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Is gamification the next big thing in marketing?

Brands should only use gaming elements when truly appropriate, two experts caution.

Jerry Lloyd-Williams

Jerry Lloyd-Williams

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JERRY LLOYD-WILLIAMS, STRATEGY DIRECTOR, MEDIACOM

- Is gamification new or just the latest buzzword for something that agencies already offer?

The term is relatively new. And the debate surrounding its definition and application is heating up. MediaCom's take on it is this: gamification is when we successfully use games mechanics to transform participation with a product/service or in an application into an engaging, rewarding and shareable experience. The idea of using games mechanics to help change behaviour - ie. make relatively mundane tasks more enjoyable - is not new. For instance, if you ask any parent to describe how they encourage kids to eat their greens or behave politely, you're bound to recognise elements of (if not wholly) gamified processes. There are no mainstream agencies offering pure-play gamification services right now.

- Which brands or apps do you think have successfully used games mechanics to motivate people to get involved?

The most high-profile example is Foursquare. It's a good example for two reasons. First, because it shows how you can gamify something mundane - checking into locations on a mobile device - and build a community of enthusiasts. Second, because it's a failure. Why? Using Foursquare - while initially engaging and game-like - soon becomes unrewarding because there's no meaningful point to it. I got a badge for checking into my downstairs loo. Meh. Without meaning (why is it relevant to me?), mastery (why is practising worthwhile?) and autonomy (why can't I play my game on my terms?), most attempts to change behaviour via gamification fail. A platform such as PlayNice.ly appears a more satisfying idea. Or check out Stack Overflow for another vaunted, geeky example.

- What's in it for brands?

Gamification can help curate communities in an engaging, sustainable and cost-effective way. It enables marketers to add layers of genuine and sustainable consumer engagement to campaigns. And it can help to speed up and enrich feedback loops. What little research there is suggests truly gamified applications can deliver positive uplifts in traditional marketing metrics, eg. interaction, awareness, dwell time etc (see the excellent TNS presentation for more details). However, our view is that genuine behaviour change is the key success factor of gamification.

- Some people are predicting that, ultimately, everything will be gamified - from brand engagement to education/learning to healthcare. What do you think?

No-one ever got rich saying things are going to stay the same in marketing. Generation Y often champions platforms, products and services simply because they are gamified. And mainstream marketing campaigns are beginning to successfully deliver gamified elements. Even financial service providers (such as Mint) are using the same techniques to make financial prudence more rewarding. However, in the same way that not every marketing campaign needs a YouTube channel strategy, the same applies to gamification.

- Is there a danger of fatigue setting in if gamification becomes too mainstream?

Yes. Because lots of brands are making the mistake of force-feeding rewards to consumers in return for their attention - in the name of gamification. They're being encouraged to bastardise gamification to fit their short-term needs. So it'll become unavoidable, it'll be done badly, and we'll all get cheesed off with it. After all, no-one likes being the rat in the Skinner box, do they?

DAVID ATKINSON, MANAGING PARTNER, SPACE

- Is gamification new or just the latest buzzword for something that agencies already offer?

Based on the amount of puzzled looks every time it's mentioned to people, it's fair to say that gamification as a term is relatively new. However, applying game dynamics to non-game environments to increase engagement and fun experiences is certainly not new. Winning house points at school, Justgiving.com fundraising, staff incentive schemes, cigarette card collecting, imaginary routes for gym training and, more recently, our own Eurostar Quest - they all have solid gamification-style credentials.

- Which brands or apps do you think have successfully used games mechanics to motivate people to get involved?

The successful publisherand distributor-backed platform that uses the "check in" mentality for fans of TV shows, bands, actors, sports teams, video games (and pretty much anything else) to show their support, offer reviews and interact with each other. It also helps to recommend new experiences based on profiled tastes, plus offers a way to earn rewards and competition prizes.

The popular personal trainer and running app from Nike has many successful and motivational gamified aspects to its offering - from digital versions of imaginary routes, competitive tracking of stats and analysis; and, now, it's even possible to have a virtual game of "tag" with friends and strangers, all by using the data stored from the kit.

- What's in it for brands?

We are all interacting with more people, more brands and more platforms than ever before - often with different motivations. One thing that all of these have in common, though, is progression, which is a vital part of gamification. Progress is intrinsic to gaming across all platforms and media. Recognition from peers, badges of honour, leaderboards, high scores, collecting, discoveries, achievements and, yes, rewards are all motivating factors. Therefore it makes sense for brands to look to incorporate these gaming-style motivations into future strategies, helping to improve overall engagement.

- Some people are predicting that, ultimately, everything will be gamified - from brand engagement to education/learning to healthcare. What do you think?

It's likely that gamified elements will be more prevalent as brands, services and organisations look to ensure they have a robust CRM strategy that maximises engagement with end-users. It will ultimately depend on the successes (and failures) of other gamification activities, and success will breed more attempts across a variety of sectors. It's also possible to harness the benefits of gamified elements relatively cheaply if you've got the right approach (and, of course, presuming you have the creativity to support it), so this helps to make gamification viable.

- Is there a danger of fatigue setting in if gamification becomes too mainstream?

Not necessarily fatigue, but more that we'll encounter relevance and quality control issues within gamified campaigns. Brands need to ensure any game-like elements are included on merit and have a defined purpose within a CRM strategy. Losing sight of this will result in poor execution that fails to excite consumers and a lack of engagement or success. And with clients increasingly being risk-averse, this will make the task of pitching legitimate gamification campaign ideas even harder, despite any merits for the brand and the end-users.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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