Can gamification improve customer engagement? Yes, says a new report from Forrester Research -- but some companies misunderstand the concept and misuse the techniques.
The report, “Gamification: ‘Level Up’ Your Strategic Approach,” said that mixed results have led some marketers to question this kind of user engagement. But, Forrester added, “marketers must dispel their misconceptions about what gamification is and approach it strategically.”
The Engagement Loop
In other words, the report said, “it’s not gamification itself that fails, it is the poor application of gamification that does.”
The recommended steps require the kind of hard-nosed approach that any new investment of time, money and user attention must have. Know who your audience is, know what they find valuable, determine your business objectives and then find actions that support reaching them, and use an “engagement loop” to connect user motivations to those actions.
Those steps could be applied to almost any customer-facing initiative, but “the insertion of game dynamics and mechanics into non-game activities to drive a desired behavior” has to work right, with the experience engaging users while moving toward a business objective in order to succeed.
It’s a lot more involved than just putting badges on a site or increasing the entertainment value of content. When it works, benefits can include more registrations or email signups, a community of users than spends more time engaging with your brand and the generation of positive word-of-mouth.
Gamification is Not a New Idea
The Forrester report seeks to erase some misconceptions, such as the idea that gamification is new. Think of the 50-year-old American Express’ Membership Rewards program as just one of many pre-digital antecedents.
Another misconception: gamification isn’t about games, but about game mechanics. Users don’t need to win or lose an entire game experience to become involved. Additionally, enhancement needs to be targeted toward brand-supporting behaviors, such as a point system and leader boards in a community that leads to a substantial spike in community conversations and activity.
One key technique cited in the report is to identify super-users who are, essentially, brand advocates and experts, and identify behaviors that can support them and encourage others to increase their brand knowledge.
Gamification isn't Always a Good Fit
Gaming technique doesn’t always work with all kinds of content. For instance, leading gamification vendor Bunchball acknowledges that game mechanics on its own website just gets in the way of the information. Within a brand, some assets or interaction goals work better than others, such as a retailer’s “quests” that offered rewards for exploring products on the website and then making an in-store purchase.
As with any customer engagement initiative, the brand needs to lay out the desired journey -- the business objective, consumer interactions to support the objective, actions to support the interactions, length of the interactions and so on. The interaction must add value for the user, of course, and map onto what Forrester calls the Engagement Loop -- Motivations driving consumers to complete Actions that are incentivized by Rewards and which earn players Achievements that reinforce Motivations.
The Forrester report provides a good counterweight to the hype and the disappointing results from gamification, offering a context for the ways in which these kinds of user behaviors can, when implemented well, boost participation and reach objectives. One hopes that Forrester, at some point, will delve deeper into the specific kinds of gamification techniques that work better for different audiences, different contexts or different purposes.
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