Thorsten Nolte
Mar 28, 2014

Gamification, not gaming

Even simple reward mechanisms can tap into the psychological rewards that make games so addictive.

Thorsten Nolte
Thorsten Nolte

Gamification is yet another trendy marketing topic of the moment (all aboard the bandwagon!). But do most marketers really know what it is? Many people think it is to do with gaming, but it has virtually nothing to do with gaming. Gamification is about activating the principles and mechanics that underlie gaming. It is all about taking engagement of your consumer to the next level, and this can be translated to any brand and any medium.

In its simplest term gamification is asking a consumer to do something and then rewarding them for that action. It is especially focused on problem solving, which is why it’s not just effective in B2C marketing but also used in B2B marketing and internal company problem-solving exercises or team bonding days or with sales teams.

Gamification taps into the psychological need for appreciation and reward. That feeling you get when you have achieved something. Everything from a well done message to a steady increase in seniority for posts falls into the category.

TripAdvisor, for example, uses gamificaiton extremely well. The more times you post. the more 'well done’s', 'thank you’s' and increases in your status occur. You get a warm feeling all over when you become a Top Contributor, and they also add to your profile how many views and helpful votes you received.

LinkedIn also does it very well both in groups and in sharing content/adding connections. You become an influencer and a Top Contributor and have your photo displayed on the top of the group for everyone to see. Even elements like how many connections, how many people in your network, how many people have read your post, how many have shared, liked and how many people have viewed your profile compared to a week ago are all simple gamification elements that reap great rewards for the platform and leave the participant with a warm and fuzzy feeling and importantly leaving him or her wanting more.

Of course neither of these gamification strategies costs a lot of money. It’s all about emotion and to make the user feel appreciated by the company and their peers. Some companies go to the next step and reward with virtual badges/symbols/tokens with ever increasing complexity. Some offline brands reward behaviour with physical goods and services.

Loyalty programmes have been using gamification for decades and yet only now is it recognised as such. Singapore Airline’s Kris Flyer programme, for example, promotes flying and getting a reward in miles. Then if you fly enough you then become Silver Kris Flyer member and then a Gold Kris Flyer member and then an Elite PPS Member.

Each category gives you more and more benefits from exclusive lounges to upgrades and services. PPS marks you out as an experienced, high flyer (literally and metaphorically) and lets everyone know that. It’s all just gamification by any other name.

Gamification is also a powerful technique when it comes to on-boarding and persuading customers to finish signing up or purchasing or finalising a process. There are great examples of techniques that increasing the volume of people who finish watching a training video and increase the conversion of signup steps merely by using gamification to persuade and remind them why they were interested in the product to start off with. It reminds them what percentage they have done and what the next reward will be for reading or watching the next step. The fear of missing out is often used to encourage people to move to the next step and then reward is used once they have taken that next step.

Ironically the gaming industry did get this many years ago. If you think about any game from Space Invaders to Super Mario to Candy Crush to Angry Birds, think about how easy the first stages are compared to the latter ones. We can see how users get hooked, think they can’t live without the game and become addicted, social elements such as inviting friends and displaying scores among others makes it even more powerful and profitable.

So what is the psychology of gamification? Hunting, gathering, socialising, finding patterns which then taps into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physical, security, love and belonging, esteem, self-actualisation.

So how can you gamify your next marketing plan?

  1. Show recognition to those who participate whether it’s a completed profile, a post, inviting a firend or some other action being completed
  2. Congratulations message every time they complete a core action
  3. Extra benefits for extra personal information
  4. Customisation of products and features, unlocking benefits no one else can get
  5. Points awards for continuing to do things more or doing more different things
  6. Emails updating customers on their progress with visuals

Finally and importantly, keep it simple. Gamification is consistently overcomplicated which leads to misunderstanding and poor results.

In reality it’s not rocket science it’s just human nature.

Thorsten Nolte is CEO and founder of Upfront.


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