How Gamification Is Engaging Consumers and Developing Brand Awareness

Todd Moran

A few years ago, when gamification was considered a cutting-edge engagement tool used only by the most adventurous of marketing directors. Today, it's on the cusp of reaching a tipping point that will shift gamification from being an occasional strategy to a must-have element of any consumer engagement program.

The context for a gamification revolution in consumer engagement starts with games. Women account for 47 percent of gamers in the U.S., and 29 percent of gamers are over the age of 50 according to a 2014 survey conducted by Big Fish Games, the world's largest producer and distributor of casual games. The survey also shows that 48 million people play games on smartphones and tablets.

Video gaming is a multibillion-dollar global business. Today's college students grew up playing online games and it has become such a cultural touchstone that Robert Morris University in Illinois is the first college in the U.S. to make video gaming a varsity sport.

As the consumer landscape changes, it's important to change the way information is presented, says Ibrahim Jabary, CEO of Gamelearn, a game-based learning product development company headquartered in Sunnyvale, CA, and Madrid. He says that 58 percent of the U.S. population plays video games. Millennials comprise 30 percent of the consumer market and will make up 75 percent of it in 10 years. With this in mind, gamified tools are ideal for engaging this plugged-in audience.

Gamification is not a new concept. Airline reward programs where fliers earn points and build status were one of the first and are still the most widely used games, says Tahira Endean, CMP, an events manager for QuickMobile, a Vancouver-based mobile meeting and events applications company. These programs are used to change behaviors, develop skills, and drive innovation.

"The reason gamification is attractive to marketers is because it gets consumers to behave the way you want them to behave, see what you want them to see, and take action where you want them to take action," says Endean.

Here are three roles that gamification currently plays in various organizations' strategies to engage with consumers.



Let Sponsors Play, Too
At the Incentive Research Foundation's (IRF) 21st annual Incentive Invitation at Secrets Puerto Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort in San Jose del Cabo on Mexico's Baja Peninsula, more than 300 professionals from the motivation, incentives, and rewards industries were taking selfies galore. Narcissism wasn't the issue. They were snapping away as part of a game created by QuickMobile.

"The theme of the IRF event was happiness, so we created a gamification program focused on happy behavior," says Endean of QuickMobile. For example, participants were instructed to snap pictures of themselves in front of their favorite spot at the resort. "The game encouraged people to express what makes them happy, and rewarded them for sharing," explains Endean.

 

This game may have focused on happiness but it also encouraged networking. "I'm one of those people who is the life of the party when I'm with friends but freezes up during networking events," says Rudy Garza, vice president of operations for Irving, TX-based Spear One, a third-party meetings and incentive provider. "This happiness game helped me network and engage with other people. I'm very competitive, and a game like this connects with me right away."

As a matter of a fact, Garza started playing on his flight to Los Cabos, trying to earn points to make his way up the leader board. Proudly, Garza says he won the game at the 2013 IRF Incentive Invitation, and came in third last year. Although the contacts he made as a result of the game have been invaluable, he says he's also won bragging rights by winning a badge for "VIT" (very important Tweeter). Last year, he won a prepaid Visa gift card.

One of the most beneficial parts of the game, Garza says, were the sponsor check-ins. "They challenged you to truly network with all of the key sponsors for this event, which is one key component of this annual gathering."


Subliminal Gamification
One of the benefits of video and online games being so ubiquitous is that it creates a wide landscape of gamification opportunities for marketers to keep their products top of mind with consumers. The gaming community is a tightknit one and inVNT, a global brand communications agency, kept that in mind when launching the Nissan Concept 2020 Vision GT Supercar. Social media appeals to this audience, and just like trying to target the right audience for your incentive programs, inVNT reached them using the channels they frequent.

Last June, inVNT's client, Nissan, asked the agency for help in launching the Nissan NC2020 in conjunction with a challenge the iconic racing video game, Gran Turismo, had issued to auto manufacturers -- to develop their visions of a GT car in the year 2020, which ultimately would be incorporated into the video game.

Research revealed that Nissan has great brand awareness in the gaming community, as there are three times more Nissans in the Grand Turismo than other vehicles.

A month-long campaign on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram featured a shadowy version of the Nissan concept. Intersecting the virtual world with the actual world, the sleek vehicle was unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed held in West Sussex, England.

