Online Marketing & Gamification by Design

How Important is Marketing Gamification to a Robust Online Marketing Plan?

The following is an interview with Gabe Zichermann, author of the new book Gamification by Design. Every marketer needs to stay on top of trends. Gamification is a trend in web and mobile design that is big and getting bigger. My sincere thanks to Gabe for the opportunity to conduct this interview.

Mark McLaren: When I first read the title of your book, Gamification by Design, my reaction was, “Won’t be reading that!” I associated it with online games, “gamers”, massively multiplayer online games. I don’t know. Video games are not my thing. So I thought I wouldn’t be able to relate. But I clearly didn’t know what the word “gamification” meant! Do you have a short and sweet statement for people who think you are talking about gaming or video games or something only kids know about? The importance of gamification for marketers and business decision-makers is hard to overstate.

Gabe Zichermann: The definition I use to help folks better understand the term is this – Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. We’re not talking about solving the next puzzle or level in a video game, but solving real world problems like how to keep employees engaged and motivated, how to keep customers coming back to your website, and more.

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Mark McLaren: Most of my clients are just starting to realize the need to take smartphones into account when they think about marketing. Usually this means that they want to be sure visitors who find them online have a good experience when they view their website on a smartphone. Gamifying their website adds additional overhead to their web projects, and it will almost certainly add even more overhead if they want to give a similar experience across web browsers, tablets and smartphones. Do you have suggestions about how to approach this? Do you think businesses should design for smartphones first, for example, and then design for web browsers? Can you give any examples of how businesses that don’t have massive marketing budgets are dealing with the incorporation of gamification into their sites? Did you encounter problems like this when you built GamificationU.com (the companion website for the Gamification by Design book)?

Gabe Zichermann: It’s funny how quickly the mobilization of the web has advanced, isn’t it? It’s essential today that your site at least function on mobile devices and tablets. Better yet if it can be optimized for those devices and made to be beautiful and functional even in small real estate. Gamification has the benefit of a number of amazing technology vendors who have developed highly scalable (and often free or low-cost) solutions for implementing Gamification. In this way, the technical effort can be minimized – and it’s worth checking out folks like Bunchball, Badgeville, BigDoor and others. The design work is still incumbent on the site owner, but after all, you probably know your customers best anyway.

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Mark McLaren: Gamifying a business website by adding a system of points, badges, levels, challenges and leaderboards has the potential to introduce a level of fun and engagement that’s lacking on most sites. You give examples in the book where this works, and the positive results can be measured (at least in terms of some kinds of activity on the site) with analytics. It’s clear that businesses are going to have to figure it out if they want to remain competitive in the long run. But I have many clients who cringe at the mention of this kind of “fun”. In fact, some of them have the same reaction to social media. They know everyone’s doing it, but they are still not sure why. When you speak at a conference like the Gamification Summit, you don’t need to convince people of the importance. But do you have a different talk you give to the gamifcationally challenged? the future averse? Kidding aside, I’d like your insights as to how to reach these folks.

Gabe Zichermann: One of the things I like to point out to folks who have doubts about why they should use Gamification is the impending exodus of the Baby Boomer generation from the workforce. The Millenial generation will take it’s place (and really this has already started) – a generation of consumers and employees who have either grown up with video game controllers in their hands or grown up exposed to a society and pop culture thats full of this type of interactive entertainment.

In the case of social media and Gamification for business, everyone is doing it because it works. I find that the most convincing way to approach “the gamificationally challenged” is with real examples of gamified campaigns that produced real results. This can be more than website analytics. It can be Ananth Pai, an elementary school teacher, raising the math and reading levels of his classroom by one whole grade level in a matter of months by gamifying his classroom. It can be Kevin Richardson and his Speed Camera Lottery project which showed how gamifying speed tickets by rewarding good drivers with a lottery of the proceeds from the fines speeders pay can enact real and positive behavioral change. Or it can simply be (and often is the case for older demographics) to explain the power of loyalty programs through a behavior lens.

One thing everyone can agree on is that games are a powerful force for behavior change. Knowing that Gamification doesn’t always (often) mean turning things into a “game” can go a long way toward easing this stress. And the success stories don’t hurt either. :)

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Mark McLaren: One of the things that really resonates about gamification is that its success depends on constant feedback and testing. As you say in the book, “No gamified system should be built with a set-it-and-forget-it mentality.” Really, the same is true of today’s website. The tools are available to allow us to monitor users and make significant improvements based on their behavior. Businesses that fail to do so are increasingly out of touch with their customers. Gamification promises to increase basic metrics like time-on-site, return visits, social sharing and so on. Hence the appeal for marketers. Like social media integration, from a practical standpoint, unless we can integrate traditional web analytics like Google Analytics together with gamification analytics, marketers are not really going to be able to show a direct connection between gamification and business goals. If I have the budget for dedicated programmers who can incorporate different APIs into my web analytics software, then I’m in good shape. With enough time and money, I can show the connection. But what about smaller businesses? Are their ways to integrate gamification analytics on the cheap?

Gabe Zichermann: The aforementioned technology vendors can definitely help with analytics, and most of them come with an integrated analytics and tracking package that is one of their value adds. But one of the most interesting things I’ve found in working with major brands on Gamification strategy and design in my consulting practice (called Dopamine – or http://dopa.mn) is that in following our Gamification process, we often start with a discussion of metrics, success factors and analytics. This helps make Gamification very results-driven and effective, but also has trickle down benefits for the business as a whole (it’s often the first time the organization has tried to figure out the meaning of a “win”).

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Mark McLaren: It seems like the obvious appeal for traditional marketers in all this gamification is still to do permission-based marketing: to get site visitors to tell you who they are so they can be added to a mailing list and contacted. Do you see problems with “players” – site visitors – wanting to play but still remain anonymous? Does gamification give us new, more effective ways to encourage visitors to give up their information? Or, alternatively, can we achieve business goals through gamification without asking for information like real name, company name or email address? Can visitors remain anonymous and still help us spread the word about our products and services? How far along the sales funnel should we permit anonymity?

Gabe Zichermann: I think that the key here is providing visitors with a web experience that is so fun and engaging that they don’t feel a need to stay anonymous. Specific tactics that can help a website turn it’s anonymous visitors into known community members include offering real-world rewards and perks.

But I do also think that websites, companies, and services can benefit from a community of users that stays anonymous. A big part of Gamification is the social nature of people and the web – so it’s important that social media be tied closely to gamified platforms, services, or websites. In this sense, if consumers are engaged and entertained by your offering, they may be more apt to share it with their Facebook or Twitter networks than they would be to share their personal contact info with a corporation.

As always, the key is to make things authentic and rewarding – if you can do those two things you can create powerful and lasting engagement with consumers. Gamification happens to have the best toolkit for making that happen, and that has had no small part in its phenomenal success.

Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps
By Gabe Zichermann, Christopher Cunningham
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Released: July 2011
Pages: 208

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