Gamification – what is it and why is it important?

Is Pleasure from “Gamification” a new dimension for marketing?

I’ve heard the word “gamification” many times this year; it’s a concept that is undoubtedly getting more and more attention within marketing. Admittedly, I’ve previously felt that this could be just another fad, relevant in some markets, that gamification isn’t relevant to most companies.

My perspective until now was that gamification is simply about badges and points, great for start-ups and hot new tech companies like, Farmville, Zynga, Foursquare but not useful for everyday marketers. Having spotted some information around the demographics of social gamers this week, I was really surprised. With a little more research what appears is a whole new world with an awful lot of opportunity for the right brands.

According to research presented from Social Games Observer: “The study confirms the strong appeal that social games have to females, as evidenced by the remarkably balanced gender distribution of social gamers. In contrast to box games, where the vast majority of players are male, social games seem to appeal to males and females alike“.

What is Gamification?

The proponents of gamification for marketing, people like Gabe Zicherman (he runs the Gamification Summit), talk about how games are already embedded within society, they’re traditional a social tool (or social object), and they always have been.

Gamification is the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage an audience and solve problems” Gabe Zicherman

So to be clear, gamification isn’t games, it’s applying game based thinking to your brand, business or organisation. Game play itself stimulates the human brain (releasing dopamine) and now proven mechanics from gaming can be brought into marketing and especially mobile marketing. His argument is that games are about pleasure, and that pleasure is the new marketing, one dimension that he argues is extremely powerful.

As a proponent of social media and content marketing, and the creation of social objects for driving social media marketing, O already appreciate that people need social objects to fuel interaction. As with other content types, games provide another means to interact, and arguably a much more powerful one since they entertain and reward too. There are various dimensions to game play:

  • creative and concept
  • game mechanics to encourage play (badges, points, leader-boards, levels, interactions)
  • game dynamics can be altered to reward and even penalise
  • game currencies provide the motivation – this can be financial, status, need for doing good, pleasure and influence

The time is now

With the importance of tapping into the social graph, Zicherman argues that games and social are combining to facilitate game based thinking in marketing, he predicts that we’re going to see a lot more mechanics coming into these interactions and turning up in what we might currently think as strange places, from losing weight, taking out insurance to doing taxes, he refers to this as ‘non-fiction gaming’ with friends, colleagues and of course people that you don’t even know. He also suggests that over a third of all social media spending by 2015 ($1Bn) is expected to be in the space of gamification!

It’s not so new for marketers either, loyalty programmes (a way to gain consumer preference over similar products) are game orientated through points collection. Think Green Stamps and Air Miles as pre-cursors to gamification. The pioneers of loyalty realised that it’s status that drives loyalty, redemption is not the main driver. Foursquare and Farmville build on this, you can’t redeem anything in the real world, only money goes in! Loyalty is becoming totally virtual and increasingly game based. Groupon, the fastest growing company of all-time, uses simple game mechanics too.

More than badges and points

Although badges and points feature they’re not actually the point, they’re just tools that build a persons reputation within a space, Harvard Business Review put this down to progress, people value status and attention as well as feeling that they’re progressing.

Other commentators, such as Sebastian Deterding, suggest that gamification can run much, much deeper, into teaching skills, motivating people, offering recognition and building loyalty, in the workspace and in everyday life as much as with consumers. Applying game mechanics to business software, too. Daniel Debow, the CEO of Rypple an enterprise gamification company suggests that any task based on a process could incorporate an aspect of gaming to make it more engaging and better align it with the way most of us are hard-wired; we respond well to games. More on that here.

A missed opportunity?

Certainly with internet usage increasing via smartphones and people inevitably seeking new ways to pass time through smartphones, it makes sense that brands need to be relevant and accessible in that space.

According to Forrester “Eighty-four percent of US interactive marketers have no plans to use games in their 2011 marketing strategies, making social gaming a large, untapped opportunity for marketers. Marketers should start to take note from the marketers who are investing and reaping rewards as social games offer a diverse audience whose size rivals that of network TV audiences. By balancing brand interaction with rewards like game currency, social gaming provides myriad value-exchange marketing options to marketers that place their brands in front of engaged consumers. Forrester recommends that B2C brands targeting Gen Xers and Yers find games contextually relevant to your audience, outline your objectives, identify key metrics, and start to play!

You could argue that there are B2C brands that have fun as a part of their DNA, it’s easy for them but not me or my organisation. Yet the experts tell us that non-fiction gaming is here, we can bring a new part of your brand to life.

Getting started…

Be sure that gamification is something that can work for you – as with every area of marketing keep asking “why”, will your audience care about the reward you’re planning.

If gamification is your strategy, what next? Well, there’s a great post here from Mashable on this that I can’t better so I’ve summarised below:

  1. Have an objective. Don’t fall into the “app-trap” :-) focus on why you’re doing it! Is this for reach, to engage or get customers to come back and refer, align to business goals
  2. Engineer the path. Aligning the experience with marketing you can treat the process as a conventional marketing funnel. Identify the outcomes that you want from participants and their relative value. Then identify the game dynamics (strategies) and mechanics (tactics) — to engineer a path toward the business goal.
  3. Rewards. Incentives must mean something – game mechanics are just a means to an end. A number of companies like BunchBall, Badgeville and Gamify, have made implementing game mechanics as easy as customizing a WordPress site. You can customise these to some extent via API’s so if you only need points, levels and leader boards then it’s considered pretty straight forward.
  4. Holistic view. Keep focus on where the game-play sits in the wider marketing strategy and don’t let the game undermine or conflict with the product, service or business objective
  5. Make it fun. Ensure that you can appeal to needs and desires of the audience (entertainment or learning, for example) and not just what you want to get out of it (leads and sales, for example). The intersection between the two needs to inform your big idea for the game concept.

What do you think – is gamification a fad or does it have a huge future for marketing across a range of companies?

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