The Power of Play: Gamification Changes Customer Engagement

What is it about games that engage and delight us? The competitive drive? The sheer entertainment? From our first game of “I Spy” or tic-tac-toe, we loved the challenge and rewards of gaming. Tapping this nearly universal human competitiveness and our addiction to fun can drive high levels of marketing engagement, especially when games are informed by marketing data and combined with helpful purpose that will increase loyalty and sales.

Marketing has long been about arresting attention by creating a fun distraction. One way to grab attention, empower social sharing and help people have fun is to “gamify” your marketing.

Gamification — the practice of applying game mechanics to non-game environments to motivate people and change behavior — has been tested seriously by marketers since 2011, and is now mainstream. “Gamification aims to inspire deeper, more engaged relationships and to change behavior, but it needs to be implemented thoughtfully,” says Brian Burke, research VP at Gartner in this press release. “Successful and sustainable gamification can convert customers into fans, turn work into fun, or make learning a joy.”

Gartner and other vendors emphasize the need to motivate, engage and reward audiences to play. In the course of that play — be it customers or employee teams — people will discover new products, learn about their own interests and skills, and become ambassadors for the game (and hopefully, the brand that makes it happen).

The folks at M2 Research found that effective gamification can increase marketing exposure and engagement by 100 to 150 percent. They recommend elements of a great game include: Strategy (The Play Proposition), Creativity (The Mechanics of Play), Communication, Reward, and Virality (Share-ability).

An early decision that marketers must make for a true game is the player relationship — competitive or collaborative. Or, if your brand allows it, perhaps neither — as demonstrated by this great “Pizza Hero” mobile app feature from Domino’s Pizza. It’s inspired by gaming, but not forced into a construct. It’s simple and useful: Stuck for ideas on the best flavor combo? The pizza slot machine feature allows you to just shake your smartphone and the app will pick the toppings.

Before you leap headfirst into the mobile app phantasmagoria, note that mobile analytics firm Localytics has found that 26 percent of apps are only used once after being downloaded. The Domino’s portfolio of mobile apps is one that combines brand, business and the customer experience – the essential elements for a big digital win.

As with any customer engagement strategy, it’s all about context. Marketers must always start with a rich understanding of customers’ needs, wants and expectations of the brand, across all channels. I don’t know that you can start out thinking, “We need a mobile app game.” Start out thinking about customer engagement — what will motivate people to engage with the brand and solution? What content will provide utility, guidance and assistance to resolve some real challenge? When the answer is, “Play a fun game to learn more” or “Interact with other customers to increase loyalty,” then the answer might be a new gamified mobile app. The crux is providing an experience that delights.

As integrated and data-driven marketers, we have the opportunity to gamify aspects of other channels, even if a standalone game does not make sense. Gaming can reshape how people learn about your products and solutions, and engage them in dense information that is important to learn. Even the ubiquitous infographic uses gaming philosophy – engagement happens when the user is forced to seek and find the facts, and become interactive with the content.

Games do not have to be an app. Interactive elements with gaming features can work well in e-commerce when there is already brand loyalty. Clothing company Moosejaw gamified the way it engages loyal customers by offering items for low prices that went up throughout the day, creating a sense of urgency for consumers to buy. It also included ways for consumers to score better deals by inviting friends and posting socially. The company reports that when the tool was launched, in less than 15 minutes, Quikly sold more than 500 $10 Moosejaw gift cards. Consumers then took those $10 gift cards and, on average, made purchases of $66, a 560 percent return on investment.

Sony uses an interactive app to onboard new employees. While not a game with rewards and skill levels, it uses eye-catching and responsive elements to make what typically feels like a library research project into an engaging and cool experience. That is a nice impression to make on new employees!

Motivating sales teams is also a great opportunity for gamification. What profession has more natural competitiveness than sales? Tap that energy, and the thirst for reward and recognition, by creating training apps or interactive methods for capturing sales updates. Reward salespeople who demonstrate a sense of mastery, autonomy and purpose with the gamified tools. Soon, they will want to be putting their name on the leaderboard.

Give your marketing experiences meaning, and your customers will have the motivation to engage. If the games are relevant and fun, and the players are challenged at different skills levels, they will build sustained momentum. As you can see from Domino’s and Moosejaw, gaming can be less about chance and reward levels and more about sales, too.

How are you using integrated data to get the game on for your marketing? Reply in the comments below.

Author: Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller leads the IMM/integrated marketing management practice for brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight ( She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industrywide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas are most welcome at or @stephanieSAM.

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