Nissan benefited by partnering with Gran Turismo and PlayStation to create this type of brand awareness. "Today's future car buyers are being inspired by video games," explains Detroit-based Jerry Deeney, inVNT's director of strategic accounts-global operations. "By inspiring them to race a Nissan in Gran Turismo, it's creating an emotional connection. They will remember that they loved Nissans in their video games and that connection, when the time is right, can influence their purchase decision when they form part of a larger gamification platform."



Creating Brand Advocates
Another benefit of gamification is that it creates live engagement to reinforce brand identity. "Not only was there branding done for the event itself but the games we did outside the event will foster community-building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," says Moran. "The games created brand advocates who reported on the conference, how much they learned, and how critical it is that others attend." At press time, there were 3,000 members of the online Schneider Electric collaborative community.

Attendees were encouraged to use the mobile app to earn points throughout the conference, which gathered together customers, partners, and employees from the Schneider Electric's Global Solutions - Cloud Services division. The group of 400, made up of 300 customers and partners and 100 employees, gathered at the Embassy Suites in Loveland, CO where they took over all the guest rooms and meeting space.

Attendees earned 20 points by connecting with colleagues  and entering their three-digit badge numbers into the game. Another game had them visiting each station, where they would scan or enter codes for 40 points. A Tweet sent from inside the app, uploading a photo, or adding an event to My Schedule was worth 10 points. Surveys taken in the app were worth 20 points; overall survey responses increased nearly 40 percent.

Two games -- #connections and I-cubed -- were available to all registered members of the online Schneider Electric community. The hashtag #connections was given to attendees to use when updating their status about how they were connecting with peers or the technology. I-cubed reinforced the foundations of the conference's theme: "I network. I learn. I succeed." The best I-cubed themed comments received prizes.

QuickMobile provided the mobile app for the event, as well as the core game mechanics for the in-app games. A mandate Schneider Electric had was to keep it simple. "If you're going to gamify an event, the point of entry must be very non-prohibitive," says Moran.

 

Not only were tangible awards given but non-tangible ones as well. Within the game itself, participants could earn badges as they rose on the leaderboard. "Those badges became sources of pride to show to other members of the community," touts Moran.

The gamification program ultimately created deeper ties within the community. "Plus, it extended the reach of the conference to the more than 3,000 members in the broader online collaborative community," Moran adds.

This conference has been held annually for more than 10 years and it was time to infuse something a bit different, he adds. "Although the games were fun, they had a real business focus from our side. The attendees were adamant in their response to the game series -- they want it back and they want it bigger for next year," enthuses Moran.

All the goals that were set for the gamification experience were accomplished. They were as follows: to expand attendee exposure to new offers and get them to learn about new products that were recently released; to create customer connection -- to get customers talking to customers; and to drive community participation.

The investment to add gamification was reasonable. "There wasn't a high point of entry. We did it out of the box, taking a straightforward approach," Moran explains.

 



A Game for Connecting
During Schneider Electric's March 2015 user conference, "Link 2015 - Creating Connections," the company, a global specialist in energy management and automation, partnered with app developer QuickMobile to debut its first ever-digital gamification experience. Aimed at fully immersing its user-attendees in the conference and boosting opportunities to network, a Game Series was created to involve not only attendees but members of the Schneider Electric online collaborative community. Incentives were an integral part of the program; an iPad Air 2, iPod Touches, and iPod Shuffles were awarded to winners on a daily basis.

"We had no idea how folks would react to the game," says Todd Moran, director of social enterprise for Fort Collins, CO-based Schneider Electric. "We had 90 percent adoption in terms of conference attendees playing the game. That's pretty incredible coming out of the gate for us."

Gamification, much of it conducted via apps, facilitated networking and learning at that conference, and helped create brand ambassadors from the company's user community.

 

While you don't necessarily need a mobile event app to run a gamification program, having one certainly opens up more possibilities for activities and participation, says Jeff Epstein, director of product and channel marketing at QuickMobile. Today, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the apps built by QuickMobile are gamified, meaning that attendees earn points and achievements by doing things within the app. "By providing attendees with an incentive to use the app, marketers are able to achieve greater engagement with the brand. They can actually stimulate the kind of behavior they want, behavior that is aligned with overall event objectives," says Epstein.

As more marketers embrace mobile apps, gamification will become even more popular, and easier to apply. "Our game is built right into our app, so there is virtually no effort to include it as part of a marketing strategy," says Epstein.