Gamification has proven to be a reliable marketing tool by tapping into people’s basic instinct to play. The gamification of products and services provides a positive, personalized digital experience while building brand awareness and strengthening customer loyalty.
This means that games can be leveraged to make a real-world impact, especially in business.
The difference between gaming and gamification is that games are self-contained and serve as entertainment, while gamification encourages particular behaviors or actions with intrinsic motivation and rewards.
Defining Gamification In Marketing
Gamification marketing is described as the usage of game design elements to enhance non-game goods and services by increasing customer value and encouraging value-created behavior.
It is considered an interactive content marketing tool derived from the gaming industry. It is also a theory of how people are motivated to engage with branded content and convert into customers.
Kotler and Keller define marketing as “the art and science of choosing target markets and getting, keeping and growing customers through creating, delivering and communicating superior customer value.”
In this sense, marketing is communication directed at a target audience. But there is a difference between broadcasting information to a wider audience and facilitating direct, two-way communication.
Gamification is based on two-way communication between individuals, where the receiver gives feedback to the sender. The sender can be another person or a program. This back-and-forth interaction is a basic gamification mechanism. It requires active involvement from both parties as they listen and respond interchangeably.
Digitization revolutionized the interactions between companies and customers. The emergence of the first personal computers that could access the internet in the 1990s gave rise to online gaming, digital marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), and content marketing.
Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram further intensified the level of online interaction between brands and their communities.
The marketing landscape is rapidly evolving, and a customer’s decision of which brand they will buy into is influenced by much more than just the product or service.
Clients want to identify themselves with a brand and establish a long-term affiliation. This explains the rising demand for unique experiences along the entire customer journey.
A Short History Of Marketing Strategies
Marketing has been developing through different stages in its history, from throwing a wide net to targeting specific customers.
- From Mass To Direct Marketing
- Enter Digital And Data-Driven Marketing
- How To Leverage Data-Driven Digital Marketing
From Mass To Direct Marketing
First, mass marketing was used for advertising products everywhere and to everyone – think of TV commercials, magazine ads, and billboards. These costly mass media channels were hit-and-miss, and measuring a campaign’s return on investment (ROI) was difficult.
Mass marketing gave way to direct marketing, an approach targeting specific customer groups more likely to buy particular products and services. The channels used for direct marketing include door-to-door visits, email, phone calls, text messages, catalogs, and other direct mail.
Direct marketing is still widely used today and focuses on customer experience (also known as “CX”) and increasing conversions through enticing calls to action (CTAs).
CTAs can be brightly colored sign-up buttons or body copy that prompts the customer to do something (for example, “Visit your nearest store to get a free demo”). They can invite the customer to perform any other action on a website – including a “try before you buy” experience.
Enter Digital And Data-Driven Marketing
In the past two decades, digital marketing has become highly viable and personalized, offering myriad ways to track and target website visitors, app users, and customers – all online.
Sophisticated channels have become available to market directly to customers, such as social media (and user-generated content), targeted online ads, automated email, segmented messaging campaigns, affiliate marketing, and so forth.
Now, we are witnessing the dawn of data-driven marketing. As consumer behaviors change, so do marketing strategies to meet customer experience expectations. Consumers are much savvier today and know what they want to buy. If your product or service does not fulfill their expectations, they will find another company that does.
With the tracking tools available to data-driven digital marketers, conversion rate optimization (CRO) is one of their main activities to keep improving customer targeting and online sales.
CRO involves tracking various customer actions on the conversion path, using A/B testing to find winning CTAs, and implementing changes to web pages and online shops to increase conversions.
What a conversion entails is highly dependent on the industry and type of product or service. It is also dependent on the channel that the customer engages with. For example, a business thought leader who has monetized their weekly newsletter through third-party affiliate programs might have two types of conversions:
1) When a user subscribes to the newsletter
2) When they click on an affiliate link
A/B testing is an effective way to test different versions of your website with visitor segments to find out what CTAs customers find the most appealing and where the shortest conversion paths are. The conversion path is a map of customer actions that lead to conversions.
After implementing A/B test winners, the testing process starts again to keep exploring more growth opportunities.
