Cheat Code: Add Gamification to Your Marketing Strategy

Let’s begin with a little game: see if you can guess what the topic of my individual presentation will be tonight. If you guessed gamification, then congratulations! You’ve just unlocked 10 points. If you don’t really know what gamification is, then double it.


Gamification is defined most clearly as “the application of game elements and principles in non-game contexts to encourage user buy-in and engagement.” And it’s something that many of us are more familiar with than we realize. Its application had been widely talked about in digital marketing for the last 5 years and was adopted, in some form, by a number of large US companies.

So why the word “had”? If you guessed “it seems like it could get annoying”, “it didn’t take off as much as people expected”, or even “Connor forgot to spell check this blog” then there’s another 10 points for ya.

This summer, business research firm Gartner removed gamification from its infamous “Hype Cycle” because their research showed that the concept wasn’t maturing fast enough and had lost relevance to marketers. And although initial attempts at gamification may have been misguided and overhyped, we may yet see a resurgence of gaming principles (beyond badges and leaderboards) finding their way into digital marketing.


The Good

So why does gamification work? A lot of the science behind this concept lies, unsurprisingly, in videogaming. At their core video, games motivate people to achieve goals by introducing elements of fun and distraction while often adding competition into the mix—against a timer, other competitors, etc. Gaming has been demonstrated to create intrinsic motivation and arouse the player’s brain, which causes attention to be engaged and motivation to heighten.

Most video games have several things in common: they have rules that are simple to follow, take advantage of the latest technology, and use a story line progression to help you feel that you’ve built up skills thus empowering you to achieve increasingly difficult tasks. Any successful gamification project should follow similar cues.

Research shows that 80% of people play games not to win a prize, but rather to socialize. Gamification can provide an opportunity for consumers to come together and play or compete on the company’s. By establishing the environment, the brand has the rare opportunity to take back more control of the message than they would on a broader social media site. Consumers can build a community around what they all think is important (either explicitly through words, or by sharing the experience), then the company can link it to what the brand means or stands for. The South By Southwest conference has developed a program they call PanelPicker that allows attendees to co-create the direction of the conference with them. Guests can submit topics that they would like to present on and then the community votes to decide who should present during each day of the conference. They received over 4,600 submissions and tens of thousands of votes for the 2016 SXSW.


Perhaps the two most important benefits of gamification, though, are loyalty and data. Building game into your marketing strategy can be much more effective than a traditional loyalty program. Not only will customers frequently re-visit your platform, but they also tend to form a stronger connection to your brand. The fun of competition or game elements adds additional emotional benefits to their interaction, helping them to connect to the brand in a new way. And although that will appeal to any sales team, the real prize for any digital marketer lies in the vast amounts of data that will be unlocked. There is enormous potential to learn more about your consumers’ habits, motivations, and preferences through the intimate data they’re sharing.


The Bad

The difficulty, as the creators of Pokémon Go can attest, is not in getting consumers to try the game, it’s in getting them to keep participating.

Often times, people reject gamification if doesn’t make sense or they aren’t getting anything out of it. Gamification needs to be related to the brand and its marketing objectives, not just a side show added to clearly grab data or force you into looking at additional ads. Additionally, consumers will often expect to receive some benefit as a result of devoting their time to this distraction, whether that’s more information about the brand or an actual reward.

Chipotle has masterfully avoided both of these traps through digital gamified promotions, like their Love Story Game. This game not only provides publicity for the company by building on an ad campaign, but it also sneaks in education about their values and rewards consumers for their time and encourages sales (previously in the form of a BOGO—if you knew about this back in October and got that BOGO you just unlocked 10 points). And that’s all before analyzing the data that they can collect on where a consumer played relative to purchase and etc.

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Gamification must also strive for discretion. Unless you’re actively building a game (a la Chipotle) consumers don’t want to feel like they’re being babied or forced into a game. Stéphane Doutriaux, founder of an event gamification platform called Poken, argues that making it feel like a game can set the wrong tone. Rather, companies should strive to gently nudge and empower participants.

“Implemented correctly, gamification takes the form of a strategy that simply, often discretely, attempts to drive your participants’ behaviour so that they are achieving their objectives, and feel that they’ve accomplished more, at your event [or with your product].”


The Future

(If you thought this section was going to be called ‘The Ugly’ you just received 30 points for a solid reference.)


Another reason that gamification has failed to gain traction is because it has often been stuck behind the times. By not engaging with the latest technology platforms, there is little to excite consumers and make them feel like their experience is being augmented.

Take a look at McDonalds and, probably the earliest example of gamification, McDonalds Monopoly. The company saw an opportunity to partner with what was then a very popular game, and used it to incentivize consumers to eat at their restaurant more regularly in order to win prizes.


Today, with the emergence of very disruptive digital trends—like wearables, the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, and AI—the market is primed for companies to take embrace technology to augment their customers’ experiences in wild new ways.

Some companies have already begun to adopt these technologies with great success, and are slowly bringing gamification back out of Gartner’s “Trough of Disillusionment” (10 points if you remembered their Hype Cycle from above).

Currently a Swiss cruise-line, MSC, is using a crowd-sourcing app called BeMyEye to gather information on how travel agents and retailers are displaying information about the company and its cruises by following a digital “scavenger hunt” to different locations and snapping photos. Imagine the possibilities if they could engage young guests on their cruises to participate in a similar type of ‘treasure hunt’ onboard the ship. Not only would guests become will acquainted with all of the amenities of their vacation, but they could also keep kids engaged through competition and reward participation with additional on-board experiences. (Most importantly for the company, though, this is an opportunity gather a lot of data about its passengers and how conditions on the ship are actually being maintained.)


Really, in the end, this game(ification) is a win-win.


Congratulations on completing this article and learning about the future of gamification! If you have unlocked at least 30 Points along the way, you may now redeem them for one comment below.


  1. magicjohnshin1 · ·

    Great post! I actually love the idea of Gamification. I wrote a blog post on this as well a couple weeks back. I talked about how gyms are making working out fun by incorporating games and into it. I like how you touched on the bad side of gamification. I actually never realized that Chipotle was incorporating this aspect into it but it has definitely drawn me to it. Cheers!

  2. One of the great examples of gamification is the points and miles programs that hotels, airlines, and credit card companies have put into place to encourage us to use their product. They incentivize us to be loyal and so many of us fall for it every time.

    A lot of companies are also introducing gamification for their employees. Whether it is leaderboards for sales teams or high scores in training, companies are using this concept to get team to perform.

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