Gamification: hype cycle victim, or here to stay?

image for gamificationIt’s the hype cycle in action. Two to three years ago, everybody was talking about gamification and big data, which they’re still talking about, but now in the context of analytics. Now we’ve all moved on to AI and machine learning.

In the meantime, has gamification died a slow death of irrelevance, or picked up scale? Well, it’s still being used, and is evolving in better integrated and more innovative ways beyond pure short-term novelty engagement and sales conversion, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What is gamification?

Fundamentally, gamification is combining elements of play and game mechanics to engage and/or convert customers. Or as Steve Sims from Badgeville says, “taking techniques and psychology behind games and using it to get more people to do more stuff more often, for longer periods of time.”

Typically this means online, and often mobile first (app-based).

According to Jeremy Boudinet of agency Ambition in a 2017 article, gamification is made up of three parts: challenge, instruction and reward. The challenge should urge a potential customer to interact and go for the reward. The instruction should simply and clearly explain why and how to participate in the gamification process. Finally, the reward could range from discounts to free product; it just needs to be something of value potential customers.

Mechanics include things like scavenger hunts, referral competitions, loyalty points, leader boards and badges, badges, interactive quizzes, and price bidding and negotiation.

Successful gamification is considered to be easy, winnable (sense of attainability) and trackable.

How it works and can be used

Gamification can be used to recruit new customers, get your existing base to buy more, or simply to interact with your brand more in order to become advocates. It can help your sales people be more productive, or it can boost engagement for your social channel or loyalty program.

Quiz marketing is often used to gamify the product personalisation process, particularly when traffic is new to a retailer and the retailer doesn’t have data on a potential new customer. Customers engage in a fun quiz before entering the online store so that the only products they’re shown are in their size and based on their sense of style. Brands like Fabletics use this tactic with great success. Ideally you let customers have access to see the results of any public polls you run as customers are keen to see where they stand.

Spinner apps eg Shopify’s Spin-A-Sale can be used to offer discounts for various behaviours such as if a customer shows intent to exit your website. These types of mechanics can be used for remarketing as the store visitor needs to enter their email address in order to spin the wheel. Discount codes and amounts can vary and part of the fun for the customer is in not knowing what level of discount they will spin up. WooHoo’s email pop-up does something similar, with the addition of an offer expiration window (eg 15 minutes) to add urgency.

Points and referral programs require customers to exhibit behaviours in order to earn points which can be redeemed for discounts, free merchandise and other gifts. Behaviours can range from purchasing to social media following to new customer referrals.

Who’s using it well?

Victoria’s Secret PINK (USA): The PINK Nation app merges the classic e-commerce experience with fun games and contests. Users of the app get an initial offer just for downloading the app, then they can quick play games where they find items for a chance to win prizes (including trips), download stickers to use in other mobile applications, and create unique looks with the merchandise and then vote on the best ones.

Nike Fuel (USA): Leveraging their target audience’s competitive nature, this program brings together runners, trainers, and athletes. It allows users to post their best times, track and compare progress, and challenge friends and family to increase fitness and meet goals. Rewards include early access to products and events, free shipping, and customized workouts. Nike has access to customer data including which activities they use their products for.

Asos(UK): Enables users to create and then share ‘outfits’ with other online shoppers and compete to see who receives the most ‘follows’. They regularly gamify the online shopping experience with competitions such as fashion bingo, matching celebrities with clothing and Pinterest competitions to win prizes. Flash sales and leaderboards to gain early bird exclusivity to sales are also employed to encourage customers to participate in retail games.

Jack Wills (UK): British fashion retailer incorporates interactive games into its Christmas period. Customers can scan their gift guide calendar each day for a chance to win prizes.

Navo Orbico (Poland): This interesting HR application of gamification won the Gamification Europe Award for our outstanding project in 2017 (it seems the gamification industry in Europe is now big enough to have its own awards). The sales team of a major FMCG distributor was unproductive. A gamification solution was developed which integrated with their CRM. The game involved an adventure where sales team members became 18th century traders who traded with their clients (colonies). Trades resulted in the cities increasing their wealth and health. Sales team traders could gain larger vessels, avatars, unlock boosters, chat and discuss with other traders. Nearly 100 per cent of the sales team signed up for the program, sales increased by 21 per cent, KPIs increased 70 per cent and interactions between staff increased 300 per cent.

And in Australia, last month Boost Juice announced the launch of ‘Find the Fruit’, the sequel to its successful ‘Free the Fruit app’ which saw 329,000+ downloads and 225,000+ prizes given away. Find the Fruit rewards players with 1,000 free Boosts and other vouchers every day during the campaign.

If it’s so fabulous, why did people stop using it?

In short, jumping on bandwagons…assuming everything needed to be gamified (a bit like when QR codes first came out and they were plastered all over everything, without adding any value beyond redirection to a website URL). Poor implementation and a lack of clear objectives. Rewarding the wrong behaviours and not seeing a commercial result. Or trying to put the proverbial lipstick on a pig and try to make a boring task more interesting.

Lessons for implementing gamification: be clear on the objectives and reasons for using it. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Understand the behaviour changes you want to influence and the best mechanics for doing this.

Where to from here?

Gamification is becoming part of introducing larger digital transformation and innovation programs, rather than use only for short term sales promotions:

  • Increasing use in HR functions including content managed employee reward systems (Deloitte already does this)
  • Applications for education recognition systems, including student badges
  • AR and VR applications
  • Blockchain applications and transparency.

Despite the examples above being mostly from Western countries, given the young and mobile first nature of Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries, these geographies are anticipated to lead the development of gamification in retail.

According to a 2017 survey from Boston Retail Partners, almost nine out of 10 (US) retailers (87 per cent) will use gamification methods in the next five years.

Ultimately gamification can be used to motivate a company’s stakeholders across their value chain, not least with their retail customers.

Norrelle Goldring has 20 years’ experience in retail, category, channel and customer strategy, marketing and research, working in and with global retailers, manufacturers and research houses.

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