Data-driven marketing is a favored approach by SaaS companies and online stores. Corporate enterprises and small businesses are also adopting a data-driven approach as the digital world increasingly becomes the mainstream marketplace for almost every kind of business.
Mobile technology is used in business, shopping, and other non-game contexts and plays an important role in the widespread digitization of business and marketing.
How To Leverage Data-Driven Digital Marketing
There have been major changes in marketing since digitization started. Still, one fundamental truth about customers remains: people’s primary needs and desires have not changed drastically.
From a social identity perspective, people generally look for ways to express their individuality and strive to belong to a community.
They are looking for tools to make their lives easier and more comfortable. But as digital marketing strategies and channels grow, people become smarter about where they browse, what personal data they share, and who they buy from.
Consumers know when they are being sold something and often have mixed feelings about certain forms of sales communication. Daily, people are inundated with online and offline advertisements and know they are being tracked. This influences their browsing and buying behaviors, skewing companies’ conversion path data.
How Data-Driven Digital Marketers Enhance Customer Communication:
- Audience segmentation and tailored onboarding
- Personalized offers
- Gamified content
- Guerilla marketing tactics, such as product drops and exclusive offline experiences
- Responses to click and scroll actions, such as pop-ups when a website visitor is about to leave the page
- Content upgrades
- Leveraging AI to learn and predict customer behaviors
- Animations and video
- Social media influencers
More and more, consumers are opting out of irrelevant and unwanted messages, and this is what marketers need to consider when trying to reach their target audience.
The question is: How might companies offer more value to their customers to keep them?
The longer a potential customer lingers on a webpage or app, or the more times they click and access more content, the likelier they are to try a service. They are also more likely to make a purchase or share their feedback. This explains why user engagement and customer satisfaction are central concerns in data-driven marketing.
In this context, gamification is one of the ways to get closer to your potential customers without them feeling that they are being pushed to make a purchase.
Adding game elements to non-gaming contexts creates a fun experience for customers and is a discreet way to offer more value, reward user behaviors, and improve audience engagement.
Why Gamification Marketing Is So Effective
Supporters of gamification believe that incorporating game-design elements such as levels, social competition, or rewards in marketing strategies can directly influence brand awareness, customer engagement, and loyalty. Moreover, gamification can improve customer data quality and help to achieve business goals.
Gamified campaigns have emerged in many industries, including retail, organizational management, healthcare, and education. While online gamification marketing is a trend that is slowly gaining more traction, adding gamified elements to traditional advertising has been utilized for decades.
A prime example of an offline gamification marketing strategy goes back to 1987 when McDonald’s started an advertising campaign mimicking the form of the Hasbro Monopoly game.
Alongside each meal, McDonald’s customers received branded Monopoly “cards.” These cards either represented an instant prize (e.g., a McDonald’s burger) or required collecting a set of cards of the same color to win one of the main prizes. Some prizes were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, such as cash, cars, and holidays.
In 2005, McDonald’s built on this success and expanded its game concept to the online world.
With the implementation of a virtual Monopoly board, customers could enter a code and play online video games alongside the physical aspect of the game (winning real-world prizes).
McDonald’s could accurately measure customer engagement and saw an overall sales increase in the US. In the case of the Australian counterpart of the McDonald’s Monopoly app campaign, the game resulted in more than 2.5 million app downloads and 2X growth of their CRM database, according to the Mobile Marketing Association.
The positive effects of gamification in business are attributed to the fact that all people have four psychological needs that must be met. According to Betty Adamou, gamification researcher and author of Games and Gamification in Market Research (2018), the four psychological needs are Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose (RAMP).
Amadou argues that games should include goals, feedback and rewards, rules, and autonomy opportunities to meet these psychological needs. That is also why people keep coming back and engaging with games.
We will unpack these four gamification elements below to show why they are essential for creating effective gamified content.
4 Elements To Make A Game
Goals are the intrinsic triggers that encourage participation in a game or contest. People naturally have a competitive spirit, even if some believe they don’t.
According to Positive Psychology, goal-setting is a way to rewire the brain to work toward achievement. People who set goals strive toward a desired self-image, which can lead to happier and more content lives.
