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Although Fortune declared gamification “over” in 2014, it clearly wasn’t. Juggernauts like Pokémon Go proved that consumers were still hungry for gamified engagement. It speaks to a human psychological need to explore, progress, and compete.
And brands that believe gamification is dead are overlooking a big opportunity when it comes to mobile: Americans check their phone 80 times per day. With people checking their phones as often as every four minutes, looking for a distraction or an update, companies would be foolish to pass up the opportunity to grab their attention.
Mobile internet use surpasses desktop internet use these days, meaning brands that can capture consumers’ interest on mobile stand a stronger chance of converting them on the device they’re most comfortable with. The key, however, is creating an experience compelling enough — and user-friendly enough — to shift consumers from bypassers to prospects.
Reframe What’s Important to Consumers
Consumers value efficiency and a low price — luxury shopper or not, they want to feel confident they paid a “good” price. While valuing elements like digital coupons and free shipping, many consumers shop online simply for the convenience factor. In fact, Millennials can be swayed to use a specific channel through a free or fast delivery — eschewing one for the other.
Amazon, of course, has played a big role in setting consumer expectations. But as Andrew Blachman, the COO of mobile discovery shopping platform Tophatter, wrote recently for Total Retail: “Too many retailers try to jump on the Amazon bandwagon and end up falling off the back. While it’s true that Amazon has set high consumer expectations around easy payments and fast shipping, it doesn’t have a monopoly on joy. Flip the script and show that a different model can be just as exciting.”
Blachman’s company did just that, adding competitive elements to its platform to gamify its discovery-oriented retail experience. This reframed shoppers’ orientation toward discovery and away from price and convenience, those e-commerce mainstays. He says that as businesses present consumers with different methods of engagement, consumers readily make the shift, accepting the new paradigm and learning its rules. The success enjoyed by brands like T.J. Maxx and Dollar Tree underscores the fact that companies can make the “treasure hunt” their selling point.
That consumer willingness to search for unexpected finds hints at why gamification is successful. Like stores without consistent inventory — where customers must go in with the intent to browse, not quickly buy — mobile shopping platforms can use gamification elements to make online exploration easy and fun, with a direct payoff.
Let Consumers Win … and Pat Themselves On the Back
Gamification successes like the 28 million-strong Nike+ running app appeal to consumers by capitalizing on a known interest (in this case, running) and layering challenges and benefits on top — in exchange for loyalty and lots of data. Nike’s app, for instance, contains a leaderboard that shows users where they stand in comparison to others. When runners break their personal records or hit other milestones, they’re awarded shareable badges and prizes. Rewarding an app user by providing more branded product sounds like a genius move — and it is.
Target offers another great example of gamifying the mobile commerce experience. The retailer had a strong following via its brand app but decided to up its holiday game by engaging kids via a game, knowing their parents would follow suit. The Target Holiday Wish List app helped kids create a wish list for Santa through a 3-D animated game setting; it added a second layer by creating an augmented reality experience for in-store list creation. Target gamified the registry-building experience, and its short-term effort resulted in 75,000 downloads and more than 100,000 wish lists. Its total sales potential: more than $92 million.
There are a few lessons to be gleaned from the Nike and Target experiences. Gamification works best when it contains a social sharing element, which is why mobile is the perfect platform, providing instant access to the social apps consumers use most. The “pics or it didn’t happen” era is alive and well, and users who are able to tout their accomplishments or brag about their rewards are more likely to feel that the experience was worthwhile. This is also an upside for brands — the more people share their experiences, the more likely others are to want a piece of the action.
Of course, mobile gamification must offer rewards of some sort to be won. Just as designing a gamified experience requires knowledge of what an audience finds fun, incentivizing users requires an in-depth understanding of an audience’s motivations. Mobile apps enable brands to issue surveys — even as short as a single question — to gather firsthand data from their target audience members and tailor their efforts accordingly. Do they want discounts? Brand swag? Access to experiences, such as concerts or new menu tastings? Surveys are the key to finding out.
Keep It Simple
The final lesson? Simplicity. Nuanced systems and complicated functionality may be great for corporate software packages, but instant gratification wins the day with mobile. Difficult-to-play games, frustrating instructions, or time-consuming requests will prompt mobile users to disengage rather than play. Keeping the effort required of consumers to a minimum doesn’t dilute the value of a product — it makes consumers more likely to see it in a positive light and take a chance on it, even if they’ve never heard of it before.
Gamification is far from over, and as consumers become more dependent on their smartphones, businesses stand to benefit. By taking advantage of opportunities to pull consumers’ compulsive phone-checking attention their way, brands can build fun ways to keep people interested — and coming back for more.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.