How to Gamify Your Marketing Efforts

by Robert Moskowitz on October 4, 2013

Marketers are increasingly recognizing the power of “gamification” to drive consumer behavior in ways that improve business results. Gamification refers to the use of game elements — such as scoring points, accumulating assets, advancing through levels of difficulty, and watching one’s progress on a leaderboard — in your marketing tactics to engage people in your products and your brand.

For example, Nike reportedly increased its Nike+ membership by 40 percent — and its revenues in the running category by 30 percent — after it allowed customers to accumulate points by logging details of their personal progress toward a fitness goal into its Nike+ Running app.

The gamification strategy worked so well that the company followed it up with NikeFuel Missions, which it bills as a “game powered by your everyday movement.”

The system uses a variety of devices ( the NikeFuel band that users wear to monitor their movement, the Nike+ Running app on your smartphone, the Nike+ iPod nano, the Nike+ Sportwatch, the Nike+ Sportband, or the Nike+ Kinect) and appropriate software to track users’ physical activity during real-world physical challenges, such as completing a 5K run in 25 minutes. When they log their results on the website, their in-game character advances accordingly toward rewards, such as badges, and the opportunity to attempt additional missions.

Small businesses don’t need a custom app to get in on the action. Many types of rewards programs have a similar effect. Here are some ways you can use gamification to boost customer engagement with your brand.

1. Give customers a reason to return. Gamification centers around creating reasons for your customers to engage with your business repeatedly. This usually involves giving people opportunities to create or accumulate something of value (even if it’s valuable only within the game), such as points, privileges, or “superpowers.”

Their motivation can be either positive or negative: to obtain or accomplish something good, like watering your crops in Farmville 2, or to prevent a loss or something bad from happening, like allowing your crops to die if you don’t return soon enough to keep them well watered. What your customers will gain or lose in your gamified system will obviously depend on the rules and the environment you establish for them, but whatever it is, their need to return will present you with opportunities to build engagement and offer them special deals.

2. Offer an opportunity to gain status. People like to feel “cool” or “special” and will change their behavior in order to enhance these feelings. Think about VIP airline passengers who get to stand in shorter check-in and security lines and then board first at the gate. (In NikeFuel Missions, advancing through the game allows you to “meet” real star athletes.) In a retail setting, high status customers might obtain priority service, discount pricing, “private shopper” services, or something else that makes them feel privileged.

3. Provide a clear next step or goal to pursue. Gamification is most effective when there’s a clear path for people to follow. Many websites now include a “progress bar” that grows as a user fills out a profile page or perseveres toward a successful checkout. Starbucks does this with its rewards program.

You don’t need high-tech tools to gamify your marketing, either. Something as simple as a paper “frequent buyer” card can also work: You or an employee punches a hole in it every time the customer makes a purchase. After collecting 10 or so hole punches, the customer gets a free item, a discount, or a prize.

4. Make customers part of a community. People love to connect with others and feel as if they’re part of a community. That’s why social media and massively multiplayer online role-playing games are so popular. In business, encouraging prospects and customers to communicate, share ideas, and help one another (like these sites) can create a powerful bond that strengthens people’s engagement with your brand.