3 lesser-known gamification strategies for marketers

Darren Steele

The growing buzz about gamification can be confusing at best and downright dizzying at worst. For marketers, it takes some effort to wade through the hype and figure out how to extract what really matters.

This category now boasts a number of software tools, while options for strategic guidance remain limited. Gamified marketing campaigns are short-lived without strategy, and an understanding of game mechanics — the psychological hooks that make video games compelling — is the best place to start. The right strategy will take you beyond badges and leaderboards to dozens of alternative game mechanics that await you. These can be combined in different ways to create powerful new experiences that tap into basic motivations.

Here are three examples of game mechanic mash-ups that tackle different strategic issues.

Issue 1: Get them to pay attention

Every few seconds, CRM systems spit out carefully crafted newsletters and promotional emails that will rarely be read. Single-digit open rates are the norm, and even sophisticated segmentation algorithms suffer from a lack of truly compelling content.

To improve your email campaign metrics, consider combining two game mechanics: cascading information theory and feedback.

Cascading information theory is limiting your communication to the minimum amount required as a means to advance the target to the next clear step. In video games, it’s used to draw in players without the need to consult a manual. And it is probably the opposite of your current newsletter. If you want customers or prospects to pay attention to your emails, consider crafting a message with a maximum of 25 characters. The point of that message is to get them to open a 30-second video reveal of the answer to a relevant pain point. Each breadcrumb on the path to engagement provides a nutritional nugget of messaging and education without being overwhelming.

Layer in the game mechanic of feedback by providing a simple dashboard that tracks your target’s progress through each step in a highly visible place. The sights and sounds of feedback drive action. Something as simple as the LinkedIn profile completeness percentage motivates users to add profile information until they achieve 100 percent. Tracking and revealing your target’s activity as they move through simple steps of cascading information has the potential to amplify messaging consumption and end actions.

Issue 2: Get them to tell their friends

At the most basic level, people want to be accepted by peer groups and make meaningful contributions in their sphere of influence. To appeal to this need, consider the combination of two game mechanics: the team of specialists and benevolence. These mechanics introduce an entirely new set of motivations to drive a viral extension of your brand.

The team of specialists is a mechanic where the player is given a chance to hone in on a core area of expertise, typically within a collaborative setting. A company might create a simple online game where customers play among (not against) other customers. Let’s say it’s trivia-based, where customers answer fun questions related to your brand or industry. A large reward is promised to the winning teams, but each of the players is also given one unique skill to make him or her feel special and important to the game. In this case, perhaps player A is the specialist in charge of following social media posts, while player B is the specialist who collects product knowledge. With rotating game questions that clearly apply to one team member over another, each person contributes equally and uniquely.

Depending on the number of players, there could be thousands of simultaneous games occurring, so that each game contains no more players than there are specialized skills. Each player is engaging with the brand and concurrently feeling as though he or she is the master of a certain area of expertise. This mechanic drives continual brand engagement and gives the customer a feeling that he or she is achieving something exclusive. It becomes a natural reaction for players to recruit friends to join and contribute uniquely to their team.

Most people inherently feel satisfaction when given the opportunity to help others. In addition to helping your team with a unique skill set, layer in a system that not only rewards winning teams, but also donates a portion of proceeds to a unifying charitable cause based on the number of people playing. This benevolence game mechanic will drive additional recruitment and provide customers, their friends, and your company with a meaningful way to give back.

Issue 3: Get them to be loyal

How much time will your customers and prospects spend playing the game? Based on the campaign goals, you might set up games that span months (contests) or quick social games that take minutes. A rewards system (think hospitality) is really an indefinite game that consumers play by the millions. Another mash-up example that could span either short- or longer-term campaigns combines the discovery and the micro win game mechanics.

Discovery is the same device that reveals hidden levels and worlds in games, whereby people stumble upon new information and feel a unique sense of pride for having found something that others didn’t. In practice, this might be something like in-store signage that, if noticed, offers a clue to a special promotion. Say it’s a retailer with floor signage that gives subtle clues to hidden discounts on health food products nearby.

Try combining this with the micro win, a mechanic used to provide quick bursts of excitement based on completing small, fast tasks. In the retailer example, the health food brand could give hidden, immediate discounts to customers for deciphering simple clues and purchasing secret-sale products. One week the “secret” product is crackers; the next, it’s cereal. And customers won’t know for sure if they’ve found the sale products until they check out. The cash register and receipt reveal the win in the form of the discount. For each small win, the customer gets a feeling of accomplishment. By combining discovery and the micro win, you’ve suddenly thrilled customers for figuring out the clue and purchasing the “right” product. The anticipation of these seemingly small surprises can encourage greater patronage by tapping into simple psychological underpinnings.

Game mechanics can be applied to marketing campaigns in a number of unique combinations. Backed by solid strategy, companies can try new permutations that go beyond leaderboards and badges and prompt extraordinary behavior rooted in human psychology.

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