Gamification marketing uses story-telling, gameplay and the mechanics of play to grab and maintain attention. Because games appeal to people in a way that adverts don’t, they can help you to bypass banner blindness and reactance. That means you get better value from CPC ads and organic traffic
How To Incorporate Gamification Into Your Digital Marketing
Building games into your website and acquisition strategy gives you a serious advantage. Play enhances user experience, increases engagement and helps you to circumvent customer cynicism. Because of this, gamification is a powerful way to convert more visitors into customers, generating higher revenues from your website.
Definition: Gamification uses game mechanics and rewards to turn everyday experiences into a form of play.
By encouraging some kind of interaction, gamification can increase the impact that your marketing has on consumers. Playability also changes the way your customers think. Psychologists have identified a distinct psychological state called “Gamefulness” associated with play-based interaction. It is a less reactant state of mind, with a greater emphasis on short-term gratification.
“Framing”, Game Mechanics and Rewards
A game usually has three elements that distinguish it from everyday life. Gamification marketing incorporates these elements into an app, advert or product:
- “Framing”: games take place in an artificial environment where different rules apply. Sometimes, this process is as simple as turning a normal activity into a competition. Other times, language, artefacts and even fantasy are used to reframe the activity. This allows the game to meet fundamental psychological needs, such as the desire for self-determination and provides an incentive for someone to complete the game.
- Game Mechanics: most games have their own rules and internal logic. The complexity and coherence of these mechanisms is what determines how much skill is required to play. Games are most satisfying in the long-term when a user can learn to anticipate events succesfully.
- Rewards: feedback systems are what give a game its emotional impact. Positive feedback produces the same chemical responses that real-world success and happiness provide. Because of this, the combination of Rewards and Game Mechanics can make gameplay highly addictive. Behaviourist psychologists such as John Watson, Burrhus Skinner and Ivan Pavlov, demonstrated how powerful the learned connection between cause and effect can be.
Gamification ranges from overt play (“hard gamification”) to deeply embedded (“soft”) gamification. Soft gamification, for example in app design or social media platforms, usually provides more long-term engagement. Hard gamification, such as with spin-to-win lead capture elements, provide larger short-term effects.
- Nike+ (2007-2021) Nike released a branded running app (Nike+) in 2007, allowing users to record their running times and speeds. By combining this app with social media, an element of competition and gameplay was created. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of Nike+ users went from around 500,000 to just over 11,000,000. In 2017, Nike expanded its gamification marketing to include a new kind of augmented reality treasure hunt.
- The Magnum Pleasure Hunt (2011) In this marketing campaign, players worked their way through a trail of chocolate icons, hosted on the websites of affiliate brands (including Samsung). The trail was laid out in the form of an “Epic Story” that mirrored the SuperMario Bros narrative arc (where the main character was tasked with rescuing a princess).
- Verizon Wireless (2012) Verizon implemented a points and rewards system based on how users engaged with their website. By sharing, liking and viewing pages, users received points and were placed on a leaderboard. Around 50% of users engaged with the game environment and people who used Social Login spent 30% longer on the site.
- DuoLingo (2012) The product manager for DuoLingo has spoken publicly about the importance of gamification to the app’s success. It uses a task-based interface and a level-based achievement structure to make it more fun to learn a new language.
The design of this email-capture element, used by WordPress, is cleverly engineered to induce gamefulness. For example, the concepts of “luck” and “luckiness” (mentioned three times) circumvent the intrinsic Need For Certainty that people experience in their everyday lives. This is one aspect of gambling that makes it highly addictive. The feature has been arranged in such a way as to provide a variable and uncertain reward. By introducing chance into the equation, WordPress takes advantage of the Motivating Uncertainty effect.
The “Epic Story” you build around a visitor does not have to be fictional; it just has to highlight the start and end of the user-journey. By turning your visitor into a character whose narrative arc ends with a complete purchase, you can take advantage of the cognitive and emotional effects created by gameplay.
One popular example of this kind of story telling is the tracking app provided by Domino’s Pizza. A customer is able to track their pizza from the moment they order it, turning the delivery process into a kind of game.
CTA buttons already incorporate familiar elements of game mechanics. Hover effects and button animations and sound produce the same psychological rewards as a casino slot machine.
Whether you realise it or not, your website delivers feedback every time a visitor uses it. If you pay attention to the signals you are sending them, this feedback can be turned into a game.
- A visitor completes your sign-up form. They deserve some congratulations, so tell them: “Great job!”
- A customer visits your site twice in one week. Suddenly, a graphic announces that they have received +3 points. From that moment, they will be searching for another dopamine hit somewhere on your site.
Engineering the feedback economy that your site creates does not have to involve points or leader-boards; sometimes it can be as simple as changing the colour of a form field from grey to green. Your customers have been exposed to a vast amount of visual media in which a conventional UX “language” has been established and re-enforced. Because of this, visual signifiers have a significant emotional impact.
If you want to apply gamification to your site, there are certain activities that lend themselves naturally to play:
- Collecting Things: The psychological root of collecting is unclear. Freudian and cognitive interpretations of the behaviour have both been offered, without a consensus emerging as to the cause of it. However, collecting is a common feature of many games and is often used by supermarkets as part of their loyalty programmes.
- Building Things: The Ikea Effect describes the increase in perceived value that comes from building or designing something yourself. A number of websites offer “mass customisation” features that allow visitors to contribute to the design of their purchase.
- Solving Puzzles: Magnum’s trail of chocolate bonbons is an example of how puzzles can be used to gamify a marketing campaign. As the work of Harry Harlow and Edward Deci demonstrates, puzzle-solving is motivated by a strong intrinsic drive.
- Competing: Explicit competition, in the form of leader boards, is likely to have a negative effect on your visitors. However, by highlighting scarcity within your website, through notifications or dynamic text, will trigger a competitive response. Website notifications are an easy way to incorporate and enhance game elements within your site.
It is important to bear in mind that there is a difference between long-term engagement and short-term interactions. One of the weaknesses of a marketing strategy built around hard gamification is that games are disposable. That’s why some of the most successful gamification campaigns have been associated with short-term promotions and consumable products.
However, gameplay provides a unique form of interaction that marketers can’t afford to ignore. In an industry that competes for consumer attention, new forms of communication are one way to access an increasingly scarce resource.