Goal-setting is also tied to motivation, confidence, self-esteem, and autonomy (number 4 in this list).
The willingness to work for something is controlled by the dopamine levels in a person’s brain. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that dopamine release has more to do with motivation than pleasure.
Dopamine helps the brain calculate the cost-to-benefit ratio and decide whether a reward is worth the effort to reach a goal.
Understanding how the brain works and motivates people to achieve goals helps create marketing games with high completion rates. A game completion could be any valuable customer action, such as inputting user data, registering an account, making a purchase, or giving feedback on a product or service.
A game completion can be counted as a conversion, which can be measured and tracked to understand how customers respond to gamified marketing.
2. Feedback And Rewards
Whereas goals are intrinsic motivators, feedback, and rewards offer extrinsic motivation.
Some people are more intrinsically motivated, and achieving a goal they set their minds to is enough reward for them. But others need external motivators, such as praise or “bragging rights,” physical rewards, and benefits.
Social networks have successfully kept users engaged because social recognition and status are powerful driving forces.
Besides awarding a prize to a customer for completing a game, one of the essential elements in addictive game mechanics is giving incremental rewards as milestones are reached. This could take the form of collectible cards such as the ones in the McDonald’s Monopoly, progress bars, “likes,” achievement levels, badges, and spot prizes.
An equally effective gamification technique is adding negative feedback to games: a red cross with a buzzer sound and a message to “Try Again” when a milestone is not achieved, for example.
Providing constant feedback and rewards is the key to driving motivation and keeping the user engaged.
It is the two-way communication we mentioned earlier. The game should respond to each customer’s action and prompt further action to continue playing.
Every game needs rules. Rules outline a game player’s limitations within a game and create a sense of structure. They help guide players through a game and can be used to add levels of difficulty.
Rules can also add a time limit, “lives,” or chances to try and reach a game’s milestone or goal.
In this way, they are essential for creating a sense of struggle and competition and add to the motivation to attain the reward. Of course, adding rules to any game also ensures fair play and gives all participants the same chance to win.
An opportunity for autonomy means allowing the participant to choose different game outcomes. The level of autonomy varies from game to game. Autonomy in gamification marketing also means attracting customers through a voluntary approach.
They should not feel forced to participate; customers participate in gamification campaigns because they want to. They do this for entertainment or some other reward (as discussed in number 1 in this list).
This theory is complemented by progress paths that allow the community to improve and climb different levels in a game. A game could offer different prizes depending on which route the customer takes. When customers have more autonomy, they are empowered by the intrinsic motivation to carry out their plans.
Another way to make a game more dynamic and personalized is to add social elements. Social connection makes a game even more interesting when players can compete with friends or other people from the same target audience. It enables autonomy by adding more variables the customer can control, such as choosing friends to connect with in the game.
Last but not least, the design and simplicity of a game also play a significant role in its success or failure. Besides being user-friendly and easy to learn, a game can become more appealing to customers by adding customization options.
Giving the customer control over the color scheme, choosing or creating avatars, and posting user-generated content all add more opportunities for autonomy in a game.
The research concludes that by applying these four elements to any non-game task, you have essentially gamified it.
The Benefits Of Gamification In Marketing
Games can be used as simulations to break down customers’ barriers to or anxieties about purchasing a new product or service. For example, the food retailer SPAR wanted to drive more sign-ups to their newly launched customer loyalty program, SPAR Friends.
SPAR created a Memory Game using Brame to increase awareness of the new loyalty program, drive app downloads, and make it easier for customers to sign up as SPAR Friends members. The game showed customers the advantages of signing up and rewarded them with prizes that could be claimed in-app.
SPAR used gamification marketing to remove the barriers to signing up as loyalty club members by turning the entire process into an engaging and rewarding game.
Gamification Marketing Has The Power To:
- Educate customers
- Remove barriers to purchase or sign up
- Increase sales
- Engage and reward customers
- Create positive customer experiences
- Build the brand
- Measure customers’ buying behaviors and sentiment
- Test new products and services before launching them
- Find out why customers buy certain products or services
As the benefits of marketing gamification are evident, let us consider how to use gamification techniques to prepare for the upcoming changes in data-driven digital marketing and customer behaviors.
