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You have undoubtedly heard the term gamification by now. In fact, you have probably participated in countless forms of gamification knowingly and unknowingly. Have you ever collected frequent flyer miles, participated in a casino’s loyalty program to get a free buffet dinner, or been tempted by Expedia’s “124 others are viewing this hotel right now” popup? Those are all examples of businesses using gamification to influence your purchase or participation decisions.

According to industry analysts at Gartner, “By 2015, 40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations." And taking a look at Google Trends volume of search traffic for “gamification,” it’s clear that this new form of persuasive marketing isn’t going anywhere. Check out its staggering growth since the term was coined late 2010:

In this article, I’m going to go over the following:

  • What is gamification?
  • What are the different types of gamification?
  • Gamification in the wild: examples from DODOcase, M&M’s, and What’s In The Bible?
  • How gamification should drive business metrics

So let's get started...

What is Gamification?

Gamification is simply the application of game thinking and game mechanics — including points, badges, or similar incentives — in non-game contexts in order to affect behavior. Often, businesses use gamification to increase sales, user engagement, return on investment, data quality, speed of process, and improve learning.

5 Types of Gamification

Gamification is all about using people’s desire for competition, status, achievement and closure to help achieve your business objectives. Here are some of the most popular techniques that are being used today:

  1. Providing rewards for players who accomplish specific tasks. Rewards can include points, badges, levels, discounts, gift cards, free shipping and more.
  2. Progress bars are a popular tool to give people a clear picture of beginning, middle, and end. This encourages people to keep working toward completing a task. Progress bars are often used to help participants complete an online survey.
  3. Virtual currency is often used in games for mobile devices, Facebook, and otherwise. This form of gamification is always used in online gambling (the non-real currency type) to give players the feeling of real action.
  4. Competition is quickly becoming a clever way to use gamification to encourage more participation. Making rewards, points, badges and levels visible to other players, or providing a leader board, brings out that competitive nature in all of us.
  5. Finally, simply adding fun and game-like elements to processes that are usually boring can add an element of gamification. You have seen this with the addition of a narrative, onboarding with a tutorial or a “wizard,” and who could ever forget Microsoft Office’s little paper clip, or who I preferred, Merlin:

Examples of Gamification

Gamification may be applied to nearly any website. Recently, it’s increasingly popular with ecommerce sites using it to encourage writing product reviews, sharing products on social media sites, or actually making a purchase. Here are some excellent examples of how some businesses are using gamification: 

DODOcase

iPad case company DODOcase uses gamification to add urgency to their purchase call-to-action. At the top of their homepage, they display an ad for $25 off orders of $100 or more. But here’s the fun part, they have an active timer counting down the seconds until the offer expires:

DODOcase has also added elements of gamification to their product screen. Instead of simply providing shoppers with a laundry list of different iPad cases to choose from, they let customers create their own in a fully interactive workshop environment. Also note that they use a ruler as a progress bar, which clearly shows 5 steps to complete the process:

What’s In The Bible?

Children’s bible teaching DVD series What’s In The Bible? makes use of referral marketing to increase word of mouth advertising about their products. Using a social referrals program, they offer customers the chance to earn rewards and win giftcards by sharing products.

When you sign up for their referral program, you receive an email that outlines the various rewards that can be earned. Then you are presented with social links that use a special URL that is associated to your referral account.

Each paying customers you bring them results in a $5 gift card to various merchants, or a $10 gift card to purchase something from their site.

M&M’s

The first two examples were small and medium sized businesses using gamification on their ecommerce store to increase sales. But M&M’s, the popular candy coated chocolate that melts in your mouth and not in your hands, uses gamification to increase their social media engagement.

Using an eye-spy type game, M&M’s designers created a graphic covered in M&M’s and hid a little pretzel for their Facebook fans to find.

This simple game got almost 25,000 Likes, 10,000+ comments and over 5,000 shares.  

Gamification Apps

There are plenty of apps that can help add gamification to your online store. Here are a few you can choose from:

Easy customer referral program that lets your customers share products to earn rewards like coupons, cash or donations to charity.

Display a popup sales window that offers a % off purchase if the customer either shares the product via Facebook, Twitter or Google +. 

Add social and game mechanics to your marketing and coupon promotions. Games include a slot machine that award customers with a specific discount. 

Co-sponsor giveaways and contests with other businesses to offer more enticing rewards. Example: for $24.99 you can offer a $500 giveaway to your customers. 

Reward customers with points and miles from loyalty programs like American Airlines AAdvantage, Best Buy Reward Zone, US Airways Dividend Miles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Clube, and more.

Automatically send an email to customers asking for a product review.

When a customer finishes making a purchase, they are prompted with a window that offers instant cash back if they share the purchase on Facebook.

Gamification Begins with Business Objectives

In just the next couple of years, Gartner expects gamification to drive about half of all business innovation. Unfortunately, this in no way guarantees that every gamified project or campaign will work.

"We predict that by 2014, 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives, primarily due to poor design. This design includes defining business objectives…In the longer term, as design practices improve and organizations focus on defining clear business objectives, gamification will have a significant business impact and become an important means for organizations to engage audiences at a deeper level." 

Notice that the key to gamification success, according to Gartner analysts, seems to be focusing on defining clear business objectives. With all ecommerce stores, performance should inform business decisions, and KPIs should drive actions. So before you start planning marketing campaigns involving gamification, I urge you to set goals and identify your KPIs

In the ecommerce context know exactly what the game tactic should accomplish and why accomplishing that task benefits the business and meets some objective. For example, there is strong evidence suggesting that customer-written product reviews may increase conversion rates. So gamifying review submission might help achieve a valid business objective — get more reviews — that in turn may improve conversion rates and boost the bottom line.

Have you tried using gamification in your marketing strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments.