How Gamification Can Help Your Brands and Your Customers

Game on!


When I came back from SXSW (South by Southwest) earlier this year, I was incredibly jazzed about this notion of “the game layer” after witnessing a keynote by Seth Priebatsch, founder of SCVNGR.

As I blogged about it for my employer’s main blog, SCVNGR is “described as a mobile game that is a game layer on the top of the world. You go places and do challenges and earn points, unlock badges, etc.” Seth talked about how the last decade was all about the social layer—just look at the rise and fall of Friendster and MySpace, that eventually paved the way for the behemoth that is Facebook. I could quote you in the millions and billions for the amount of status updates, pictures, videos and more we all share—but I don’t have to. We’ve all seen the power and the immediacy of it all.

This decade, however, is all about the game layer which we have just barely scratched the surface with. Foursquare, arguably, initially became popular not for the deals and specials (which were initially far and few between since business owners didn’t see the power of the platform yet) but because of the game aspect of it. “Hey, you earn 5 points for going there.” “What do the points mean?” “Nothing … but you have five more than you friend Mike!” “Yessssss.”

Other mobile applications were quick to replicate Foursquare’s success by adding virtual badges, stickers, or what have you to their app—you get these things just for doing things within the app. Mobile applications weren’t the first to do this, as video game consoles for years have offered Achievements on the XBOX 360 platform or Trophies on the PlayStation 3 platform (Sony is a client of mine)  just for doing things within a video game—like completing a certain level, killing a certain amount of guys within a specific time period, etc.

Until now, these gaming elements were all about making you enjoy the game or the app or whatever more. Maybe there was a deal or a contest linked to it, but that’s it. But ask Seth, and he sees the game layer as world-changing … as in, how it can rally people together: “communal gameplay + communal discovery + complex problems = slightly less impossible problem.”

I struggled to even begin to think about that globally. But instead, with my PR hat on, I wonder how we can use gamification to re-engage consumers during ordinary tasks that cause us to interact with our brands. If we made it more like a game, would they pick our brand? Would they be re-energized?

Let’s take the computer industry for a moment. Anti-virus and back-up software has been a commoditized industry for years. Many free (yet very good) competitors now challenge the dominance enjoyed by titans like Norton. But what if one of the companies offered virtual badges for updating your software frequently? Or running a daily scan? Or going a 100 days without having a single virus? Those badges could then unlock discounts for next year’s version to encourage you to upgrade often—because who amongst us actually updates it annually?

Moving on to the retail space, let’s take gyms. (I don’t know if they qualify as retail). Gym proprietors, believe it or not, actually want you to go to the gym regularly. Because if after the first year you didn’t like it, you will quit. And maybe your friends will quit. So what if there was a way to award virtual points for the amount of time spent on machines? Or you earned points for going at the crack of dawn? (That might actually make me go.) And those points in turn give you preferential treatment on machines that often have lines, the ability to try out the new ones first, etc. Ideally, this would all tie into a mobile app like Runkeeper, but now I’m just dreaming…

And finally, let’s take the travel industry. We all have frequent flier miles.But if you’re anything like me, you belong to five plus programs because you don’t have a regular airline—especially when you’re traveling for work. So let’s stop logging miles equally—if you travel to the West Coast less than three times, you’re probably hitting the same miles as a dozen trips to DC if you’re an Easter Coaster. Is that a fair equation though? Instead, can we measure something else we haven’t thought of yet? For instance, automatically upgraded to first class if you’ve taken the red-eye flight five times in the last year. Or, can we give you an incredible meal at the airport or on the plane if you’ve wound up flying on five consecutive flights without a meal?

Life can be boring. Games make it more fun. Whether it’s Angry Birds or playing Foursquare, I constantly am looking for entertainment. If other companies decided to make their products more gameful … I know I’d want to play more often.

About the Author
Alan Danzis is a Vice President, Social Media Strategy at Ketchum PR. He loves guest blogging but has no blog of his own–so follow him on Twitter at @adanzis. He currently lives in – and loves – Hoboken, NJ.



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