A Brief Guide To Gamification In Marketing

Have you ever wondered if gamification in marketing is really a fit for your business or brand?

We figured that many marketers have, so we put together a brief guide that shares what goes into the ‘backend’ or approach to gamification, and what are the mechanics that goes into the audience experience.

Let’s get started. 

How marketers can use gamification

Gamification as a concept is not new. In their research, Gamification and Mobile Marketing Effectiveness, the authors Hofacker, Lurie, De Ryte, and Machanda, state that gamification is built on four design elements: (1) story, (2) mechanics, (3) aesthetics and (4) technology:

  • Story adds context to the game and meaning to the experience;
  • Mechanics are the game structure and how success is recognized by reward, incentives, and game levels;
  • Aesthetics is the look and feel of the game;
  • And technology is the medium or format of the game experience. 

Why is this important? First, because the model that is referenced in the paper is from 2008, but also because it gives a framework for talking about gamification. In the Playable gamification platform, the technology is already defined, but the story, mechanics, and aesthetics are left to the builder.

The idea behind behavioural economics is that behind every action is a behaviour. For example, Nudge Theory, a theory made popular by economist Richard Thaler, explains that suggestions and reinforcement can move us towards making good decisions. For example, Wharton Professor Katherine Milkman often gives the example that it’s a good idea to only let yourself watch ‘trashy tv’ while exercising. The idea is to pair two things or activities together to get a desired outcome. 

Gamification uses behavioural economics like nudges, and the outcome can be powerful for marketers. The results can lead to direct sales, much longer engagement times, and increased loyalty or app use.

What do we recommend?

Use gamification throughout the customer journey. Gamification in marketing can be so much more than lead generation or bi-annual campaigns. Create campaigns that are always-on and segmented. And be creative and open-minded with ideas — how can different game concepts help you accomplish your KPIs? 

Learn more about how gamification can be used throughout the customer journey

Using gamification means knowing how to navigate your customer journey. We created this ebook to help you understand how.

Customer Jouney Ebook Gamification

You can also use gamification in marketing to fill in data gaps in your CRM (customer relationship management) system. We’ve seen customers ask for the closest shop location to home address; we’ve seen long registration forms and short ones; and we’ve seen them at the beginning of the game and at the end. Any combination of these three variables can work — it just takes experimenting to see what works best for your business. 

Google’s VP of EMEA, Go To Market, Noah Samuels, and BCG Managing Director & Partner, Shilpa Patel, recommend that businesses can harness the power of first-party data by using innovative ways to capture the data. They explain, “Another way businesses can improve their service to users is through gathering data via new and innovative customer touch points. This first-party data can then be linked with data from other sources to improve customer insights and to enhance customer experience.” Gamification can help with this!

Lastly, gamification can help marketers better target their messages for their different audience segments. But first, it’s important to test different combinations. For example, Jon Cooper, co-founder and CEO of Life.io, explains that companies need to find the right balance with a common game mechanic: rewards. He explains, “What is the right number of points to assign for a given task? What should the value of those points be? Make points too hard to achieve and people are discouraged. Make them too easy and people devalue them.”

That’s just the beginning — marketers can also test registration forms, data, game types, how the game fits into the larger marketing plan or campaign, etc. 

What marketers need to remember is to create ongoing value for their customers. This can be through the creation of effective always-on marketing campaigns using gamification.

What the audience experiences

Now that we’ve looked at the ‘backend’ of gamification, let’s go over the frontend or what the user sees. 

We know that gamification amplifies marketing messages for companies. We’ve seen it through the success of our customers, but there’s also research to back up why gamification works. And it’s about how games influence us as humans. 

From the beginning of time, humans have competed for resources, for survival, and then later, for sport. Nowadays, we don’t have to compete to save our lives, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t still hardwired to want to win. It’s just that our lives don’t depend on it. Therefore, it’s a natural connection that we want to play and brands can offer these positive experiences for their audience.

In addition to this, we know that the average person spends 6 hours and 43 minutes online every day. Given this, how can a business stand out against all of the information their audience sees and processes each day? 

This is what we mean by the ‘brain hack’: that we’re hardwired to want to win, that there’s an opportunity to meet our audience where they’re already spending their time, and that by creating game campaigns, we are helping to make an experience that will make our audience happy.

When we play a game, we experience these four feel-good chemicals. These are defined by Nicole Lazzaro, a game designer, as: 

  • Dopamine— this is linked to striving to achieve
  • Oxytocin — helps us feel empathy and that we are bonded to others
  • Serotonin — helps us feel that we are in a good mood or a bad mood
  • Endorphins — these dictate our flight or fight response; in a game, endorphins help us persevere to win 

In addition to the DOSE chemicals that your audience will experience, they will also come across five game mechanics when they interact with a game powered by Playable. There are five game mechanics that we find make the most business impact for companies — using these will get your customers engaged.

The 5 game mechanics

Game mechanics are just building blocks of the game. At Playable, we focus on five game mechanics that you can be confident will catch and keep the attention of your audience. They are:

  1. Challenge: This includes a game like a difficult quiz or even a complicated puzzle. 
  2. Reward: These are the prizes that the builder determines. They can be large or small, daily or one-off, branded or not. 
  3. Mirroring: An example of mirroring is a personality test, which allows the quiz taker to see how they measure up to others.
  4. Compete: We often talk about Skill games — like the Puzzle, Hit The Target, and Spot The Difference (just to name a few) — and how these ignite a very basic need to compete. The level of difficulty should make sense for your target audience. 
  5. Have fun: We think this one is self-explanatory.

If you are interested in learning more about these 5 game mechanics and how they work, make sure you read our in-depth page about game mechanics in marketing here.

What next?

One way of looking at the strategy of gamification in marketing is considering the target audience, the channels to use, the duration of the campaign or campaigns, the message or the call-to-action, and the creative aspect. 

Gamification in marketing is still emerging and becoming more easily accessible. Gone are the days where agencies created bespoke campaigns for a company; now, businesses can have complete control and build game campaigns when it makes sense. That means that game campaigns can be frequent and respond to real-time events. For example, McDonald’s Denmark created the Burger Election, which coincided with the Danish Parliament election. They were able to launch the game within a few days of the election being announced. The game was a success.

For some businesses, one-off campaigns or short-term campaigns may work better. But what we really recommend is using gamification in marketing for more than just two campaigns a year or only for lead generation. Gamification in marketing can do so much more for marketers. 

View our customer stories and learn more about how gamification in marketing works.