How To Use Gamification In Marketing
Creating branded games and fun experiences to gamify marketing endeavors will boost conversion rates and reward potential and existing customers.
Before Starting Your Gamification Process, Consider The Following:
- Personalize Your Customer Experience
- Target Generation Z
- Create Continuous Interaction
- Add Something New
Let us deep-dive into these four tips for running successful gamification campaigns.
1. Personalize Your Customer Experience
Today’s online customers increasingly opt for businesses that provide a personalized digital experience. The vast majority are willing to share personal information with online businesses if they receive better and more relevant services.
Companies can provide a more personalized customer experience using the motivational tools inherent in gamification.
For instance, product selection can be gamified by including a recommendation quiz or making an interactive game out of product exploration. Such steps would make product searches more effortless and enjoyable for customers while providing the company with useful information about their browsing and buying behaviors.
Smart personal recommendations also eliminate the need to look for related products since everything the customer sees has already been adjusted to their needs.
2. Target Generation Z
GenZ (also known as “Zoomers”) is already a large and growing group of online consumers. They are the first generation that grew up with smartphones and tablets in their hands and have a mobile-first mentality.
Zoomers also have short attention spans, which makes it more challenging to attract and engage them as customers. They have greater expectations of digital tools and services compared to millennials and are more likely to cancel a purchase due to a poor online experience.
The good news is that gaming is a massive attraction for Generation Z. Gamified content is visually engaging and easy to digest, and it keeps Zoomers coming back.
Gamified education techniques are widely used by this generation, as seen in popular educational apps such as Duolingo and Science 360. Online learning platforms provide goal-oriented lessons and courses with rich content, rewarding milestones, and social elements.
Moreover, online courses can be done at the learner’s pace, giving them as much autonomy as possible while nudging them in the right direction.
3. Create Continuous Interaction
Digital marketing today is about more than just attracting customers and making a profit.
With the development of the digital world, businesses increasingly need to maintain long-term customer relationships and respond to real-world issues and events. Customers expect constant interaction, which digital marketers are now heavily focused on.
The continuous publishing of online content that keeps customers engaged is one of the most laborious tasks marketing teams perform. But gamification can be used to get high exposure and respond to social concerns regularly.
The famous NikeFuel campaign is an excellent example of such a strategy. The company ensured continuous customer interaction by launching a fitness tracker game. Users could engage with the Nike brand when playing the branded game, and they were eager to continue interacting with minimum effort from Nike’s side.
4. Add Something New
Digital marketing is changing fast. Digital marketers strive to carve a presence for their companies using social media marketing, but this is no easy task. With many companies following the same rhythms on social media, marketers need additional tools to stand out and engage potential customers.
Gamification could be the tool for the job, as it enhances social posts with interactivity that reaches beyond a “like” or “comment” on the social media platform itself.
Incorporating gamified content into a company’s marketing strategy will offer more dynamic ways for potential customers to discover products and services on the platforms they already use daily.
Gamification marketing has gained popularity in the past five years. It is already being used by business giants that are staying ahead of the curve, such as Samsung, Deloitte, Microsoft, and many others.
With these four shifts in mind, gamification is the most natural next step in any business’s marketing efforts.
Making Your Next Move
Gamification marketing is a distinct development in the marketing industry. And it is constantly evolving as new tools and trends emerge.
One of these trends is an increasingly data-driven approach to digital marketing that relies on measuring and increasing valuable customer inputs and conversions.
As online and mobile users increase worldwide, so do the awareness of and concerns over data sharing. User data is essential for providing the personalized, engaging experiences customers expect. However, users are becoming increasingly reluctant to share their personal information.
An answer to this conundrum is to use gamification to engage and reward customers for sharing data and making purchases.
Gamification has several use cases and benefits, as we have shown. Today’s business leaders should consider using gamification to solve common marketing problems, such as finding and converting the right customers, growing the customer base, and building customer loyalty.
Brame is ready to help your business get ahead of others and find success with gamification. As a SaaS already implementing current and future trends in gamification marketing, you can rely on our platform to deliver engaging games for any industry, product, or service.