Want Engagement? Try some Gamification

What if your campaign was so engaging and personally relevant that audiences would voluntarily spend time with it? What if that voluntary engagement doubled or tripled retention, loyalty and conversion rates?

“Engagement” is a term that is given a lot of lip-service in marketing communications, yet attempting to “cut-through the noise” with a campaign with great reach is too often still the norm.

Originally inspired by the runaway success of Facebook and smartphone games like FarmVille and AngryBirds, Gamification has been a buzzword for a few years now. Gartner Research estimates that more than 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have gamification in their marketing mix by 2014.

Gamification is the practice of adding proven game design techniques to something that is not a game like your website, online community, app or loyalty programme. It is an answer to the age old question: If we build an app or website, will anyone actually come? and more importantly will they keep coming back?

Popular examples of gamification include FourSquare, Nike+, LinkedIn’s profile completion bar, VW’s The Fun Theory campaign, or energy drink V’s various advergames. Coke, Walmart, Unilever, NBC, Ford, IBM and countless other brands have embraced it.

If you look past the hype, what Gamification does is appeal to people’s natural desires for autonomy, self-expression, achievement, status, social connections and even altruism.

A common gamification tactic is to provide rewards such as points, achievement badges, levels, progress bars. Many traditional marketers are surprised that these ‘virtual rewards’ are just as effective as ‘Buy 3 get 1 Free’ deals, as well as being cheaper and more immediate. However, the release of the dopamine drug by our brains is the same regardless whether the reward we anticipate is real or virtual.

But watch out as an over-reliance on extrinsic rewards (such as prizes, carrots and sticks) can ultimately be counter-productive. People start doing it for the reward, like a high Klout score, rather than for authentic communication.

Other techniques include character personalisation, sharing quests with friends, scaffolding challenges so it is easy to get into but requires mastery over time, incentives to return each day, multiple pathways presented at once, and using badges for personal branding.

Most of these have their roots in well-known behavioural psychology research. For example, psychologists have long known that variable ratio rewards increase retention and loyalty. Where are they found today? In slot machines and in how video games reward players with ‘loot drops’. Games were the simply first to be able to analyse the impact on millions of players and quantify real results. Tripling or quadrupling engagement rates is not uncommon when gamification is done right.

The starting point for gamifying your campaign, service or product is customer insight. What emotional needs are your customers getting out of it? Are they socialising with your product, feeling secure about their future, using it to achieve a personal goal? Present an activity or challenge that expresses that, give great feedback and encouragement, make it easy for customers to share their progress, and make it progress gradually so it doesn’t get boring.

Gamification doesn’t mean creating a video game (that’s advergaming which is also a great tool) or require new budget, instead its principles can amplify what you’re already doing. Because it amplifies what is already valued, the result is an increase in conversion and retention rates.

This post originally appeared on the NZ Marketing Association’s blog.

Photo credit: The Gamification of Life by VFS Digital Design.