The Rules To Play By: Gamification in marketing

Don't be deterred by hype. Gamification can engage consumers in fun, rewarding ways

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of Marketing

Don’t be deterred by hype. Gamification can engage consumers in fun, rewarding ways

Any review of the most memorable marketing efforts of 2012 is likely to include FuelBand for Nike+ and Pain Squad for Toronto’s Hospital For Sick Children. There’s an important connection between the two.

Nike fans could put the FuelBand on their wrist and the built-in accelerometer tracks daily athletic activities from running and walking to dancing and shooting hoops. The band syncs with an application that allows users to set daily goals, receive achievements and rewards based on progress and share/compare their accomplishments with friends.

Pain Squad encourages kids battling cancer to fill out pain reports. Built around the idea of being a member of a crime-fighting outfit, the app rewards users for completing their “pain reporting mission,” and presents them with different police-based ranks and badges.

Both FuelBand and Pain Squad aim to actually change behaviours by providing small rewards for completing tasks. For marketers, “gamification” became increasingly en vogue in 2012 and advocates believe it has enormous potentional in terms of consumer engagement.

While influencing consumer behaviour through rewards and challenges has been around for a long time, the practice has taken on new meaning (like just about all parts of marketing) in the high-speed mobile era.

With gamification the turning point might well have been explosive popularity of Foursquare in late 2009 and early 2010. The location-based app makes a game of going places, rewarding people with special badges and even bestowing the entirely symbollic (though once highly coveted) honorific of “Mayor.”

Retailers were quick to partner with Foursquare, leveraging the app to offer users incentives for checking in to their stores, with special discounts on products and the like as the proverbial carrot.

Brands across categories have increasingly, in some cases with much success, begun developing their own apps, applying game elements to spur adoption, often offering users not just rewards and practical utility as an incentive for engagement.

A quick point of clarity: gamification isn’t at all about making video games—a common misconception and a very different market for brands looking to reach consumers (see “Video Game Marketing 2.0” pg. 45)—but rather applying game mechanics to non-game environments to motivate and/or change behaviors.

The trend towards gamification has become something of a snowball rolling downhill thanks to successes like Nike+ FuelBand and “Pain Squad.” But as is so often the case with any trend that catches fire, people can become overly fixated on getting into the game, so to speak, and forget the importance of doing so in the right way.

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