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March 29th, 2011 by LCAdmin Bookmark and Share

In the history of marketing-speak, few are the hybrid word concoctions that rival “gamification” for sheer silliness and grasping at that ever elusive “hip” factor. Forget touchpoints or widgets or crossplatform compatibility, gamification represents the nadir of techno babbleosity.

That said, using game mechanics to boost the stickiness (Oh dear, another one!) of your site is an intriguing enough idea that we decided to dedicate a post to it, to suck the marrow from this jawbone and determine once and for all whether it’s beef or ham. And the answer is… it depends.

The underlying concept of gamification is nothing new to anyone who remembers S&H Green stamps or possesses a club card. The use of incentives to drive business is perfectly quaint. The wrinkle gamification adds comes from how these incentives are acquired. Essentially, a game is deployed on your site (Think Farmville in terms of sophistication.) to increase customer involvement with your product. The tricky part, as usual, comes down to design. It’s not enough to create a game that simply rewards players with points they can redeem for prizes and free stuff. Needless discounts pose the danger of devaluing your product. Besides, anyone can offer incentives and, as these gamified sites become a dime a dozen, you’ll need something to distinguish your site from the others. That distinction will come from the design of your game. And the design should begin with the right intent.

For our part, we believe any gamified feature added to your site should not necessarily reward players with financial incentives, but allow them to interact with your product in such a way as to personalize their experience with your brand, to make them a partner in your business.

Think how social media functions; the satisfaction derived from recommending a new restaurant to friends or raving up a book you just finished, and you’ll get where we’re coming from. You want to build games that open up a conversation between you and customers so they feel invested in your brand.

How might this work? Let’s take the example of a small business. In this case, a local restaurant wants to drive business to its new prix fixe menu. To promote this prix fixe menu a game is developed that lets customers play sommelier, creating a flight of wines from the restaurant’s wine list to go with each course on the menu. The game tabulates the most popular choices for each flight and produces a list of the full flight based on popularity. Winners are chosen based on the number of their selections that matched the chosen flight. As a “reward”, those with the highest scores are invited to a private party at the restaurant where the meal and accompanying flight are unveiled.

The up side? Customers become more familiar with the restaurant’s food and wine offerings in a fun way by getting to challenge their wine knowledge. The party becomes a tool to promote the business via social media. And, because it is a one-off event, it enhances instead of devalues the brand. Building customer loyalty in this informal yet personal manner is a cornerstone of successful gamification.

Of course, if you’re a bigger business, the opportunities for gamification are even greater. All it takes is imagination and a focus on crafting an experience that builds value (as opposed to giving value away) for your customer and strengthens your brand/customer relationship.

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