Gamification may be a hot topic but many marketers are still unsure as to what it really means, according to Guy Krief, Upstream's senior vice president of innovation, who explains here what gamification is and how it can unlock new levels of customer engagement.
Gamification is actually a new term for an old concept. It refers to the use of game-like mechanics and dynamics in a non-game environment for the purposes of increasing consumer engagement and influencing their behaviour.
Typically, gamification's mechanics include items such as points, countdowns, bonuses, and escalating levels that are made emotionally engaging by game-like dynamics such as rewards, urgency, pride, competition, and status-building.
Gamification has been used for several years in offline promotions, with notable examples including the McDonalds Monopoly promotion and the American Airlines loyalty programme. But the rise of mobile and internet technologies offers digital marketers the opportunity to use gamification to unlock a new level of customer engagement. Combined with their very high level of penetration, these digital media allow brands to make optimum use of sophisticated game-like mechanics that were - until recently - open only to the computer gaming industry.
At a recent tradeshow, Upstream carried out a little research among the delegates to find out exactly how much these technological shifts had affected marketers' thinking on gamification. The results were interesting, with an impressive 87% of marketers saying they thought game mechanics would improve customer response rates.
However, the practice is obviously taking some time to catch up with the thinking, as only 25% of marketers had actually used game mechanics in their campaigns up until then. Overall, 64% agreed that gamification would improve the relationship between their business and its customers.
At the same time, Gartner also published a research report which noted that 50% of companies said they would use gamification to drive innovation in their marketing mix by 2015. This, combined with the implications of Upstream's finding that 87% of marketers aimed to increase their investment in marketing technologies over the following twelve months, suggests that not only a lack of awareness, but also a lack of technological readiness, has been preventing gamification from entering the marketing mainstream so far.
If gamification is quickly creeping up the mobile marketing agenda, it is because marrying game mechanics with mobile ubiquity provides an abundance of new opportunities for marketers to innovate and interact with their customers on a personal level. This is mainly because the characteristics inherent in mobile devices are a perfect fit for gaming promotions: immediacy, instant response, traceability, time-sensitivity, and the intimacy of the device (although, while the latter guarantees an unprecedented quality of interaction, it demands the very careful avoidance of 'spamming').
But gamification is not restricted to the mobile platform, and is becoming increasingly important for digital marketers across the whole spectrum of digital channels. This is because digital platforms share some of the benefits that mobile offers, like instant-response, interactivity, and traceability, plus some additional features such as richer graphics and sound, animations, and more user-friendly interfaces.
One of the main benefits shared by all digital platforms is that they rely on technology, allowing for acute segmentation and optimisation, for example, automatically altering the reward for a challenge based on a customer's interests or previous history with a brand. With a little careful planning and data analysis, the actual content and challenges of the game can be personalised to an amazing degree depending on what the technology already knows about the customer and how they've already interacted with the brand.
But getting the rewards right is the ultimate challenge for marketers seeking to use gamification, and this aspect of the technology should not be underestimated: human behaviour is driven by rewards - and it is the reward that lies at the heart of gamification.
As expected, Upstream's own research showed that different consumers are attracted by different rewards, with 35% being most interested in winning a free product, 25% in winning a cash prize, 24% in winning a high value single prize, and 18% in winning extra points. This highlights the need for individual tailoring. For example, a consumer showing strong preferences for music-related challenges and quizzes will appreciate being rewarded with free music downloads or tickets to a concert by an artist in which they've already shown interest.
But to achieve this level of personalisation not only in terms of rewards but across the entire experience (e.g. sequences, timing, frequency, language and so on), marketers need to have a very sophisticated technology platform to serve the game strategy. Automation, therefore, becomes a necessity as marketers use high volumes of past data to properly map the full array of factors that need to be taken into account, such as:
- What time of day, or day of week, did the consumer respond?
- Which promotional trigger or mechanic attracted their attention (i.e. was it sports, music, bonus zone, trivia?)
- How quickly did they respond to each type of challenge (i.e. are they naturally competitive or driven by the reward)?
The analysis and correlation of every motivational factor helps to drive the gamified campaign, enabling it to deliver the personalised experience that will keep the consumer engaged.
So the winning formula for implementing the gamification experience results from a number of key factors:
- What mechanics are used;
- How each mechanic is set-up (e.g. challenge, time, content);
- The order of progression;
- Which rewards are offered;
- The frequency of rewards;
- The timing of rewards.
If marketers have clear initial objectives and a powerful enough technology platform, then they can turn their marketing strategy into a 'win-win' situation: a win for the marketer, who enjoys increased response rates and an enhanced customer relationship (leading to higher conversion rates), and a win for the customer, who enjoys the purchasing process and is left wanting more.