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Gamification: A winning strategy for an increasingly gamified world :by Scott Simpson

Why gamification is good? What is the potential downside? And, most importantly, how can you apply gamification to win in business?

Gamification is the use of design techniques, thinking and mechanics for games in non-traditional gaming scenarios with the intent to elicit desired behaviour and engage with target audiences in a meaningful way.  The concept of gamification can be applied in various forms, to influence employee performance, help with innovation management and improve training processes, with the goal being to create adaptive marketing applications to build customer engagement.

In essence, the process of gamification turns the target audience (i.e. users, prospects, customers, brand loyalist, etc.) into “gamers”. Gamification transforms not-so-exciting real-world activities into experiences that are game-like to drive beneficial behaviour and repeat engagement. Though the term may seem all the rage lately, the concepts have been around for a long time. It is the technique of learning and modelling behaviour through play. Education and training programs frequently use games to teach and promote higher concepts that are beyond the rules of the game itself such as leadership and teamwork. When applied successfully, businesses are training and eliciting desired behaviours in their customers.

Airline loyalty programs and points for purchase are classic examples of gamification; concepts packaged as loyalty/reward programs incorporating their own type of “leaderboards” to drive user engagement and desire for progression within the system. The main attraction for most travelers who belong to airline loyalty programs is free flights, but not far behind are the “status” tiers within it. For points systems, the driver is rewarded for purchases and the build up to cashing out for discounts or “free” products. As an example, Air Canada has three status tiers: Prestige, Elite and Super Elite. Each of these status tiers has their own special perks that reward the most frequent of fliers, and they do not necessarily cost Air Canada more money. As you gain miles by flying, you advance in status tiers and receive additional benefits as you move up from tier to tier. These status tiers are a form of a gaming “leaderboard” and belonging to a higher tier brings status as well as non-monetary rewards, such as boarding the plane in priority sequence or having first access to seating choices. The value the frequent traveler puts on such perks is large with many citing them as a primary motivator for airline loyalty, even though the hard cost to Air Canada is minimal.

As much as gamification is a bit of a buzzword right now, it is not an easy solution to implement properly. The programs instituted to drive behaviour need to make sense, provide true benefit to users and be crafted to tap into proper motivators. While the research analyst firm, Gartner, sees a huge uptake in gamification applications, it also ultimately predicts that 80% of them will fail.  Therefore, gamification is not something to be taken lightly.  These predicted failures are primarily due to the imperfect design and implementation of the programs. Just slapping a points card onto a transaction does not drive behaviour for the majority of consumers.

For a successful gamification result, businesses need to understand some of the deeper principles of loyalty, motivators and game mechanics; it is not just a matter of adding badges, loyalty points, check-ins or leaderboards. Proper implementation of a gamification system or the gamification of a product requires insightful analysis of all of the factors associated with the desired result. The end goal is to engage the user and entice them to want to use a product or service more regularly beyond simple cost savings. If not achieved, users will just move from business to business based on price alone.

A good example for a successful gamification opportunity is in energy conservation. Saving energy is ingrained in virtually every consumer as being a good thing – for themselves, the environment and the pocketbook – but ads telling you to save power are lost in the noise. Instituting a simple gamification program to challenge consumers to be the “best on the block” for saving power and then allowing users to track their progress, particularly against peer groups or neighbours, is both a challenge and rewarding. Allowing for brags on social media that the user is at the top of the leaderboard and implementing it in a neighbourhood (home vs. home), or with like-minded businesses (or school vs. school), or expand it to have sister cities compete (town vs. town) for bragging rights is a very compelling concept to build into an application. Tapping into socially-conscious behaviour results in status, prestige and is a real driver for consumers. The fact that this comes with a reduction in an energy bill makes it even more concrete.

The key to successful gamification (as it is with any application or program) is to understand the customer and how they act (and can act) in the system. It’s not all about leaderboards and rewards—users/players need to feel immersed and to feel rewarded.

The gamification opportunity is large with many proven success cases. It is a great way to look at your product and service offerings in a whole new light. The success challenge of proper implementation is to not rely on the obvious, but to take the time and effort to design something that the user really needs, that will drive desired behaviour and deepen their loyalty. Like anything with business, it’s not supposed to be trivial or easy– the key to success is to be more thoughtful, smarter and better than the other guy.

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