploring the often paltry returns, gamification can, in some cases, act as a more interactive and longer-lasting alternative.        

More than just a game

While the benefits are clearly highlighted by an array of successful examples, the gamification challenge for marketers is wrapped up in how they can deliver a game that is considered more than just a game.

Tamara Littleton states that, “there should be more to a [branded] game than just getting gamers to see an ad. A good campaign could drive interaction with the brand through creative placement, or a built-in area of the game. It should be social, so the brand can see what consumers think, and act on feedback.”

However, Scott Sinclair of Capgemini Consulting believes that social and mobile gaming opens up new complexities for marketers keen to target specific demographics. “In terms of the people that are playing these games, it is a vast array. There are statistics that say there are people that are 12 years old playing these games right through to 60+, so it is very difficult to target a specific audience, and given the way that segmentation has moved, we’re no longer interested in those who are young and those who are old - we’re interested more in those who follow a particular interest. So it is a case of picking the right game and making sure that the audience within that game is the right audience as well.”

Sinclair advises marketers to think about how their brand can interact with players within the game in a way that is relevant and not obtrusive; and then to give them a reason to interact with you in the real world through redeemable coupons, or access to exclusive events, for example.

Telling tales

Littleton believes the solution for marketers failing to encourage engagement through games is to return to the fundamental reason for the game in the first place, and build more of a story into the journey users undertake as players, much in the way Nike+ is able to.  

“Compelling storytelling is the key element behind any successful campaign, even a gamified one. If the story is absent, the motivation for people to participate and, crucially, share the content, is lacking.

“Other forms of motivation are also important. Those who share fitness tracking data on social media are probably concerned with creating a certain image of themselves online, while people who take the time to answer a gamified online survey would love to be that person who wins the elusive £50 Amazon voucher.

“For gamification to work, the content needs to be relevant, both to the brand and the participant. It shouldn’t be a direct attempt to sell either, but focus fostering a spark of interest about the brand in the participant. The best gamified experiences use Candy Crush-esq rewards systems – instant feedback, using visual and audio stimulation as rewards, giving participants the ability to share their stats with other people and providing them with a sense of achievement (and maybe a greater goal that needs to be reached). All of these things pull people into the experience and keep them there for longer.”

Pulling rank

Raf Keustermans, independent social media consultant and director of the International Social Games Association, states marketers must apply the following criteria to the development of any branded game, if their aim is to encourage more loyalty and engagement from its users:

  • Rewards: rewarding players/users/consumers for certain behaviour. This can be done with badges or trophies that can be collected and can either increase status within the user community, or can ‘unlock’ functional items or features.
  • Collaboration: very often used in social games; certain features and items can be ‘friend-gated’: a user needs assistance from his friends/other users to complete a task or get an item, e.g. in a Facebook game: collect gold from your friends to complete the castle that will protect your army..
  • Progression: levels can be used to give users a feeling of progression, and can also be part of a broader layer to increase the ‘fun’ and reward element of a game. Good games will have a mix of easy and difficult levels [which] can also be used as part of an educational/tutorial process, to get users through a complex process, e.g. online tax forms.
  • Appointments: Another pillar of social games, made famous by FarmVille and other resource management games: users are encouraged to return to the game within a certain timeframe and missing an appointment can be punished. This is a core mechanic to drive engagement and loyalty, and could be used by content creators to create a daily/weekly habit.
  • Quests/challenges: Sometimes similar to a level structure, but in most cases quests or challenges are used parallel with a level structure. They can be used to broaden the gameplay; e.g. a city-building game can have a strategic angle (build an efficient city that yields the highest taxes), but can also have an aesthetic angle (build a beautiful city, your dream city).
  • Status: Status is the reason why Zynga Poker is the largest online poker room in the world (35 million monthly active players) despite the fact that it’s not possible to win or cash out any real money – the main currency of Zynga Poker is not virtual chips, it’s the ‘bragging currency’ that increases your status in your community of friends and other players. Online forums and message boards have used similar status-based systems to moderate and supervise content; power-users or users that are respected by other users are nominated to be ‘moderators’ and given control to edit and even ban other users.

As with the experience created through gamifying workforces, statistics suggest consumers are more engaged with a brand game when a ranking and reputation system is incorporated into proceedings. However, to do this in a social media or mobile environment requires the user to have the ability to easily share the game, something Michael Wu, chief scientist for Lithium Technologies suggests is a point often missed in the development process, and is something that requires some deep analysis.     

“You have to do a lot of analytics behind it because it is very easy with a gaming system to just share to the same person a thousand times, but that is not very good and it will be counterproductive. You want to track how many unique individuals that this person will share with.

“[Ultimately] you want to give them the ability to do it, though. So make things very simple to do - one click and you can share, and you can see all the friends you can potentially share with and then you just go and click and it goes out. So make it simple for people to share. And then when you see a piece of great content, offer a trigger. And then off of that trigger there’s a call to action - ‘would you like to share this with your network’, something like that. The art is really how you design the platform such that all the motivation and ability and trigger all converge at the same time.”

The final test

And the final point to note in delivering a gamification experience for customer engagement is what Tony Ventrice, co-founder of the Behavior Lab calls trial conversion – the process of taking a potentially interested user and turning them into a devotee to your gamified process.

Ventrice describes a four point plan revolving around many of the aspects already discussed – demonstrating from the outset that there is value to be obtained by the user investing their time in your game; organising the in-game experience concisely; ensuring there is a story behind the gaming process; and finally, having an array of testers to call upon during development.

“Mock up the visual prompts as soon as possible and get test users moving through the experience,” Ventrice adds. “Watch for where they lose focus, become confused or lose interest. Let them work through without interruption, then, when they’re done, discuss the experience.

“What do they think the primary value of the service or community is? What do they think the best parts are? What are the worst? What would they change, if they could? Remember, your test users know only what you told them in the introductory experience. By answering these questions, they’re not describing your actual offering, only their perception.”

With the right planning and commitment, gamification offers a unique opportunity for marketers to flex their creative and analytic muscles, but the process is a long one.

However, when brands ranging from Nike to Harrods developing tactics based on the principles, it’s a campaign option that’s certainly worth giving attention to.

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