These days, gamification is a marketing buzzword, seemingly ubiquitous in the industry and sometimes seen as a foolproof way to inject a little fun into consumer engagement campaigns. Gamification, however, is actually a complex, sophisticated approach to behavior change, and in order to successfully use it to motivate brand engagement with consumers, it’s necessary to think about it in a systematic way. At HelloWorld, the Promotions & Loyalty Solutions group within Merkle, we combine behavioral economics, core elements of gamification, and our 20+ years of expertise motivating consumer behavior to design gamified experiences. These experiences aim to spark emotion, short-cut human biases, and build habits with brands, leading to a deeper emotional connection and loyalty. To get started, we believe it’s important to develop a deep understanding of the consumer, which then enables us to uncover a shared engagement goal. We then identify the right engagement drivers and develop a complementary system of mechanics that work together to help consumers achieve their goals.

If you are looking to incorporate gamification into your loyalty programming, read on to get some tips on how to structure your thinking and design.

Understand your consumer
We kick off our process with a collaborative discovery session, designed to include important consumer insights and help us understand what they think, feel, say, and do. Through the process, we work to uncover insights in areas around what motivates them, what barriers exist, what the competition is doing, and how they feel about it. Set a goal to walk away from the empathy mapping session with answers to questions like, “What can we help the consumer achieve?” and “How does the consumer want to interact with the brand?” and you’ll be in a great place to start designing an impactful gamification experience.

Identify a shared goal
Building gamification into consumer interactions in a way that motivates emotional engagement (instead of a transactional value-exchange) starts with putting the consumers’ goal first. Gamification works best here when you can identify a place where your brand goal and your consumers’ goal overlap, and we work to identify that sweet spot to apply gamification. Use what you learned in your consumer empathy mapping session to put your consumers’ goal first and see where your objective might overlap with theirs.

Define your outcome
We then work to understand what motivates consumers to engage with the brand and determine the outcome we want to create from the gamification experience. Think about the emotion you want to spark and how it can be used to motivate the consumer engagement you are looking to drive. Could it be to learn – whether that’s gain knowledge or a sense of mastery? Or maybe it’s to create – expressing oneself or building something? These drivers help set the stage for the design of the experience and ensure that the user is kept at the center of your thinking.

Design the experience
Once we have gone through the consumer-focused planning stages, we finally start to design the actual experience. This includes applying the appropriate set of gamification mechanics – those that will work as extensions of the brand and help consumers achieve their goal – and layering in both intrinsic (emotional) and extrinsic (tangible) rewards. These are the widely known gamification components such as badges, challenges, streaks, tiers, and more. Successful gamification experiences will lean heavily on driving intrinsic value that motivates the desired consumer behaviors but be sure to balance the rewards you offer with the actions you are asking of your consumers.

Outline the journey
You might think once you’ve designed the experience, your work is done. But there’s one more step to take that will set apart your gamification approach – and that’s experience mapping. Instead of delivering the experience all at once and forcing the consumer to figure it out all, we take a user journey approach. Walking the consumer step-by-step through the interactions and focusing their attention on what they should do next is what motivates long-term engagement.

Test and learn
In most cases, we recommend a phased approach to rolling out a large gamification platform or on-going campaign. It’s important to start small, gather the insights and learnings needed to design the right experience, and use those data points to inform a larger investment. Develop a test-and-learn approach based on things like your business objectives, past gamification or engagement-focused campaign results, competitive insights, and industry landscape. For example, you may want to prioritize a test campaign to help you answer questions around your consumers’ goals and motivations. When running the test or beta campaigns, a clearly articulated and agreed upon measurement plan is critical to ensure the right KPIs are being tracked and that all stakeholders will be in alignment with the results. And, at any stage of execution, ensure there is a plan in place to evolve and adapt the program over time.
Gamification is so much more than making an experience fun. And mechanics like badges or instant win games can certainly be used effectively to enhance consumer engagement campaigns. However, well-designed gamification executions that drive business results will apply techniques found in behavioral science, a system of mechanics, and a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards to enable experiences that put consumers’ goals first.

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