GUEST BLOG: How to use games to keep customers hooked

At its simplest level, 'gamification' is the use of gaming techniques to encourage people to engage with a brand or business. Humans are born with an innate desire to play or participate in games in order to achieve gratification. Therefore, when offering their users points or rewards, badges, leaderboards or trophies, businesses are starting to see the value in making things fun.

The term gamification has become something of a buzzword over the past few months. As a result, many small businesses are clamouring to jump on the bandwagon, offering users all sorts of rewards to encourage them to engage with their brands online. However, it is important that businesses are cautious.

When done right, the use of gaming techniques builds a sense of trust and participation with your audience. This feeling of engagement is echoed when you give a user positive feedback, thanking them for their effort and most importantly, providing entertainment. The user is left with an associated feeling of satisfaction with a brand which will often lead to purchases or recommendations down the line. However, when executed poorly, bad gaming techniques look shoddy, cheap and rushed. There is a lot to be said for not jumping in too soon.

Businesses have used gamification techniques under other monikers for years. People will respond positively to being told they are 90 per cent through a certain task, for example. However, now their use is becoming more explicit with the influx of mobile and social technology and media. Brands are starting to recognise this need for more stimulation and are reacting with fun techniques to keep people engaged.

The reality is that most businesses who implement gamification techniques will fail. When it is done well, it can be a massive boom for a company - you only have to look at the popularity of Foursquare to understand that people love playing.

Of course, executing a well-thought out, original gamification campaign must be packaged properly. If the user interface is flawed or unattractive, or the messaging is inconsistent, users will become disinterested. It's all about getting them engaged - and giving them a reason to stay engaged.

If the messaging says your brand is innovative and creative, don't just replicate design from a competitor. Ultimately users will see right through it and feel, well, used.

One of the main benefits to brands of implementing gaming techniques, aside from the increased engagement with customers, is data. You can discover a lot of valuable information about your users' habits by implementing gamification techniques - where they are 'checking in' to, and what their preferences are.

By taking this one step further, and synching the gamification platform with social sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, a business could glean valuable information about its users. This in turn allows organisations to gain a greater understanding of how their content is being consumed and shared, giving them the opportunity to provide a more tailored experience.

In short, brands stand to gain from implementing gaming techniques - most notably increased customers as word spreads quickly online. They can also get access to valuable customer data while simultaneously engaging with users and creating brand loyalty. As long as businesses think long and hard about how they plan to implement techniques, and understand the science of game mechanics, there is no reason for gamification to fail.

Top tips for businesses thinking about implementing gamification techniques:

  • Do not underestimate gamification. Simply handing out trophies and badges will not encourage people to engage with the brand itself - you need to be clever. The key is to reward users through a sense of carefully thought out play and achievement.
  • Think about your audience. What kinds of things will they respond to? Will you use subtle techniques, or more overt levels and scoreboards to incite that feeling of achievement?
  • Do your research. Look at what other brands are leveraging gamification techniques successfully and learn from them.
  • Understand the science behind game mechanics. If you execute shoddy gaming techniques, it will only cause people to turn off - and will reflect badly on your company.

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