June 22, 2018 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Gamification is the implementation of game-like elements into something where it otherwise wouldn’t be expected or common. Content marketing campaigns can benefit from gamification when done well, but it’s a foreign topic for many people. It’s not as complicated as it might seem, however, so take a look at our guide below on gamification’s benefits and the different avenues for using it, as well as some helpful guidelines regarding what to do and problems to sidestep.
Image via Flickr by jking89
Put simply, we are talking about making your content into a game, or something that feels like one. This can include things like scores, competition, rules, winners, prizes, achievements, and challenges. It doesn’t have to be exclusively computer-based or electronic, either. Sweepstakes are technically a form of simple gamified marketing, where a competition with rules, winners, and prizes are all used to get customer engagement.
Why does gamification work for content? Most advertising is surface-level stimulation, with flashy visuals, sound etc. but we forget the vast majority of it. Games work due to engaging psychological factors like wanting to overcome a challenge, get better at something, win, earn a high score, and master a set of systems and rules. Combine that with the helpfulness and sincerity of great content marketing, and you’ll stand out from your competition.
An example is Heineken’s Crack the US Open contest, which hid clues in a large collection of Instagram photos, with prizes such as free tickets to be discovered. Just like that, Heineken and the US Open built an Instagram page with thousands of followers, and an even bigger splash of exposure through websites discussing it.
Obviously, actual game developers will need to understand gamified content marketing, but other businesses that can benefit from it include anything that involves an extended or repeatable experience. If people will ever have a reason to come back and order from you again, then use gamification to encourage it.
The most ubiquitous form of gamification nowadays is a rewards program, a system where someone who shops with a business can earn credit, points, or other things, which can be spent toward more of their products or desirable results. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what businesses have done in the past with content.
The Nike brand has been intertwined with fitness, activity, and a can-do mentality, easily summarized by their slogan. As a way to better serve and connect with their ideal customers, Nike created the Nike+ Fuelband, a small device worn at the wrist similar to a Fitbit, which monitored the movements of users and provided organized data on calories burned and other daily workout info. Not only does Nike+ Fuelband regularly get users downloading and checking the Nike app, but it involves the company deeper in their lives.
Being able to check data and set goals to improve is a core aspect of mobile gaming, and Nike found a way to connect that to their own message and product. If you don’t run an enormous company or want to design an app, no worries because these lessons can be used on a smaller scale. Think about what your customers care about and start there. You’ll find the motivation that would drive someone to play through any kind of gamification you develop.
As an example, let’s suppose a women’s-focused gift website has several types of surplus product that they’d rather not mark down. Since their customers are people who want to give nice things to women in their lives, this business creates a raffle for their surplus products, with many potential winners, and entering the raffle more than once requires promoting the raffle on social media. However, customers provide the name, address, and a special message for the recipient they would want the gift given to, essentially entering a raffle on another’s behalf.
This turns an ordinary raffle into something that follows the spirit of gift giving. For an extra step, even if they don’t win, all customers who participated are offered a generous discount on an item they could send, with the exact same message that they wrote in an attached card. At the end of it all, the business clears their product out, gets a ton of visibility to the content through social sharing, and earns plenty of new business and brand recognition to make their efforts worthwhile.
Before you start exploring gamification ideas for your content marketing campaign, please take this brief warning to heart. In any game, there are winners and losers, but this should be tightly controlled and attuned to a positive customer experience. If your business isn’t naturally involved in luck or chance, such as a money-earning casino app, be sure to limit the degree of randomness involved in your gamified content. Never make a customer rely on chance for something they are spending resources on.
Imagine if you purchased $100 of goods in a store, and instead of being able to spend your reward points on a specific item you wanted, you get five scratch-off cards that end up giving you nothing, or random items you didn’t want. This is known in modern gaming as the loot box problem, where it’s impossible or totally unfeasible to earn something available in the game directly, but a set of randomized rewards are presented as a shady, slot-machine-style alternative.
After customers put in effort or money, you should respect them for playing along and let them pick what they want. Otherwise, you risk running into anti-consumer territory and alienating your loyal customers. Put bluntly, create games for your customers, but don’t toy with them. Games based on luck should require little effort, and games based on effort should never toss player rewards to chance.
All that we’ve covered in this guide is to say nothing of actual small-scale game development, much like the charming games Google implements into its front page on special holidays. Without making actual game content, you can still use gamification strategies to improve your content, it’s means of promotion, or both. Remember, unless it’s based on luck, a great game has clear rules, is fair, and typically rewards the best or most deserving people by some measured statistic. All of your gamification efforts should be centered around what your audience cares about and helping them express that through gameplay.
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