How to Use Gamification For Mainstream Consumers, Not Geeks

The idea of “gamification” has rumbled loud and long throughout the marketing and branding echo chamber over the last several years. In the 24/7 news cycle, even in the B2B world of marketing and advertising, gamification has been the subject of many articles and panel discussions at industry events.

Despite that attention, gamification in the real world of branding and marketing can seem illusory. Often the passionate gamification discussions of strategy and brainstorming sessions crumble under the day-to-day grind of product campaigns and ROI.

Before we discuss gamification for mainstream audiences, let’s take a step back for a moment and define exactly what we’re talking about. For now, we’ll use the Wikipedia description: “Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. Typically gamification applies to non-game applications and processes, in order to encourage people to adopt them, or to influence how they are used.”



So, how do we take the elements of gamification – contests, leaderboards, badges, mini-games, friendly competition, teams/factions – and translate them into a framework that will appeal not just to geeks raised on a diet of video game achievements?

Self-identity – In a digital world that can often be sterilizing and conformist, people haven’t lost the urge to create a strong personal identity online.

If done correctly, gamification can incorporate this need into a compelling experience. For example, one system allows gamers to self-identify and earn badges based on their behavior and interests, such a “Green” badge reflecting their environmental consciousness.

In many gamification systems that we’ve studied, especially video games, earning badges is a static process. You complete a task or level, and you earn a badge as an achievement. As you progress, you earn a series of badges, but that’s it – the badge is a visual symbol of a specific achievement.

As brands and marketers evolve gamification, we think it’s smart to look at that badge process. Why not make the badge system into a much larger, ongoing game system?

For example, users who have earned a badge then rank themselves against other people who have that same badge, and have to accomplish specific tasks in order to maintain their ranking within a badge. In this case, earning a badge is only the first step in a much longer process that keeps consumers engaged over time -- the whole point of building a gamification system for most brands and marketers).

Competition – Competition is hardwired into our psyche. Certainly, there are some who shy away from competition, but the vast majority of people will react when they see themselves ranked vs. their peers. “What will it take for me to go up five spots in this list?” “What do I need to do to move from 3rd place to 1st place?” That competitive spirit is infectious and can be harnessed to drive consumers down the gamification path that you’ve designed.

Rewards – In a properly designed gamification system, there will be a series of mini-rewards along the way (unlocking a badge, gaining access to a specific piece of information or digital item, etc.) to drive participation.

But, if your goal is to build a gamification system that grows, expands, and compels consumer actions, you have to build real-world rewards into the system.

One note of caution; If you’re just giving product away as part of a contest, that’s powerful, but intertwining that giveaway as part of a larger gamification strategy can be much more powerful in the long term.

We have seen the power of gamification for household brands and products, and we think most brands and agencies have only scratched the surface of its power.

Where does gamification fit into your brand strategy?



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