The Gamification of Online Marketing

Social Game Design 2011Have you ever caught yourself spending extra time on Google’s homepage on the days it features interactive Google doodles? Or maybe a friend on Twitter has recently ousted another Foursquare user to become “mayor” of their favorite coffee shop?

Even LinkedIn is encouraging you to keep updating your profile in order to achieve “All-Star” status. Suddenly, every online interaction seems to have virtual rewards and badges awaiting you in the distance. Has the Internet become more competitive? Don’t worry, it’s not just you — we have all entered the age of gamification.

Marketing Sherpa provides a few definitions to help understand gamification:

W. Jeffrey Rice, Senior Research Analyst, MECLABS (the parent company of MarketingSherpa), provided this answer: ‘Commonly gamification is referred to as applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more engaging. However, I like Gabe Zichermann’s definition of placing the focus on solving problems — ‘Gamification is a dynamic and exciting industry that brings together game mechanics and marketing to create engagement and solve problems.”

Gamification as a marketing tactic has taken off in the past few years, and consumers have eagerly flocked to interactive games, even if there are little or no tangible rewards at the finish line.

From a business’ perspective, games can provide a myriad of information regarding consumer tendencies. Websites that used to beg visitors to take a brief survey now can use games or quizzes to glean information.

The New York Times interviewed Kris Duggan, the chief executive of Badgeville, about what a company stands to benefit from gamification:

Game techniques, Mr. Duggan says, prompt consumers to spend more time on company Web sites, contribute more content and share more product information with Facebook and Twitter adherents. One of his clients, he says, uses a gamification program to collect information about 300 actions — like posting comments or sharing with a social network — performed by several million people.

The same article goes even further to suggest that games may be as important as Google Analytics or Facebook Insights when it comes to understanding your consumer:

‘Why not call it a new kind of analytics?’ says Professor Bogost, a founding partner at Persuasive Games, a firm that designs video games for education and activism. ‘Companies could say, ‘Well, we are offering you a new program in which we watch your every move and make decisions about our advertising based on the things we see you do.’’

The types of games used for marketing can run the gamut, and not all games have to be incredibly in-depth in order to be a marketing aid. Small businesses can get in on the fun. Sucré, a sweet boutique in New Orleans, has its own app called “Macaron Madness” in which users make macarons for customers in a specified amount of time. Free apps such as these keep brand awareness high and serve as a reminder that these businesses are tech-savvy and fun.

Kevin Werbach is an associate professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and specializes in how games can help businesses. He recently told The New York Times:

We have a tendency to be dismissive about games, but what we’re learning is that games in general are wonderfully powerful tools that can be applied in all sorts of serious contexts.

Both consumers and companies have enjoyed the effects of gamificiation, and it looks like it’ll be a marketing trend to watch in 2013. Why not have a little fun while getting business done?

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  1. Marianna, congratulations! You just unlocked SixEstate’s “six blog posts” badge!

    (j/k)

    In all seriousness, thanks for bringing up this topic. I wonder if this trend will eventually lose its appeal if it appears “everyone is doing it”? Or, whether our brains are wired to be drawn to incremental feedback rewards (even if, as you mention, the rewards are little to non-existent), and therefore gamification is here to stay? It will be interesting to see how it plays out in coming years.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post!

    • Marianna Barry says:

      Thanks, I’ll wear it with pride!

      I have a feeling it may be sticking around for a while. After all, the “coveted” demographic at the moment is the generation that grew up with Nintendo and PC games like Oregon Trail, that reinforced success (or failure) at every turn.

      I think some sites do gamification well by being subtle, like Mint.com. But I could see a backlash happening in the near future with consumers beginning to crave simplicity rather than virtual rewards.