Commentary

Nike Plus: Getting Engagement Right

Outside my window, it's dark, wet and so cold that the rain is freezing on the glass, but as soon as I finish writing this I'm going to go running in it. Not because it's healthy or fun, but because Nike understands how I feel about exercise and knows how to get me out of the house in a pair of tights at 11 p.m. in sub-zero temperatures. Not bad for a company of people I've never met who flog trainers from an ivory tower 5000 miles away.

Let me back up.

Running is a lonely activity and it can be really hard to get motivated to head outside when the alternative is a bottle of wine and an episode of "Homeland" on the sofa with my wife. But Nike knows that somewhere deep inside, some of us would love to be the guy who runs through the ice to conquer the cold. And it knows that if we were that guy, we'd buy more shoes.

So what does Nike do? It helps us become that guy.

How do you convince someone to turn their back on a loved one, and a centrally heated home, to risk hypothermia on the icy streets of London? You give them a little pain.

Pain, brought about as a consequence of not doing something, is an effective factor in motivating you to change your behavior. It works in two ways:

1. Pain is an effective feedback mechanism, giving you an immediate indication that there's something you need to pay attention to.

2. Experiencing pain has a punitive effect, which discourages you from the behavior that caused it in the first place.

Unfortunately, for most of the fun things in life, we don’t have the immediate feedback loop to keep us on track with little doses of pain and encouragement.

Perform better with games

Adding a “game” dimension to the experience can help us perform better at favorite activities, by providing a framework that gives immediate feedback about how we're tracking against our goals, and a sense of motivation (encouragement or pain) to help us go the extra distance. What’s the catch? People must want to play.

But “getting people to want to play” is where brands come unstuck. One of the reasons brand efforts at gamification and engagement often suck is that these efforts are driven by brand requirements  (e.g. selling shoes), not consumer requirements (i.e. feeling motivated to exercise).

People share photos, or score points because, on a deeper level, it affirms who they want to be and socialized gamification allows people to create curated projections and to share them with our world. The affirmation that comes from creating those projections and the Internet accepting and validating them is a powerful, motivating force.

The Nike+ gamification system demonstrates a deep understanding of how exercise and fitness are important but difficult parts of people's lives. Nike knows people want to exercise, but the motivation required to get out there, coupled with the lack of recognition it presents, are huge hurdles. To address this, they have created a framework for gamifying fitness by applying instant feedback, a set of rules, milestones, motivation and voluntary engagement to this problematic human endeavor. And boy does it work.

Goals and tools

By assisting people to achieve fitness goals and providing a social toolset for tracking and sharing these achievements, Nike is an active, engaged partner helping people create sharable self-projections. Nike helps their customers become who they want to be.

Of course, Nike is doing this because it wants you to buy more shoes, thermal tops and skintight, fluorescent running tights, but it knows you're only likely to engage in such lunacy if you can be bothered to step out into a blizzard dressed like a cut-price superhero when most people are sensibly tucked up on the sofa with a vino and Damien Lewis.

By gamifying actions that encourage an outcome favorable to both the consumer and the brand, Nike is helping customers self-actualize, which has the effect of making them better customers. It ends with selling more shoes but it starts by addressing a human desire to be better, and to feel that it’s a worthy and achievable goal.

Now excuse me while I slip into something more high-vis and run through the cold toward a new pair of sneakers.

 

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