Gamification in Marketing: Key Trends

Yuping Liu-Thompkins, Ph.D. Professor of Marketing & Director, Customer Analytics & Strategy Collaboratory, Old Dominion University

Yuping Liu-Thompkins, Ph.D. Professor of Marketing & Director, Customer Analytics & Strategy Collaboratory, Old Dominion University

From entertaining Super Bowl commercials to wildly viral campaigns, marketing has always been a playful field. It is not surprising then that the concept of gamification has been integrated into many aspects of marketing. Well-known examples include Starbucks’ creative use of gamification in its reward program and McDonald’s adaptation of the Monopoly Game. This article outlines several key trends in the application of gamification in marketing.

Gamification and Branding

Good gamification and good branding share one thing in common: a good story. In a world of social media and user-generated content, a brand has to shift from hard sell to telling good stories about the brand to attract consumers. The new generations of consumers appreciate a brand that is authentic and relatable. Gamification will play an important role in brand storytelling by integrating bits and pieces of brand stories into gamified experiences. It can bring the brand story alive and let the fun experiences translate into memorable brand moments for users. Coca-Cola’s huggable vending machine is a good example of such experiences.

  Compared to an old boring promotion, gamification keeps users on their toes and offers them the gratification of winning challenges and rewards​  

Using Gamification to Increase Customer Engagement

Games are engaging, and customer engagement is a valuable asset in today’s marketing. One brand adept at leveraging board game concepts is Starbucks. The Starbucks Hopscotch game run this spring challenged users to make specific purchases (e.g., buying lunch, mobile ordering) in order to hopscotch their way to 400 bonus stars. Compared to an old boring promotion, gamification keeps users on their toes and offers them the gratification of winning challenges and rewards. The result? An audience who won’t easily get comfortable or bored with a brand and who will want to be part of the exciting experiences that the brand has to offer.

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Integrating Gamification into Augmented Reality

Augmented reality has brought about fun games such as Pokemon Go and Ingress and has revolutionized the idea of games. It has made no less impact on marketing. Brands such as IKEA, Sephora, and Visa have all tried their hands at augmented reality. However, whether augmented reality truly helps marketing is still being debated. Academic research shows that consumers may be so engrossed in augmented reality technology that the most important brand information becomes forgotten. The future of combining gamification and marketing in augmented reality may offer an answer to this problem. Through gamification’s ability to engage users in the brand story, augmented reality can become more purposeful in delivering the right brand stories and messages and to engage users along the way. The key will be to make augmented reality technology actually useful based on the product being marketed and integrate fun into that process. Google Map’s future use of a virtual fox guiding users through the labyrinth of a city is a great example of this idea.

Gamification for Social Good

A UN Foundation survey last year shows that many Gen Z consumers seriously consider a brand’s stance on social issues when making their purchase decisions. Many marketers have adopted corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies to meet consumers’ increasing expectation of brands as important social citizens. But many CSR campaigns can come across as dull or contrived. Gamification can make the experience more fun and engaging. SAP, for example, developed the TwoGo app to help businesses encourage carpooling among their employees. It allows users to earn points, find the perfect ride match, and donate saved money to charities. In the future, we will see more integration of gamification into CSR efforts to make these efforts more fun and interactive.

To conclude, gamification has diverse applications in marketing. It can help brands better tell their stories and create more interesting customer experiences. The challenges will be to find the best integration approaches and to effectively adapt the concept of gamification for the individual brand.

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