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CW Bulletin

CW Bulletin is the e-newsletter supplement to CW magazine. Sent each month to all members, every issue of CW Bulletin presents articles, case studies and additional resources on timely topics in communication.

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Can Gamification Repair Your Sputtering Marketing Tactics?

by Darren Steele

Gamification is one of those concepts that is usually only partially understood. And with so many definitions floating around, it can be tricky for marketers to take their first gamified steps.

So let’s break it down with an ill-advised automobile analogy. Here are three steps to help you gamify your first marketing campaign.

Step one: Look under the hood
You play games. I’m almost sure of it. Even if you’re not counting kills on Xbox LIVE, odds are you have an app or two on your phone, watch game shows or roll the dice on a board game once in a while. You know what a game is, but do you know what makes a game fun?

There are dozens of psychological hooks embedded in games known as “game mechanics.” These can be extracted from games and applied to other, traditionally non-game activities. For example, doing the dishes is an arguably tiresome chore. However, hang a countdown timer above the sink and the activity is transformed. Now, you’re racing against the clock. Apply that same countdown timer to a marketing survey or product demonstration to turn a mundane marketing task into something with an intrinsic reward.

Think about the games you play. Then go deeper and deconstruct what makes them fun. As you unearth game mechanics like collecting bonuses and feedback, you hold in your hands the raw materials for a gamified marketing campaign.

Step two: Find the right mechanic

Unless you want to go it alone, there are three options to consider that will help you apply gamification to your marketing strategy.

First, you could choose to hire a game studio to build a simple game and stick your organization’s branding on it. This can be effective for brand awareness-building, but be wary. Roughly 70 percent of games fail in the marketplace. It’s tough to make a great game, and with an abundance of free, quality games available, the lure of free play is not always enough to get folks to spend time with your logo in their periphery. For example, “Ice Road Showdown,” a racing game for The History Channel’s show Ice Road Truckers, lets you use your keypad to race a truck across a track of ice; however, with all of the free racing games in the marketplace, it could be challenging for The History Channel to derive the game’s ROI.

Option two is to rent a gamification engine from a software company. There are several of these that specialize in bolting on badges and leaderboards to your existing web browser experience. This works especially well for entertainment brands since the content is already soughtafter (the USA Network’s Club Psych microsite is a good example). However, not every target audience is attracted to badges and leaderboards. Foursquare has built a business off of giving badges to users for performing certain tasks, but this approach doesn’t fit every business need.

The third choice is to build a custom gamification campaign with an agency. The best agencies will take all the components of great marketing and splice them together with the right mix of game mechanics for your target audience. There are dozens of game mechanics and marketing vehicles in addition to those offered by the engines in option two; for example, you could replace that 20-field sign-up form on your website with an entertaining interactive video quiz. This will turn a barrier into a benefit that allows you to learn more about your target market and reward them for sharing with you. Just remember that custom solutions often take more time and money to implement.

Step three: Warm up the engine
Once you understand the concept of game mechanics and select your ideal partner, my recommendation is to start small and move fast.

Imagine your ideal gamified solution, then ask yourself “How could I do this in half the time with half the cost?” The reason is simple. Great games are extremely complex systems of design, physics, economics and content. The best game designers budget time to test their game among a small group before launching, to learn from their experiences. Game studios typically do a friends and family beta test, then expand to invitation-only, and then a public beta test.

This controlled testing allows game designers to learn how to better balance and debug a game. And in the end, it helps ensure the game is genuinely fun. To do this right, be prepared to hear some tough reviews. You want more than just click-through and open numbers; you want candid feedback.

Marketers who do a lean, staged rollout of a gamified experience with simple surveys or more robust feedback systems can ensure the experience is clear, fun, and delivers against business objectives.

So slip into those coveralls—it’s time to rebuild that old marketing machine of yours using a new set of tools: a solid understanding of gamification fundamentals, a wise partner choice and a speedy delivery to market with embedded feedback loops. With any luck you’ll create something unexpected that adds some serious horsepower to your marketing value and results.


Darren Steele is the principal and strategic director of Mindspace, and co-author of the gamification book, I’ll Eat This Cricket for a Cricket Badge. Darren can be reached at www.linkedin/in/darrensteele or darren@mindspace.net.