The Definitive Explanation of Gamification for Marketing

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on August 3, 2022

An interview with Steve Bocska, CEO PUG Interactive

The Loyalty Academy™ curriculum spans the foundation of Customer Loyalty and allows those with tenure and experience to continue to expand their knowledge of the business. Advanced Courses offered by Loyalty Academy are the place to find these growth opportunities. In Course 206, “Advanced Customer Engagement & Gamification: Techniques, Tools and Tips”, PUG Interactive CEO Steve Bocska presented a thorough analysis of gamification concepts and more.

Steve is much more than a marketer who has learned a bit about gamification. He is an experienced and innovative gaming architect who approaches the marketing field with fresh concepts that work, many of which haven’t been fully considered by marketers.

Through his work, Steve has shown that engaging customer communities today is the single biggest competitive driver keeping the world’s most successful companies ahead of the competitive pack. Gamification drives community growth, but unfortunately the marketplace tends to oversimplify the concept by limiting the vision to simple points-badge-and-leaderboard mechanics, loyalty points, and rewards that collectively offer little incentive to drive customer behavior.

To get an update on the current state of Gamification and better understand how it can be used to drive engagement and customer loyalty, we sat down with Steve to learn his latest perspectives on compelling gameplay mechanics and to find out what was new, even edgy in the world of Gamification today.


The Wise Marketer (WM): How do you define gamification today?

Steve Bocska (SB): As a video game designer and producer, I apply domain knowledge of good game design to achieve marketing goals. We tend to define the outcomes of gamification in terms of strengthening the customer/brand relationship and creating “moments that matter” using game play, contesting, and advanced loyalty mechanics from our toolkit and platform.

WM: What aspects of behavioral psychology cause people to respond to gamification techniques?

SB: Everybody likes to play. It’s universal. Play is how we safely learn skills, feel satisfaction, enrich ourselves, and often socialize. Even animals in the wild play for exactly these reasons. We’re hard-wired to crave it since it provides all these benefits, but also fosters enjoyment. My focus is on building a customer relationship through these principles and applying them in a way that very gently, subtly modifies customer behavior to create more memorable and meaningful moments that strengthen the relationship between the customer and brand.

WM: What do you think are the most misunderstood aspects of gamification and what do marketers need to understand more about this topic?

SB: We tend to oversimplify complex subjects and look for familiar generalizations. Mention Gamification to a group of marketers and they may synonymize it with using leaderboards and badges in a community or loyalty program. This is a mistake. Gamification is one specific tactic where engagement is the goal.

WM: How do you go about creating a gamification strategy?

SB: There are three mechanical components of an overall engagement strategy that contribute to a first-class customer experience: the transaction or commerce experience, loyalty mechanisms, and engagement elements.

The commerce experience is the in-store or on-page shopping experience which incorporates the nature, quality, and pricing of your product. That’s an area that is largely outside the influence of a gamification strategy and frankly outside of overall customer strategy. Gaps in the commerce experience need to be addressed before marketing strategy can be applied effectively.

The loyalty area is where gamification strategy can have a strong influence, especially when a variety of customer/brand touchpoints are present such as point-of-sale, physical check-ins, social media programs, partners, and traditional media. By enhancing this part of the customer journey with tried-and-tested game-like mechanics, such as questing, customization, progression tracking, collaboration, and others, you can gently modify behaviors, tease out preferences, and expose genuine desires which, in turn, create calls to action that delight and satisfy customers. This simultaneously helps build a better understanding of the customers and creates methods to positively influence their behavior.

Engagement is where gamification shines and comes in so many different shapes and forms that it’s impossible to list them all here. I believe that gamification is an engine that stimulates engagement in the most meaningful and relevant way possible. Gamification is the go-to-market engine to create engagement. When people learn how to apply game mechanics in a marketing context, the customer-brand relationship can be maximized and the greatest transformative potential becomes unlocked.

WM: Once people understand more about gamification, they are going to ask, “what should I do?” What do you tell them?

SB: I ask if the brand wants the engagement model to be designed specifically for them or if they just want to throw a bunch of tactics out there and see what works? Unfortunately, many people want to do everything at once. They want to throw in every gameplay mechanic including the kitchen sink while not realizing the conflicts that can be created. For example, if you have worked hard to build a collaborative customer community and later introduce leaderboards and points, you might be creating a conflict. Leaderboards are competitive mechanics. They track progress relative to other customers and invite comparisons, sometimes in ways that fly counter to the spirit of collaboration. This can be potentially destructive to your community. You need to evaluate the suitability of each possible gamification tactic within the context of an overall strategy. Different circumstances require a different mix of mechanics, and the choice of mechanics is influenced by brand personality, type of business, and the objectives hoping to be achieved.

WM: What’s the crux of good engagement design that leads people into a desired “journey”?

SB: You must put choices in front of people. To maximize engagement to its fullest, those choices must be interesting, should be consequential, and even include a time pressure to make the choice. But of course, the goal isn’t always to maximize engagement, since you always have to leave enough customer mindshare for them to actually buy your good or services! Engagement purely for the sake of engagement is not where you want to be. The business goals have to remain the ultimate outcome. And only if it suits your brand’s personality should you strive to make the engagement fun and playful while leading. It’s about the outcomes valuable to you. Winning engagement design not only deepens engagement, but also supplies you with rich data on choices and provides much deeper insights than just a single call-to-action. We call the data obtained to be “declared data” which is more honest and has higher marketing utility than data from other sources.

WM: How does the popular concept of Surprise & Delight relate to Gamification?

SB: Surprise and delight definitely has a role. But it’s all about knowing where it belongs in the overall experience. My experience is that it makes the most sense to incorporate it as an outcome of choices in a gamified customer journey in order to make the payoff more intriguing and interesting. I wouldn’t just “surprise and delight” without context or reason.

Similarly, the consequences of the interesting choices I mentioned earlier should be abundantly clear to the customer. Everything expected from the participant should be transparent. The responsibility of the game designer is to clarify the context of the choices. And the “payoff” of choices can include surprise and delight. That’s how the two concepts can be blended.

WM: What do you see about to break in the world of gamification? Will there be greater acceptance of proven techniques, better execution, or are there new mechanics or concepts that you expect to see in play?

SB: I think change is already underway. Just like other ideas that have made their way through the Gartner Hype cycle, early experiments in gamification proved what every reputable game designer has known for decades — badges, points, and leaderboards are overly simple tools best left for capturing and reflecting back actions. By themselves, they do not foster engagement. Plus, they all look and act the same, from one brand to another. It’s the same problem that loyalty programs have. You can’t tell them apart. And a commodity, by definition, cannot provide your company with a competitive advantage. The problem is that advanced engagement, loyalty, contesting, and gamification programs should align with the kind of relationship that makes the most sense between a customer and a brand.