Elevating loyalty through gamification

Elevating loyalty through gamification
By Nick Swami
Nick Swami
Director, Digital Experience
May 17, 2022
5 MIN. READ
As gamification rises in popularity, successful development and implementation are critical to gaining value for brands.
Gamification is part of the human experience. Even as toddlers, learning how to walk is gamified—beginning with walking to a parent, then a little further to the couch, and so on.

Most brands can benefit from leveraging gamification to connect with their audience because it taps into innately human ways of interacting. But there are many considerations with this approach, and many companies produce gamified experiences without gaining any real value from them. The ultimate opportunity for brands to get the most out of gamification is through strategic implementation.

Using gamification purposefully can evolve customer relationships from something strictly transactional to deeper, more meaningful connections and a shared sense of identity with their chosen brands. It's well known that the key to building customer loyalty is cultivating emotional connectedness. Still, many loyalty programs are based on shallow transactions that fail to develop more personal exchanges with their customers. Gamification can help fuel emotional connection by inducing positive feelings—in turn, this motivates members to keep coming back, deepens engagement, and ultimately drives participation.

How can your brand use gamified experiences to create emotional connection? It starts with ensuring that the game and the rewards are relevant and valuable to your customers.

Simple vs. robust: Which is right for your brand?

When building or redesigning your gamified loyalty program, you need to choose whether you want it to be simple or complex. The answer will depend on a variety of factors, including your program goals and the gamification maturity of your industry. There are benefits and downsides to both.

With something easy to understand and play, there is more uptake in both the short-term and the long run. On the other hand, gamification is no longer a new idea—simple systems like tiers and points are abundant, potentially leaving you with a monotonous value proposition. But if there aren’t many players in your industry using gamification, something simple is a good starting point.

Using a variety of game mechanics can be novel, powering more participation in the short-term or until other brands copy you—and they will. If your goal is acquisition, you might want to try something new and different and therefore more complex. If your industry already implements loyalty programs that lean into more unique gamified experiences, something innovative and complex can differentiate you.

Whichever approach is best for your brand, the critical thing to remember is that your consumers should be able to understand your program, its mechanics, and the value they're getting from it within 30 seconds. Attention spans are too short and there is too much competition for anything more time consuming than that. Plus, if you can develop a program that is easy to grasp and participate in, but still delivers value to your customers, it shows that you know and understand them—a key loyalty driver. If your consumers don't feel like your program relates to them, they won’t engage with it no matter how fun, simple, complex, or creative it is.

Avoiding common pitfalls in implementation

At its core, gamification is a set of broken-down tasks with plentiful rewards that motivate people to perform larger tasks. Proper implementation requires brands to understand what those broken-down tasks are—the actions, events, milestones, and other factors necessary to push users towards larger objectives. The main gamification mistake companies make is to not incorporate tasks strategically—leaving you with initiatives that are half-baked or aimlessly floating—not aligned with broader organizational goals.

Another common mistake is simply using the wrong game mechanics for tasks. For example, is a leaderboard the right way to get people to consume content on your website? Or does it incentivize them to consume as much content as possible without necessarily getting value from it? For gamification to be effective, the game mechanic should serve a strategic purpose and propel users towards something beyond a transaction—a valuable takeaway and a deeper emotional connection with your brand.

Approaching gamification with a one-size-fits-all strategy is another common pitfall. When brands break down tasks into smaller actions, they tend to value each of those steps equally and reward them with the same prizes, such as receiving a badge for each task. In actuality, some of those steps are going to require more or less effort from users, and each one needs to be rewarded accordingly.

Gamifying the future

There are two forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is doing something for a reward or praise. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and is about doing something because it results in positive feelings. Both types are important, but research shows that intrinsic motivation drives more engagement. An over emphasis on extrinsic motivation can interfere with intrinsic motivation. For example, an individual can receive significant intrinsic value from playing soccer because it’s fun, it’s exercise, and provides an opportunity to push oneself to new personal heights. But once you introduce extrinsic motivations like medals or rankings, it can take the fun out of the game. In the future, brands will lean into more intrinsic factors to drive better engagement, which will then lead to a better understanding of target audiences.

Technology integrations also play a vital role in gamification strategy—now and in the future. For instance, augmented reality could be used in a gamified app to create a scavenger hunt for rewards hidden in store, similar to Pokémon Go. And with the death of third-party cookies and a push for greater consumer privacy, there is a need for brands to collect more zero- and first-party data. Gamification itself plays a significant role in that sphere—with many brands using it to complete their customer profiles. Through zero- and first-party data, a brand can create games, rewards, and motivations that better speak to its users.

Partnering for success

Gamification is a big marketing buzzword. As a result, there’s a lot of noise surrounding it; a quick Google search will return hundreds of articles, videos and podcasts offering expert advice. Additionally, there are dozens of vendors who offer quick and easy game mechanic integrations. And with so many brands jumping on the gamification bandwagon, it creates a sense of urgency for others to do the same. But then brands ask questions: How many game mechanics should we use? Which are the best for my brand? What rewards should we offer? How do we apply this approach strategically? Should we even do gamification in the first place?

It can be overwhelming. That's where a strategic partner with experience in gamification and a deep bench of capabilities can cut through the noise, help you understand the industry, and future-proof your strategy. The key is to not create gamification for the sake of doing it, but in a way that gains value—for you and your customers.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Nick Swami, Director, Digital Experience

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