Posted August 30, 2011 12:41 am by with 4 comments

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Marketing Pilgrim’s Social Channel is sponsored by Full Sail University.

Gamification is the latest buzzword in marketing circles, as more and more companies are hoping to capitalize on the success of online social games.

However, before you run out and start planning your version of Farmville, it’s important to keep in mind that gamification is not just about creating a “game” – it’s about finding ways to interact with your customers and rewarding them for engaging with you. By creating an emotional connection with your customers, you can increase brand loyalty, referrals, and repeat business.

We all liked to play games as kids – from cards and board games to arcades and sports. We did so because it was fun, enabled us to socialize with our friends, and gave us a sense of accomplishment and status. The same is true for adults – hence the success of online games like Zynga’s Farmville and Mafia Wars.

Zynga is certainly not the first to master game mechanics. Airlines have been doing it for years with their frequent flyer programs. Credit cards do it with their rewards programs.
Even your local coffee shop uses game mechanics via loyalty punch cards by offering a free cup of coffee after every nine you buy.

Games are more than just a mindless distraction. They activate communities, build trust and loyalty in a company and its products, communicate progress and level of expertise, and demonstrate status and rank.

“Gamification” is simply using game mechanics (rules and goals) and applying them to non-game activities (like flying and shopping) in order to change people’s behavior – to get them to participate, come back often, and buy more. And it works. Studies have found that “the mere presence of point values influenced customer buying decisions.”

Points are an important part of game mechanics, as are levels, badges, leader boards, virtual goods and competitions. All of these encourage continued and sustained engagement by users and fulfill their desires for achievement, recognition, and status.

The Khan Academy is a great example of a site that uses game mechanics to encourage users to learn math and science. As students complete each section and pass the quiz, they earn badges, and they can clearly see how far they have progressed. This makes it more likely for them not only to continue to return to the site but also to feel good about what they’ve achieved.

Century21 recently partnered with a mobile game called WeCity, in which players build cities (like in the Sims), and offered branded virtual goods – skyscrapers, homes – that players could add to help them progress through the game. Surprisingly, 92% of WeCity players have used the Century21 virtual goods. The game ended in April and Century21’s Chief Marketing Officer said they will be basing their success on “brand survey results, video views and app downloads.”

Vail Resorts offers Epic Mix , an RFID application that provides skiers a way to track their progress on the slopes and to see how they rank against others on the leader board. The company’s Interactive Director explained that they created the program “in part with the Gen Y and Millennials in mind in an attempt to enhance their overall mountain experience that is more inline with their current digitally connected lifestyles.”

These are just a few examples of companies that have found creative ways to integrate game mechanics.

The next step for your business is to consider if gamification would be beneficial to add as part of your marketing strategy and business model. Gamification is certainly not a fit for every company. Ask yourself: How are you creating value for your customers and for your company? Will it help increase revenue and improve the customer’s experience?

You also need to know what your goals are and how you will measure success, whether it’s getting more referrals and shared content, increasing repeat business, upgrading customers to a higher priced product, or building a community.

Think about your customers, what they like to do, and what types of rewards they would like. Users could earn points through a myriad of activities, such as making a purchase, sharing or creating content, answering questions on your support site, rating products, completing a survey, watching videos, or recruiting friends.

And your reward? By integrating game mechanics, you can increase brand loyalty, referrals, and repeat business, through rewarding your customers for their engagement. Definitely a win-win!

Author Carol Morgan Cox is Course Director, Internet Marketing Program at Full Sail University

  • Good article. I think gaming and interactive reading will be a significant aspect of internet marketing programs to come. However the caveat to this is that participation should become easier with less commitment on the learning curve. This year eMediaWright went to E3 expo to research gaming as it pertains to web comics and graphic novels and interactive software development. The take away was that even the programmers agreed that the learning curve commitment on many of the online games was significant. The point being, with internet options and information becoming greater it is even more important that the engagement process, what ever that is, becomes easier and simpler. Asking people to invest more time in your product or service especially if it is for entertainment runs the risk of losing them. We have more to do and more to know these days. If we make that fun and productive using gaming and interactive features then I think we will be successful in the online business and marketing process.

    • Charles,

      Very interesting points. I think the key for businesses to keep in mind is that “gamification” does not necessarily mean a “game” in the sense of Angry Birds or Farmville. A “game” can be earning points by doing certain activities (answering questions on a discussion board, making a purchase, sharing links, etc.). So, many businesses don’t need to make an investment in building a “playable” game. Of course, if they can, then that can be beneficial, along as it’s something their customers would want to play.

      Thanks for your insights!


  • BCA

    This is the first time I heard the term gamification. Sounds like a good tool to build a business. Thanks for the info.