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Benefits and Pitfalls of Gamification for Consumer Marketing

Written By: Gabriel Gheorghiu
Published On: June 14 2012

What Is Gamification?

In a nutshell, gamification applies concepts used in the design of computer and video games to business, in order to attract and retain people. These techniques can be applied both inside the company (e.g., to facilitate employee collaboration or to encourage them to use software solutions in their daily tasks) or outside (e.g., for customer-facing activities such as sales, marketing, and customer service).

In this article, I describe how gaming techniques can be used for customer-facing activities. Some forms of gamification have been used for years, such as online communities that recognize and reward their most active users with titles or other tokens of appreciation (points, stars, etc.). Some more recent techniques aim to make the user experience fun, so that users spend more time on a Web site where they are exposed to advertisements.

 

Why Are Companies Experimenting with Gamification?

The goal of gamification is “engagement,” just like for gaming, where the idea is to make people want to play more games and encourage them to do it more often. By engaging prospects and making them come to your Web site or join your online communities, you are more likely to turn them into loyal customers.

As for existing customers, the mistake many companies make is to take them for granted and stop engaging them, as they are already buying their products or services. In essence, they only want to focus on turning prospects into customers. But by using gamification, you can continue engaging existing customers and renewing their interest in your products and services, which will help make them more likely to keep buying from you—again and again.

Gamification techniques also aim to engage influencers, which are experts, journalists, analysts, etc., which may never buy your products or services, but may have an impact on your reputation as a company, thus indirectly affecting sales. Engagement will provide influencers with the information they need to accurately talk or write about your products or services—when that happens, their followers or readers will want to know more about you products and services.

But any type of engagement would not be effective if the quality of your offerings is poor—gamification cannot and should not be used to cover your weaknesses, but to highlight your strengths as a company.

 

Benefits of Gamification

With the tremendous success of social media and the disinterest of Generation Y in static information from Web sites or press releases, engagement is key to keeping prospects and customers interested in your offering. Using gamification, you can make engagement “stickier” than traditional marketing campaigns. People will come back for more because gamification makes their interactions with you fun and challenging—and therefore appealing and attractive.

Another advantage of gamification is that it affords the opportunity to measure the results of your engagement efforts. You can see who spent how much time online or which are the users that interacted the most with other members of the community. This information is not only used to reward participants, but also to analyze the effectiveness of your gamification initiative.

Gamification also allows you to have more control of what’s being discussed about you, not through censorship, but through interactions, as you can not only readily respond to negative feedback and share positive messages, but also encourage other users to contribute. Loyal and happy customers, influencers and, in fact, anyone that finds interacting with you attractive, will surely help you build a good reputation, as well as address issues that may affect your image. Happy users will also spend some of their time providing feedback and even new ideas on how to improve your offering.

Finally, gamification can be used to educate customers, which will make them better understand your offering and how it’s different from similar products or services. For instance, we all know that electric cars are good for the environment, but if you create a funny and interactive game explaining to people why this is important, they are more likely to trust you, as, for one thing, you took the time to do more than just claim to do what everyone in your market is already doing.

 

Pitfalls of Gamification

But gamification can have its pitfalls, which can be caused by a misunderstanding of its scope and a superficial implementation of its principles. This may result in initiatives that only you may find fun and engaging—your customers won’t. In order to avoid that, make sure to avoid the following mistakes.

  • Turning all or most interactions into a game will capture the full attention of your users, and they will ignore everything else. People having fun when visiting your Web site or joining online communities is only the first in a series of steps that is needed to run a successful gamification initiative. They also need to get to know your company and get to be interested in its offering.
  • Gamifying the wrong thing, in a wrong way, or at the wrong time may result in your gamification initiative not resonating with your users. It could even fail or backfire altogether. A good example of this is the Qantas Twitter competition, which was launched soon after the company faced fierce criticism regarding the way it dealt with interruptions caused by unhappy unions.
  • Keep in mind that gamification attracts people who are also using social media a lot, so if you fail and disappoint them, they’ll surely share their negative feedback online and your image may end up being damaged. To avoid this, make sure that not only the employees responsible for gamification are prepared and motivated, but also your claims can be supported by facts and customer testimonials.

 

Conclusion: Make Sure to Tie Your Gamification Initiative to Your Sales and Marketing Strategy

It is important to understand not only what gamification is and how it works, but also that it must be aligned with your overall strategy to engage and attract customers. And just like any valid strategy, you need to set clear objectives up front and design your gamification program to meet them.

Furthermore, you gamification objectives should be aligned with your business objectives, which is not always easy to do. For instance, selling more or having more customers is only a good thing if you can manage it properly. I recently heard a story of a gym that created some kind of gamification exercise to get people to come on premise and make use their memberships. It worked so well—that members started using the facility so frequently that many had to wait for machines and other gym offerings to become available. The untoward end result was that many customers ended up being frustrated. The gym realized, after the fact, that what it actually wanted was for customers to pay their signup fees but use the facilities rather infrequently.

So, if you haven’t already, start with defining your business objectives and how you plan to achieve them. Then come up an overall company strategy to create and execute business processes that will involve employees, partners, and customers. Gamification should only be considered after you have clearly defined business objectives and implemented business processes to achieve them.

Some of the work you’ve done to establish business objectives and implement business process will help you determine whether gamification is a good idea for your company. For instance, you should have a pretty good idea of your customer demographics—their their location, age, education, etc.,—which can help you decipher whether they would be responsive to gamification. Also, when creating and implementing business process, you will understand which employee in your company is more likely to help with a gamification initiative.

In conclusion, a gamification initiative will be successful when aligned with not only your company’s objectives and business processes, but also other initiatives for acquiring and maintaining customers.

 
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