Loyalty Live: CataBoom Q&A on Amplifying Loyalty Programs with Gamification

In a rapidly evolving marketing landscape, where engaging and retaining customers is an ongoing challenge for many brands, the concept of gamification has emerged as a captivating solution. By incorporating elements of play into their loyalty efforts, brands have found a powerful means to not only acquire new customers but also keep those customers interested and engaged.

Loyalty360 recently delved into this topic with Aaron Lobliner, Chief Client Officer at CataBoom. We asked him what gamification means to CataBoom, how clients are embracing gamification techniques, and the role it plays in customer loyalty.  

For those who might not be familiar with gamification, what exactly does CataBoom do?
Lobliner: I consider us a game, prize, and promotions engine. We offer a library of over 200 game mechanics, and we also build games from scratch for clients. The goal is to equip the client with a toolbox to capture, engage, and motivate consumers in contemporary ways. What we do, if I had to put it briefly, is help clients remove the clutter and get the results they’re looking for.  

How do you define gamification?
Lobliner: It depends on who you ask. A 15-year-old gamer has a different answer than someone in loyalty marketing. I’ve wondered whether we need a different term to describe how marketers think about gaming. At the most basic level, gamification for us means figuring out how to get people to engage with a mechanic and have fun once they do. To put this in the context of customer loyalty, think of the old carrot and stick analogy. Gamification is the carrot — it gives people a reason to engage. The stick is the prize or promotion — or rather, the consequence of not getting it. This is what motivates consumers to spend 90 or 120 seconds with your brand playing the game. When you find the right balance of carrot and stick, that’s when things really start to sing.

What does customer loyalty mean from your perspective?
Lobliner: There are a lot of loyalty programs out there, and I don’t know how many of them truly connect with people. A good loyalty program must be an exchange. The brand gets something from the consumer, and the consumer gets something from the brand.

I think the best loyalty programs are like a pie with five pieces: transactional, rational, emotional, promotional, and aspirational. The size of each piece varies by brand. Once you find the right mix of sizes, you start to connect with the head and the heart. That’s what I call creating loyalty, appealing to the heads and the hearts of consumers. Some programs overlook this part and concentrate on rewards, but that alone isn’t going to foster loyalty.

When you work with a client on a loyalty program, what does your role look like?
Lobliner: We are not managing the whole program, but we can be deeply involved in its development. We’re often part of the planning process because the client is using gamification to drive tentpole activities like new member acquisition, lapsed user engagement, and sponsorship activation. Gamification may be the tactic chosen to achieve all these things, in which case we become the primary means of amplifying the program.

Brands have used us in smart ways. Let’s say we develop a spin-the-wheel game for a client. The game looks nice and is fun to play. What you don’t see is why the game exists in the first place, who’s playing it, or why it’s targeting them. The strategy behind gamification can be sophisticated, and brands are using it to elicit specific and measurable behaviors.

Our research shows that many brands are revamping their existing loyalty programs with gamification, customer data platforms, and other technology. Are you seeing the same thing?
Lobliner: Yes, brands are reimagining their programs, and they want new toolsets and more flexibility to carry out their plans. Having the right platform partners and integrations is going to be key for them. We’re getting a lot of calls now from brands asking how gamification can fit into their program updates.

There’s a sea of sameness in the loyalty industry currently. Do you think differentiation matters?
Lobliner: Well, I do think most quick-service restaurant programs are pretty similar. You buy a sandwich and get a free one at some point. Brands elsewhere are trying to stand out and disrupt the narrative — and that’s a healthy sign. There’s a push toward personalizing the customer experience, or least making it feel personalized. Brands can do more, of course, but what holds them back is the perceived cost of implementing something that breaks the mold. The reality is there are many differentiation tools already in place, ours just being one of them, and the cost of entry is far lower than brands might think.


If a loyalty program is working well, why would a brand want to add technologies like gamification or AI?  Lobliner: Brands want to retain the consumer behaviors their core loyalty programs have produced. Weaving in gamification, for example, gives consumers one more reason to keep paying attention to the brand. They enjoy the play and the surprising moments. Loyalty programs can be about more than earning and redeeming. It’s okay to have fun, too. Brands that understand this are starting to break through the sea of sameness.

Which brands are you personally loyal to?
Lobliner: Amazon jumps to mind. As a consumer, I get a lot of value out of my Prime membership. The value exchange is so strong. I’ve been a Marriott Bonvoy member for years and am about to hit the Ambassador level — quite an achievement for me. I feel valued when I walk into their hotels, and the program app works great. I’m also a fan of T-Mobile and their T-Mobile Tuesdays program. You download the app on your phone and get special offers every Tuesday. T-Mobile has done a great job of gamifying the experience.

What’s coming up for CataBoom in 2024?
We have a pipeline of new games — we’ve already launched six this year — and part of our innovation plan is to leverage what people already know. We don't want to make games that require training or practice. For example, we came up with a game, Swipe It, that includes a swipe left/swipe right action that consumers are already familiar with. Our continued focus is to support clients with games that folks like playing and to keep it simple and fun.

Quick-fire Questions:
What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What excites you?

What do you find tiresome?

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Sports training.

What profession would you avoid?

Who inspired you to become the person you are today?
My mother, younger brother, and other people who work hard and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  

What do you typically think about at the end of the day?
The people and relationships in my life.  

How do you want to be remembered by your friends and family?
As someone who liked having a good time and cracking a joke.

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