Do you ever wonder why it feels good to be tagged as a superhost on Airbnb or rack up loyalty points when you buy a latte at Starbucks? The reason is gamification. Using the same techniques from the creators of Fortnite, Minecraft, and other popular video games, you can build an engaged community of loyal customers who don’t just buy your products or services but feel part of a broader experience.
It may not be obvious but gamification is everywhere – and for a good reason. Game mechanics leverage people’s natural desire for status, achievement, completion, and belonging to inspire them to bond with a particular brand over time.
Integrating gaming tactics into your company’s website, social media, online community, or learning management system can spark loyalty among consumers or even employees who stick with your products, services, or company because they enjoy the experience. In other words, gaming can create a community of loyal and excited fans to share their passion for your brand with their friends and family.
Gamification works best when you convert an already compelling digital experience into a richer, more interactive one. For those companies with substantial sales, integrating some of the methods that make people rabid fans of video games into your brand experience will engage customers, boost retention rates, and drive both sales and word of mouth.
For brands who don’t get gamification right, however, there are potential pitfalls. A poorly executed program might create higher expectations among your customers than your brand can deliver on – and your customers will go elsewhere. Tricking people into taking action instead of motivating them to do so will backfire most often by making the gaming features too prominent in your customer experience.
Those mistakes are easy to avoid, however. By following five gaming principles (outlined below as “levels”), including creating a sense of purpose, encouraging progress, building a sense of scarcity, offering ways to achieve status, and making the brand experience more fun, you can successfully use gaming mechanics to grow your brand.
Level 1 – Instill a sense of purpose
Making customers feel they are contributing to your brand – and helping other people – is a tenet of gamification that appeals to people’s desire to take purposeful action. Inviting customers to provide data or information builds that sense of mission. Waze does this through crowdsourcing information from drivers, which lets people feel they are helping others avoid traffic or accidents. Another option: Customer-driven communities such as Stack Overflow, where developers share their knowledge, learn from others, and build their careers.
Level 2 – Recognize progress and encourage completion
LinkedIn lets people know what percentage of their profile is complete – a gaming technique that subtly activates the human desire to finish a task. Honey, a coupon service, allows users who complete specific tasks to earn “gold” status and unlock gift cards. Our own collaborative platform also brings out people’s inner completionists by awarding badges to customers who finish a certain number of tasks on the platform and gives them access to additional features, content, community, and discounts.
Level 3 – Create a sense of opportunity
Giving your customers a sense that the clock is running out or that other customers are eyeing their shopping carts are ways brands leverage people’s concerns about scarcity. Gaming tactics can add a little pressure to the buying experience in a fun way that customers don’t resist. Duolingo, a language-learning app, encourages people to build a winning streak through daily practice – and not risk falling behind. Other options: flash sales, limited-time discounts, and exclusive merchandise drops that encourage excitement and sales. The latter is a technique that has helped Supreme become a much-loved clothing and skateboarding brand.
Level 4 – Offer people status symbols
Who doesn’t want to rise to the top? Signs of rising to the top of a group can prompt people to be more engaged and do – or buy – more. Airbnb encourages people to rent out their homes to become better hosts through its superhost designation. Software company G2 rewards people with quarterly report badges, and exercise classes use this gaming technique through leaderboards that flash who in the room is at the head of the pack.
Level 5 – Help customers have some fun
In the end, gaming is about having fun. Brands that can make buying from them or belonging to their customer community enjoyable will convince customers to keep coming back. That can be as simple as letting customers collect stars to redeem free drinks or prizes as Starbucks does through its loyalty program, or creating Instagram Stories wallpapers that are easy and fun to use as Netflix has done. One brand that nails gamification is Google, which has incorporated actual games, including Pac Man and Pokemon, into maps for challenges that let people have fun while driving around town.
Gamification can transform a brand from one that customers like to one they feel genuinely connects with them. Keep in mind: If your products or services are subpar, you should probably focus on other points of improvement. Gamification is an advanced technique that needs a solid foundation in the brand-customer connection. Likewise, startups might find it challenging to take on, initially – yet not impossible. However, for those who already have solid sales and an inviting user experience, gamification can take them to the next level. Building the techniques into your site or application also has benefits for your employees: It inspires creativity on your product development and marketing teams.
Remember, gamification isn’t a one-and-done campaign. It requires a long-term strategy that begins with careful planning. Examining how other brands have used the techniques can help you determine which ones will resonate most with your existing and potential customers. Once you decide which features you’d like to add to your site or application, the next step is to develop a timeline and identify resources you’ll need to meet your launch goal.
Create a program for the long-run, allocating enough time for customers to build their experience – whether that’s earning rewards or completing various tasks. You’ll also want to roll out new aspects of the program over time to keep customers engaged. And like any marketing campaign, you’ll want to track results and evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.
Handled correctly, gamification can engage customers, improve retention rates, and repeat business, lower customer acquisition costs, and encourage referrals – all of which means increased profits for your company.
Cover image source: Kirill Sharkovski