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In an effort to boost online engagement with both customers and prospects, brands are constantly looking for the next big thing. And right now gamification is at the top of the list of next big things.
Why marketing is borrowing from the world of video games
From a very literal perspective, gamification is the use of games, prizes and competitions to boost online engagement. For some brands, gamification simply means partnering on fun casual games for mobile phones or creating fun prize competitions. In many ways, this is the modern digital equivalent of putting a fun toy inside a cereal box – it’s merely a fun game, and nothing more.
However, it’s far more instructive to think of gamification in terms of new customer experiences that are made possible by digital media platforms. In many cases, these customer experiences are informed by video games. The logic is simple: if an online video game is addictive, a customer experience that resembles a video game must be addictive as well.
Badges and levels
The easiest way to think about gamification experiences is by thinking in terms of badges and levels. The first social media company that did this very well was New York-based Foursquare, which helped to create the whole gamification trend. By checking in repeatedly to a certain location, you could gain new experience badges. And if you checked into a location more than anyone else, you became “mayor” of that location.
Since then, this idea of “badge value” has been extended in many different ways, and especially via customer loyalty programs. In some cases, badges earned online can be used to improve one’s standing in an offline customer loyalty program (e.g. moving from Silver to Gold status). It’s a recognition of the fact that there are more ways to show loyalty to a company than simply making a lot of expensive purchases – becoming a champion online reviewer of products can count for a lot, too.
Interactive experiences that resemble video games
Part of what makes video games so addictive is the fact that every time you play the game, there’s a new outcome. There’s a sense of randomness that’s very addictive. And now brands are starting to pick up on this facet of video games by creating new types of customer experiences based on this insight.
For example, Domino’s has created new app functionality for people using their mobile phones to order pizza. If you don’t know what type of toppings you’d like on your pizza, you can just shake your phone, and the Domino’s app will select some random toppings for you.
And Netflix has started to create TV shows for kids that are similar to the “choose your own adventure” stories that were popular a generation ago. According to Netflix, the idea for these interactive shows was the insight that kids were used to playing video games on tablets, and wanted to be able to control the narrative of TV shows in the same way. So get ready for the next generation of interactive video experiences.
The ability to “unlock” bonuses and rewards
In any video game, the goal is to get to the next level by accomplishing a certain number of tasks or racking up a certain number of points. When you do so, you pick up rewards and bonuses. You might get a new title or a new rank as well.
And now brands are creating the same types of experiences. Even something as simple as asking customers to mention a brand on social media can be “gamified.” All you have to do is provide bonuses and rewards for people who can refer the most people within a certain time period. This takes on the quality of a video game, in which you are competing with other players to get prizes or bonuses.
With each new social media platform or channel, there are new ways to use gamification. After the breakout success of Pokemon GO in summer 2016, for example, brands began to explore ways to use augmented reality (AR) as a way to build online engagement.
And that pattern will only continue, especially given the popularity of video games and various forms of casual gaming in pop culture today. From that perspective, gamification is not a trend or a fad – it’s a way to tap into the cultural zeitgeist.